Another September Song

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game…

Those are the words that Maxwell Anderson wrote to the music of Kurt Weill in 1938 – the sad September Song that has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Burl Ives to Willie Nelson, about how we all run out of time, so it’s time to end all the coy nonsense of life. The days are short. Get to the point. It’s a musical version of that seventeenth-century Andrew Marvell poem:

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

That’s a plea to end the coy nonsense too. And it’s September again. The carefree and careless summer is over – no more fun and games – and in public life no more bullshit. Get to the point. There was another mass shooting in Texas. That angry young white man from Dallas drove all the way to El Paso to kill Mexican immigrants or anyone who looked like one, and killed quite a few, and this time another young white man drove around Midland-Odessa for a few hours and shot thirty or forty people, and killed seven – but this time his targets were random. He just shot anyone he could, until the police shot him dead. Young white men in Texas are getting frisky.

How can anyone explain this? All that’s left is coy nonsense, but these are the facts:

The 36-year-old man who terrorized two West Texas towns with an assault-style rifle Saturday had been fired from his trucking job a few hours before he led the authorities on a chaotic high-speed chase that ended with his death and the deaths of seven others.

Along a 15-mile stretch between the sister-cities of Midland and Odessa, the aftermath of the gunman’s rampage – in which he indiscriminately fired on motorists and police officers with an AR-15-style rifle while driving – clashed with the typically serene and dusty rural landscape of the region.

On Sunday, the authorities continued to collect evidence from more than 15 crime scenes, scattered along highways, car dealerships and shopping malls, marked by police tape, bullet-riddled cars and a wrecked postal van the gunman had hijacked.

The authorities initially refused to name the gunman on Sunday, wanting not to give him “any notoriety for what he did,” said Michael Gerke, the police chief of Odessa. But they later issued a statement identifying the gunman as Seth A. Ator, of Odessa.

That would be the Odessa in Texas, not the capital of Ukraine. This was not international terrorism. Vladimir Putin was not behind this. This was America’s problem:

The chief said it was not immediately known whether the gunman had legally purchased the rifle. Similar assault-style weapons have been used in most of the deadliest shootings this decade, including at a country music festival in Las Vegas, a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio last month. Military-style assault weapons were largely banned from 1994 until 2004, and remain at the center of a continuing national conversation about gun control.

While the gunman in the latest attack had a criminal record, there were no open warrants for his arrest when the police tried to pull him over Saturday afternoon…

So, what are we to do with military-grade assault weapons in the hands of civilians? Is that okay? We banned them for ten years. There were few shootings like this, and then the ban expired, and then these things began to happen. And no one knew whether the gunman had legally purchased the rifle. But he had a criminal record. The usual background check would have stopped that purchase, but there are loopholes – purchase at a gun show or purchase from a family member or other private party. And many oppose universal background checks, even if ninety percent of the public doesn’t. That ninety percent of the public does not sit in Congress of course. They have no legislative say-so in this matter. Is that a good thing? And the guy had just lost his job. Are his employers responsible for all this?

And there’s this:

On Sunday afternoon, federal agents executed a search warrant at what appeared to be Mr. Ator’s residence, in a remote area of mobile homes at the western edge of Ector County, which includes Odessa. A neighbor, Rocio Martinez, 29, described Mr. Ator as a “loner” who kept to himself and who sometimes frightened her because he was always firing guns outside.

But that’s her problem. That’s perfectly legal in Texas. Lots of things are perfectly legal in Texas:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended new gun laws that ease restrictions on gun owners in that state Sunday, hours after the laws went into effect and hours after a gunman shot at least 21 people, killing seven, in and around Odessa, Texas.

The new laws loosen restrictions on gun ownership and use in schools, foster homes, apartment buildings, and houses of worship. Proponents of the laws argue that they will offer people the opportunity to defend themselves from threats, while critics say expanding gun access makes people less safe.

Speaking at a press conference to discuss law enforcement’s response to Saturday’s mass shooting, during which a man with a rifle opened fire during a traffic stop before firing at random, Abbott argued that easing gun restrictions and preventing mass shootings aren’t mutually exclusive after being asked about the new laws.

Now, in Texas, in schools and churches and just about anywhere, anyone can carry any kind of gun they want – and this will prevent any further mass shootings anywhere in Texas – or it won’t. The theory has not been tested. Now it will be, even if it seems like coy nonsense.

But wait. Greg Abbott is an amateur at this coy nonsense. Daniel Politi identifies the master at this:

Texas Rep. Matt Schaefer illustrated just how opposed to any type of gun control many elected Republicans are when he staunchly stood up against making any changes to current law mere hours after two towns in his home state were terrorized by a gunman who went on a random shooting rampage. At a time when the death toll of the West Texas mass shooting wasn’t even clear yet, Schaefer went on a rant on social media making clear that the fact that a 17-month-old child was shot wouldn’t make him think that perhaps some gun control could be beneficial. After all, he insists, the problem isn’t the guns but evil.

That’s his story and he’s sticking to it:

Schaefer, in a post on Facebook and Twitter wrote that elected officials often hear demands to “Do something!” But he made clear what he won’t do: “I am NOT going to use the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans. Period.” And his refusal to do anything includes things that many Americans support, including background checks and banning high capacity magazines. After all, nothing would stop a person with “evil intent,” he added.

So what will Schaefer support? More prayer, of course. “YES to praying that God would transform the hearts of people with evil intent,” he wrote. While he was at it he would also support “fathers not leaving their wives and children” and “discipline in the homes.” The answer is, of course, more guns: “YES to giving every law-abiding single mom the right to carry a handgun to protect her and her kids without permission from the state, and the same for all other law-abiding Texans of age.”

The problem is hardly guns but rather “godless, depraved hearts,” Schaefer wrote.

“Every person needs a heart transformed by faith in God through Jesus.”

But wait. Let’s look at this logically. That’s what David Atkins does:

After every mass shooting in America comes the same refrain from gun-loving conservatives: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The causes of gun violence are always presumed to be something other than the guns themselves: mental illness, video games, parenting, et cetera, despite no correlation ever being found. What we do know is that the vast majority of mass shooters are men, that the looser a state’s gun laws the more mass shootings it has, and that America has far, far more gun violence and mass shootings than other developed countries.

What’s most curious about conservative arguments on guns is how easy they are to disprove. Economic and social theory will always have an air of mystery about them because it’s practically impossible to run complex enough models and experiments to definitively prove one ideological framework over another. But with gun it’s astonishingly simple just to look at the experience of other countries. Do the Japanese play a lot of violent video games? Yes. Do they have high rates of gun violence? No. Is there just as much mental illness in England as in the United States? Certainly. Is there as much gun violence? Certainly not. Literally the only possible correlating factor for American gun violence is American access to guns.

But one of the most amazing conservative arguments is that we should not enact stronger gun control measures because the problem is innate human evil. This notion comes up frequently among evangelical conservatives.

And that means that Atkins is curious about the logic behind what Matt Schaefer is saying:

The most interesting question here is about evil intent. If human evil is the ultimate cause of gun violence – rather than the shocking ease with which modern firearms allow tense situations to escalate into deadly violence and unbalanced individuals to become mass murderers in a matter of seconds – then presumably there must be more bad people in America than anywhere else in the world.

Follow the logic. This is exactly what Matt Schaefer is saying, even if he doesn’t realize it, but Matt Schaefer ought to think about his position:

It’s not clear to me if American evangelicals who tout this line about “evil” in the context of gun violence have spent even a few seconds thinking it through. Perhaps they haven’t stopped to consider why evil doesn’t seem to manifest this way in other developed countries. Perhaps they haven’t asked themselves why America seems to be beset by so much more human evil despite being much more religious than most other developed countries. Are the bodies of murdered children just part of God’s benevolent plan in divinely inspiring the 2nd Amendment, or are Americans unique in being especially susceptible to the wiles of the Devil? And why should that be?

It hardly matters, of course. No one will change Matt Schaefer’s mind. But it’s September. The days are getting shorter. No one has time for this coy nonsense now.

No, wait. Someone has the time:

President Donald Trump didn’t sound optimistic that stronger gun control could prevent mass shootings, claiming that background checks on those buying weapons wouldn’t have prevented mass shootings over the past few years. “Background checks – I will say that for the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five, going back even five or six or seven years – for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it,” Trump said. “So it’s a big problem.”

That’s a bold contention supported by no facts in any of these cases at all, but Trump is who he is and says absurd things like that, because he can, even if he started somewhere else:

The remarks appear to cement Trump’s newly found opposition to an idea that he once seemed to at least be willing to entertain. After the shootings in El Paso and Dayton last month, Trump said he would consider “meaningful background checks.” Trump later seemed to have a change of heart after lobbying from gun rights advocated. “People don’t realize we have very strong background checks right now,” he said a few days later.

On Sunday, the president proceeded to say that “it’s a mental problem” once again pushing the message that the problem isn’t the easy availability of weapons. Along those lines, Trump called the shooter who killed seven people in West Texas on Saturday “another very sick person.”

Speaking to reporters at the White House after returning to Washington from Camp David, Trump said that the shooting that took place in Texas on Saturday and killed seven people “really hasn’t changed anything” about the current debate over gun control legislation.

He seems to want to reopen the nation’s loony bins – Nurse Ratched will take care of these guys. And everyone is safer if everyone is carrying a big gun. President Trump says that’s “sad” but true. And that seems like nonsense to everyone in the nation but the Republicans in the House and Senate. Those guys are coy.

But, as September begins, there’s other nonsense out there:

President Trump’s trade war with China entered new territory on Sunday as his next round of tariffs took effect, changing the rules of trade in ways that have no recent historic precedent and driving the world’s two largest economies further apart.

American tariffs on foreign goods had already climbed higher than any time since the 1960s before Sunday, when the United States imposed a new 15 percent tariff. The levies on food, clothing, lawn mowers and thousands of other “Made in China” products come as the president prepares to tax nearly everything China ships to America. The move will bring average tariffs on Chinese imports to 21.2 percent, up from only 3.1 percent when Mr. Trump came into office, according to data from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

China has responded by raising barriers to American companies and their products, while easing them for other nations.

Now things are getting serious. These are tariffs on consumer goods coming from China – the ordinary stuff of daily living – not this and that used in manufacturing. This cannot be hidden from the public. Prices will go up on a whole lot of the ordinary stuff of daily living, from tube socks to cellphones, and the Chinese will be cutting off American companies and more and more of their products. They’re slowly and firmly closing their markets to us. Americans will lose jobs. But perhaps Trump will say Americans should only sell goods and services to other Americans. But he’s not saying that. He’s saying the Chinese will give in when they realize no one here can afford to buy their products here, which now will cost at least fifteen percent more. But he also says the Chinese pay those tariffs directly to the US Treasury, so prices won’t go up at all. But how does that punish the Chinese then? But of course the importer of any Chinese product – Target or Home Depot or whomever – pays the tariff to get the goods in hand – but Trump says no. They may do that but the Chinese will lower their prices, ruining them, to sell this and that over here at the same old price, at a loss. So prices will NOT go up. But the Chinese now say they’ll just sell that stuff elsewhere, not here. Trump says China will collapse in economic ruin if they cannot sell stuff here, and the Chinese laugh at that idea – the world is larger than that. But who knows? There’s a lot of nonsense going around.

And our president is being coy, or confusing:

Over a week ago, Mr. Trump called China’s president, Xi Jinping, an “enemy” and threatened to use his emergency powers to force American companies out of China. He increased existing and future tariffs and his aides said the president’s only regret was not raising them even higher.

Mr. Trump’s conflicting goals – trying to make China a fairer place for American companies to do business while simultaneously punishing companies that are operating there – are threatening to turn what began as a limited skirmish into a drawn-out and costly quagmire, with little sense of how the United States or China will retreat.

“For those who supported tariffs as a tool to bring the Chinese to the table to reach a big deal, all of this now seems beside the point,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s pointless casualties. And those pointless casualties will be the companies whose exports are eliminated, and consumers who will pay more and have less choice.”

And there are details like this:

Farmers are one of the most visible casualties of the U.S.-China trade war, which escalated sharply this week as both sides landed blows that could hold potentially devastating consequences for U.S. agriculture…

“My heart sunk a little bit” after China’s announcement, said Mary Kay Thatcher, a fifth-generation Iowa farmer and current farm lobbyist on Capitol Hill, in an interview with CNBC.

“That’s a hard hit for us, it’s going to make life difficult,” she said. “Farmers are still a bit stunned about the announcement that they’re not gonna buy anything.”

Farmers aren’t the only ones affected. Trump’s battle with China over trade deficits, alleged intellectual property theft and forced tech transfers has repeatedly spooked investors around the world. And polls show that his biggest moves in the trade war – namely, slapping tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese goods – aren’t especially popular with the broader public.

But U.S. soybean, pork and dairy farmers in particular have seen their revenue from China evaporate as China scaled up its own tariffs on U.S. imports, now worth $110 billion.

So, what is Trump doing? Once again, David Atkins applies a bit of logic here:

The idea behind tariffs is that the pain of higher domestic prices on imported goods, and the potential loss of export business as a consequence of trade war, is worth the advantage of protecting domestic manufacturing and production.

This is a debatable proposition in the modern global economy: it is increasingly difficult to disentangle modern global supply chains without significant damage to multiple economies, and with the rise of automation there is no guarantee that disincentivizing foreign manufacture will actually lead to domestic jobs for people rather than robots and algorithms. Furthermore, slapping tariffs on a specific country like China in many cases only serves to push companies to even lower-wage foreign competitors rather than bring manufacturing back home.

In short, someone else will make those tube socks in Vietnam, not Altoona, or they’ll be made entirely by robots and no one will have jobs related to their manufacture anywhere at all. Jobs aren’t coming back here. Tariffs cause real pain to everyone, but they don’t do much for anyone.

Atkins can only add this:

From a liberal perspective, targeted tariffs could be used in theory to encourage improvements in human rights, wages, and environmental protections while supporting domestic industry. But whatever benefits might accrue from such an approach would dissipate if tariffs are wielded stupidly and lead to escalating nationalist trade wars rather than implemented as part of an overall internationalist approach to expanding rights and protections.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, still doesn’t seem to understand what a tariff even is. For years he has talked about tariffs as if the country being targeted was literally paying taxes to the country implementing it, almost like a strange computer game simulation of 17th century imperial economics.

But it’s now September and these new tariffs have snapped into place. The argument for them is nonsense, and Trump is being coy. And it’s now September and there has been another mass shooting. The argument for arming everyone because evil stalks the land, here, but nowhere else on the planet, is a bunch of coy nonsense to make sure nothing changes. Will any of this change? Should be wait to see what happens? No, the days grow short when you reach September and one hasn’t got time for the waiting game – so no more nonsense. There’s no time for that now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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