Sunday, November 17, 2013

An American Tale

I've published a silly post about Armitage's interview so now it's time for a serious one. All around the fandom I keep seeing British, Canadian and European fans weighing in with approval of his opinion that the Constitution needs to be changed with regards to the Second Amendment and I have to tell you that it just isn't that simple and for several reasons.

I'm going to start out by explaining something you didn't ask but that I read a couple of weeks ago. A friend on Facebook posted a list of things about the US that bewilder visitors and among them was the fact that sales tax isn't figured into the price as marked on products. Well, there's a reason for that. The tax gathering bodies in the US include all fifty states, Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. I'm not certain about what is collected in the last two but I do know that of the fifty states there are five that don't collect sales tax at all and from east to west they are Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, Oregon and Alaska. Among entities that do levy a sales tax the rates and things that are considered taxable vary wildly. In the state of Pennsylvania clothing and most foods are tax exempt because they fall under the category of necessity. If I buy a container of coffee at the store and take it home and brew it myself the coffee isn't taxed. If I buy a cup of coffee at a convenience store it is because somebody made it and the 6% sales tax was waived on the ingredients when they were purchased by the corporation.

That's another wrinkle in sales taxes in the US, the end user. Depending on who's doing the buying and for what reason there may be no sales tax collected. A Franciscan brother buying something for the use of his order is exempt because religious organizations in my state are exempt. A diocesan priest is not because he's buying the thing for his personal use. This can be further complicated by where the end user lives. The state of Washington levies an 8.6% sales tax on everything but if the end user will be taking whatever it is back to Montana, Oregon or Alaska (and presumably Delaware and New Hampshire) to use then they're exempt if they can show proof of residency. Imagine trying to back all that out rather than just figuring it out at the point of sale. 

I cannot stress to you enough what a huge deal the rights of individual states are. I've had this conversation before and the other person never seems to get that Washington D.C. doesn't just handle all legislation. In Pennsylvania I have to deal with Harrisburg; Washingtonians have to contend with Olympia; New Yorkers with Albany and so on. Those state legislatures also have a vital Constitutional function that is spelled out in Article V: they're the ones who ratify Amendments to the Constitution and it takes 3/4s of all states to do so. Currently that means that thirty-eight states out of fifty have to ratify a proposed Amendment. Well, that's simple enough, right? Consider this: the most recent Amendment, XXVII, was signed into law by then-President Clinton in 1992. It was initially drafted by James Madison for inclusion in the Bill of Rights in 1787. For all those people who ranted about the 28th Amendment on Facebook a couple of weeks ago in the wake of the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, do some research. There is no 28th Amendment.

I said all that to say this. I am not a flag waver by any means but this is the way it works here. We don't do things the same way you do because we don't live there. When you visit you are guaranteed the same First Amendment rights that I am and you are more than welcome to disagree with me, the goverment, your mother or the guy at the end of the bar. This system, the separation of powers, protects that freedom at every level and no it isn't perfect but it works. Slowly maybe. While you're waiting I suggest that you ask around to people who actually live in the areas you're down on and find out why they do the things they do. The answers might surprise you.

15 comments:

  1. Your country is complicated. *nods*

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    1. And frequently ridiculous. :) Bog-snorkeling?

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  2. Hmmm.

    Well, I'm in the camp of people who think the Second Amendment needs to be changed, so I'm probably one down on this in terms of the sympathy I will get from you, BUT. As far as I know the protections of the Bill of Rights don't automatically apply to non-citizens in the same way as they do to citizens, even if they are here legally on a visa. In 2006, for instance, habeas corpus was suspended for all 12 million permanent residents (Military Commissions Act). -- So don't commit a crime that will put you in jail, Armitage! -- In practice, this always has to be tested by court case, as it has been a few times in the last decade and will continue to be. Personally, I don't think the First Amendment actually applies in this case. It's a statement about protection from government intrusion into your right to speak. Saying the government won't legally prevent you or anyone from saying what they like in a bar is nice, but I think what we're talking about here are private rights to free speech, which are much narrower, as I am sure you know. And it's not clear that the First Amendment would automatically protect the free speech rights of a permanent resident if, for example, his speech were treasonous.

    That said, to me "states' rights" are a very double-edged sword and I'm tense when I hear them cited in support of any argument by anyone. They are used to support local custom but they have been used in many cases to suppress freedoms that I tend to think are really universal ones (e.g., the capacity to vote w/o poll tax, entitlement to an equal education). They can be used as a wedge issue, as same-sex marriage adherents are now doing -- but they can also be used as a justification for oppression and the cases of the latter are more prevalent in US history than the former.

    Finally, although I agree with the general point that it's good to know why things are in any given location before you talk about them, at the same time, Americans (I'm not saying you) are in my experience much more regularly guilty of saying they know what's best for everyone else than Europeans / Canadians are.

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  3. I would happily live in a world without weapons of any kind. That being said I'm a crack shot. THAT being said I think the NRA in general and Wayne LaPierre in particular have to stop putting their fingers in their ears and going "Lalala Second Amendment lalala!" and actually deal with the tragedies that are left in the wake of their goals. I think, though, that for example the notion of banning ammunition is naive because all the people I know who shoot also reload. If you (general you) are unfamiliar with this it's when you pick up the bullet casings you just used, fill them with shot and press a new bullet. Shot isn't an end product, it's a component and it has other applications so while it can be regulated like cold medicines used in the production of crystal meth an ouright ban is unlikely. Tips are a whole other story, though, because they only have one application. The federal government only has the right to regulate trade between states, though, so give Joe down the block $100 and he can machine something for you. Please understand I'm not advocating any of this, just explaining how it works. I suspect that you personally already know at least some of what I just said.

    First Amendment protections, afaik, apply to everyone as long as they're not shouting "fire!" in a crowded theatre or advocating the violent overthrow of the government (unless you're Patrick Henry in which case God help whoever tries to take you on). It's constantly being worked out, though. Last week the SCOTUS heard arguments in Greece v. Galloway, a case brought to them by an atheist and a Jewish woman who both object to having their town council meetings in Greece, NY being opened with prayer. They are backed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and before anyone gets exercized (again not you personally) about stupid Christians, AU's Executive Director is an ordained minister (Baptist I think but don't quote me). Shouldn't that question be settled by now? The prayer opening didn't start till 1999. Why did it start in the first place?

    I get your point that it's normally us that question what the hell everybody else is doing and I agree that we look like fools when we do but that works both ways. I absolutely agree with you that the history of state's rights is tragic and fucking wrong. I just don't think that anyone in Washington D.C. has any business legislating for someone whose interests they don't know let alone represent.

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    1. Re: first amendment -- I don't know that anyone has been deported for speech violations. But my understanding is that it would be possible.

      But doesn't the Second Amendment do just what you're opposed to? Legislate for someone whose interests it doesn't know let alone represent? The second amendment is why cities where people support gun bans usually can't institute them. In fact, it's someone who died centuries ago legislating for a situation that they couldn't possibly have foreseen.

      The world has changed enough that I just don't see any connection anymore between guns and freedom. I would support any and all gun bans including a complete ban. I agree it's not going to happen in my life time, but that doesn't mean that it's ridiculous to want it or to support it.

      But I'm no romantic about the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, either. It put things into law I find reprehensible (3/5 Compromise), it protects rights I do not believe to be rights (gun ownership), and it when it suits the courts it fails to protect rights that I think are really important. Occasionally it does something I approve of (equal protection clause), but I wouldn't even say that it's a majority of the time.

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    2. I don't know that anyone has ever been deported for speech violations, either, but I do know that speech formed part of Nixon's intent to deport John Lennon.

      There is a difference between the legislation of a right and the exercize of it. You are not required to own a gun. One of the several things I think was stupid about the Right's reaction to Newtown was the idea floated by more than one of them that would require teachers to be trained and carry in schools. What the fuck is that? Doesn't that violate the teacher's freedom of conscience? Similarly, the NRA's suggestion that a national database be created not for gun owners (because that's a violation of privacy) but of the mentally ill. What? Mental illness is not a crime and wouldn't that be a violation of the same privacy gun owners want for themselves? THAT is privilege, tossing the rights of a genuinely innocent group so that you can apply that same right to your group.

      I'm not a romantic about the Constitution, either. It absolutely has to remain flexible so that when we pull our heads out of our asses about truly stupid and horrific things, including what you mentioned but I'd add the Prohibition in there.

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  4. In my mind there are differences between muzzle loaders, shot guns, rifles, assault rifles, handguns, the types of ammo sold, concealed weapons permits, etc and not all these items deserved to be lumped together. I have different opinions regarding each.

    I wonder in countries with tighter gun control that still allow some to own guns, who are they? Is it the wealthy and privileged only? That seems rather classist if it is the case. I feel that gun ownership is too engrained in the collective conscious to take it completely away. Frankly, I like knowing that I can go buy a gun if I want to. I don't own one because I don't want to deal with the responsibility and cost that goes along with it.

    Also, just because RA wants ammo outlawed, I don't necessarily think it's going to happen...LOL. Old boy probably totes around a concealed handgun in the states to keep crazy fans away and was just doing hollywood double speak like the ones who spout left talk and vote far right. ;-)

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    1. The differences are not just in your mind, there are different legal categories based on how particular pieces fire or are manufactured. You said assault rifle up there so let's look at that first.

      Assault RIFLES are illegal because they can be coverted from a semi-auto (which tosses out the spent casing and chambers another round but doesn't fire until you pull the trigger) to a fully auto (which continues firing as long as your finger is on the trigger) or burst fire (continues firing for a set number of rounds). They have not been manufactured for the civillian market in the US since The Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 when it became illegal to register new assault rifles. However, existing registrants are able to transfer ownership. Title II weapons and components are all banned, for example silencers and sawed-off shot guns. Glock makes a firing pin that will convert a semi-auto handgun to an auto and that's also banned.

      Assault WEAPONS have a different legal definition because they fire as semi-autos. However, they're manufactured to look like assault rifles to give the appearance of more force. As far as I'm concerned in regards to this debate if you're manufacturing something to look more badass than it really is you don't get to complain when people are confused.

      I cannot speak to gun laws in other countries because they make them for reasons the US doesn't or hasn't contended with. There's a common urban legend that every leftist in Hollywood who speaks about gun control employs an armed bodyguard but I've never seen actual proof of that so for me that's not part of this debate. In general, though, I believe that in this country legal protections apply to everyone equally but in practice that's not always the case.

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  5. In Germany, anyway, you are allowed to own a particular kind of rifle that's designed for hunting (not a pistol, not an automatic). You can use it for target practice / sports as well. But you have to take a class, you have to be regularly recertified, and you have to store the weapon in a safe way that's regulated by law. But if you can afford the gun and the licensing fee, you can do it. In fact it's not all that popular because there was hunting culture in Germany -- since the middle ages and up to 1848 most wild game (birds, deer, fish, etc.) was the legal property of the nobility and others didn't have a right to harvest it. There have been a few school shootings in Germany, all by teenagers who had or found access to this kind of weapon.

    Most cops in Germany do not carry guns with them as a matter of course, btw.

    I believe Armitage said that his conviction came in part out of the fact that he came from somewhere else where guns were part of a subculture (I assume he meant, an illegal subculture). I.e., he knows that the collective consciousness here is different. He also said he didn't see how it could happen.

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  6. Before I continue with Servetus and Snick I want to address a couple of emails that I've gotten based on the notion that if I've gotten one email about a particular issue more than one person is actually wondering the thing.

    1. My post was not a political statement. Three paragraphs of it were an information dump. I love debating and I'll go round with you for hours but let's make sure we're on the same page to begin with or it's going to stop being friendly debate and start getting personal. When I said "that's the way it works here" I did NOT mean "it's better than what you have." I meant "these are the parameters that we're working in." I apologize for confusion about that.

    2. The NRA in general as an organization and Wayne LaPierre as its mouthpiece in particular do more damage to debate about this topic than they help in my opinion. They're great at propaganda. For years they've floated a story that during WW2 the British government needed more guns so members of the NRA organized, collected arms from it's members and sent them off in good faith. Then at the end of the war the British government scrapped the weapons rather than return them to their owners. This functions as a really effective piece of propaganda for more than two reasons but the two I'm going to mention are that it appeals to the notion that gun owners would save the world for you if you'd just ask them and governments take things that don't belong to them because they can. The trouble is that this story is completely unverifiable. Snopes.com put out a call for information about it on their forums a couple of years ago and to my knowledge still hasn't determined its veracity.

    3. Do not put words in my mouth. I have enough trouble with the ones my brain puts there. Do not assume I'm on your side in any debate unless you ask.

    Now back to our show. Any other questions please email me.

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  7. Well I think the Second Amendment is fine really but the problemis that it is misinterpreted so yes a change is probably better but I can tell you right now it isn't going to happen. The NRA has a chokehold on Congress and nothing will happen like that as long as that lobby is as strong as it is. Good to explain to others though Jazz how it isn't as easy as it seems with our Constitution. I believe Richard knows that or he is learning all of it and his comments were just that, comments, and by now he realizes that well Americans often hear things and expect more than they should. He can't possibly understand all of the ins and outs of our system when we don't even understand it ourselves and we've lived here all our lives.

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    1. Thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog. I'm going to come out right now and state clearly that the reasons for the Second Amendment existing in the first place are moot. We have a standing military and further if we would pull them out as occupation forces from places where they don't need to be we would have the resources to secure our borders so that things like The Minute Man Project could be avoided. That isn't going to happen right now, either, but it's still something that I think we need to work toward. I think anyone who wants to own a gun should first be required to view footage of the real damage bullets do to human flesh the way that in Driver's Ed from when I took it we were required to look at car crashes so that we could have a sense of the destructive power of the machine in our hands. I'm not comparing cars to guns because the whole point of a gun is to fire a tiny missle at a high velocity and put a big fat hole in something but the destructive power of each machine depends not on the machine but the intent of the brain connected to the hand that holds it. We're all violent, we all commit acts of minor violence every day from arguing with our neighbor to dismissing the opinion of a British actor and legal resident who has a better idea of what's going on in his own surroundings than you or I do if we're not there. I'm not saying that you, Peggy Kincaid, did that in your comment but I'm trying to make myself as clear as I can here. Again, thank you for commenting.

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  8. Hey Jazz!

    Thanks for this great post!! I have to admit right off that I've kind of dropped off the face of the Armitage reading fandom so I don't know of this article or whatever dissent it sparked within the community, but I really appreciate your post on US state taxation.

    For me personally, this fandom has always been about my investment in the fans - and also a way for me to keep ties to US writers interested in things 'British' even if it primarily focused on news of a certain British actor. I have lived & worked in London since 2010 and often, I'm left wondering about the British system of taxation and government and if London doesn't ALWAYS benefit most from the current structure (I'm thinking in particular of constituents to the north in Edinburgh & Glasgow).

    Anyhow, I recently thought to myself - well, heck, I guess that's why the US has 50 states to govern locally via their own taxation laws and legislative bodies for their residents, in addition to what is covered at the federal level. I guess I kind of think of it as a good thing.

    I've lived and paid taxes in quite a few US states - from West to East - Washington, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, & Virginia - and I still file US federal and state tax returns in IL every year even though I have been resident in the UK since 2010. I agree that taxes are different in the US - but I don't think it's a bad thing. I think it's great that there is a second state system that can run independently, while co-existing, within the federal frame. Even as I haven't lived in US for years, I still appreciate the systems of local government in the US (as complicated as it may appear to other residents of the world). :)

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    1. Welcome to the blog and thank you for your comment. If I had it to write over again I would have written it in a different way. I'm not going to take it down now because it's out there and I'm not about to hide what I think but I can see places where I should have been more clear. It was not an attempt to lecture anyone and I clearly reacted to a full day "he must be mistaken, poor dear" and "you Americans are all the same," neither of which does anything but satsfies the commenter's need to vent in that moment. Do you (general you) want to vent or do you want change? This post was not meant to be the final statement as some of our fellow citizens took it, it was meant to be the beginning of the debate. You can't fix something if you don't know the way it's broken.

      That said, have you seen what's going on in North Dakota? It's hair raising. The Neo-Nazis are attempting to take over by legal means, buying up property and the only way the town can respond is by rezoning or requesting to be dissolved back into the county. They have to wait till the group does something illegal before they can arrest them as they did a couple of Saturdays ago when two white supremacists stood on the street outside the house of a town councilman with long guns and then followed a woman through town harrassing her. Are they all supposed to be sitting ducks waiting for the racist motherfuckers to make a move?

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Thanks for commenting!