All posts by Dr. ESP

Red Flag Laws Deserve Their Own Red Flag

A St. Louis police officer was shot and wounded Friday afternoon during a welfare check for a man whose relatives were concerned about his mental health, law enforcement officials said.

Associated Press/April 28, 2023

“Red Flag” laws are gun safety measures which  allow law enforcement officials to confiscate firearms, following a judicial process, from individuals who exhibit behaviors which suggest they might use such weapons to harm themselves or others.  Advocates, at first glance, might say the above AP story is a perfect example of why “red flag” laws are necessary.

I am not so sure.  No, I have not suddenly become a rabid defender of the perverted interpretation of the Second Amendment on display at the recent NRA annual meeting in Washington, D.C.  Nor do I believe the right to defend one’s property is absolute.  This morning, however, I wonder if the responsibility for enforcing “red flag” situations is unnecessarily putting law enforcement officers at risk of injury or death.  If I am guilty of anything, it is aiding and abetting true conservatives (as opposed to MAGA world) who believe government should not be responsible for solving all of society’s ills.

Take another look at the first sentence in the AP story from a journalistic perspective.  The lede is supposed to be a factual summation of the critical aspects of the narrative.  You know, the what, who, where, when and why.

  • What?  There was a shooting.
  • Who?  Of a law enforcement officer who went to check on the mental health of a citizen.
  • Where?  The citizen’s home.
  • When? After relatives reported the shooter might be mentally unstable.
  • Why?  Because a 71-year-old man who relatives claim was delusional saw two police officers approaching his home.

Advocates of “red flag” laws say this is a “common sense” solution that will reduce gun violence.  My “common sense” tells me something different.  You do not send uniformed police officers or even a mental health expert in civilian clothes to interact with an armed, perhaps paranoid individual.  Especially if that individual is exposed to cable news or social media, day in and day out, spreading stories how the authorities are coming to get him.  You do not need to call a psychic like the late Jeane Dixon to predict the outcome

Consider an alternative in this case. Start with an assumption, Grandpa’s relatives knew he owned a handgun.  If not, why would they call the police, rather than a social worker, to check in on him.  They knew he was dangerous.

When they realized he was exhibiting signs of mental instability, would it not make more sense for one of them to suggest, “Maybe it’s not such a good idea for him to have access to a firearm.”  They devise a plan.  “A couple of US take the old man out for dinner while another one of US searches his home for weapons and, if still present, removes them from the residence.  Then, if he gets mad, the worst he can do is throw the TV remote at somebody”

Do not take my word for it.  The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the largest mental health teaching hospital in Canada, lists contacting the police as the last of four actions one should consider when concerned about a family member.  The first three rely on a relative or friend as an intermediary, someone the person in need of help trusts.  Someone who will talk with the troubled individual in terms of “I” or “WE,” instead of the more judgmental “YOU.”  NOTE:  To ensure their own safety, CAMH recommends relatives or friends read up on mental health care and get training before initiating an intervention with a loved one.

Interventions by a stranger, much less uniformed police officers, are more likely to exacerbate the situation.  We need look no farther than the April 13 shooting of a black teenager Ralph Yarl by 84-year-old Andrew Lester.  Or the death of 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis four days later at the hands of 65-year-old Kevin Monahan.  Their crimes?  In Yarl’s case, mistakenly going to the wrong house to pick up his brother.  Gillis’?  Pulling in and turning around in the wrong driveway.  In this era of “fire first, ask questions later,” law enforcement officers are just as vulnerable as everyone else.

As CAMH suggests, red flag laws still make sense as a last resort.  However, incidents such as the one last Friday in St. Louis are less likely when someone whom a troubled individual knows and trusts takes the lead in deescalating the situation.

For what it’s worth.

Why I Watch MSNBC

In this morning’s New York Times, former CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter writes about the faux invincibility of cable news headliners such as Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon.  He should know, having been ceremoniously dismissed by CNN in 2022.  He predicts both Fox News and CNN will survive the “Monday Morning Massacre” of two of their most recognizable anchors.

Reading an insider’s take on the shakeup at the two networks reminded me why MSNBC has won my allegiance when it comes to political punditry.  Or should I say three particular shows: Morning Joe, Deadline White House and The Beat.  What do these three programs have in common?  Not their Democratic or liberal bias since two of the three feature a former conservative Republican congressman (Joe Scarborough) and the communications director for George W. Bush (Nicolle Wallace).  Only one, The Beat’s Ari Melber, was active in Democratic politics.  He went back to school and earned his law degree at Cornell following John Kerry’s 2004 unsuccessful presidential bid during which Melber served as the campaign’s deputy political director in California.

What then do the three hosts have in common?  Pretty simple.  All have spent time in the arena.  When Joe Scarborough rants  House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is being held hostage by an extreme fringe of the Republican caucus, he know of what he speaks.  He was a member of the 40 renegade GOP members elected in 1984, dubbed “the New Federalists,” who held Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker in their hands.  As soon as Gingrich lost favor with these outsiders, his fate was sealed.  When Scarborough explains how tough it was for Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to put together the coalition responsible for passing the Inflation Reduction Act last year, it rings true.  He had a seat at the table for similar negotiations.

Wallace is equally qualified to enumerate the number of times the Trump administration crashed through legal and ethical guardrails she faced as she carried out her West Wing responsibilities.  Just this week, during a discussion of the questionable ethics of Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, she shared her experience signing an annual financial disclosure statement which required the certification of the entries as true and accurate “under penalty of law.”  She asked, “Why shouldn’t every federal official, especially someone with such constitutional power and a lifetime appointment, be held to the same standard I was?”

Melber brings his years as a First Amendment lawyer and time in a public defenders office to his analysis of the legal questions and procedures du jour.  His continuing faith in the judiciary is the result of having practiced before judge after judge who put the law before personal considerations or ideologies. Even in those instances where a rogue judge makes headlines, as did U.S. district judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who would deny access to the FDA-approved drug mifepristone, Melber trusts the appeals process will rectify the situation.  When he critiques a judge it is not based on ideology, but as guardian of an institution in which he had a professional and personal stake.

Aspiring aviators do not take flying lessons from someone who has never occupied a pilot’s seat.  Cardiac patients facing a bypass do not trust a surgeon who only studied medicine but never held a scalpel.  Nor would any voter rely on a 67 year old Senator from South Carolina, a bachelor with no children, for guidance on women’s reproductive health care.  Oops, maybe that last one is not the best example.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have great respect for political reporters such as the Times Susanne Craig who deciphered years of Donald Trump’s tax return to prove this supposed “self-made billionaire” was anything but one.  Or ProPublica’s Joshua Kaplan who exposed the relationship between Justice Thomas and Harlan Crow.  However, if you want to understand how the sausage is made in Washington, D.C. or state capitals, ask those who have actually turned the crank on the meat grinder. And have the scars to prove it.

For what it’s worth.

Political Eugenics

The study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by people presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits.


The Republican Party is not yet engaged in the genetic engineering of individuals who are susceptible to fearmongering, alternative facts or election denial.  Instead, they are focused, for lack of a better word, on political eugenics, defined as “discouraging voting by people presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits.”

Yesterday, Cleta Mitchell, a prominent GOP attorney and fundraiser, updated attendees at the RNC donor retreat in Nashville of the latest experiment in the dark art of voter suppression.  Washington Post reporters Josh Dawsey and Amy Gardner described Mitchell’s presentation, labeled “A Level Playing Field,” as “a window into a strategy that seems designed to reduce voter access and turnout.”  Not surprisingly, Mitchell targeted voting on college campuses, a population segment which the Knight Foundation and College Pulse estimates voted for Joe Biden by a margin of 71 to 18 percent.  Predictably, her geographic focus included (drum roll) campus voting in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin.  Her proposed remedy?  Limit on campus voting stations and preregistration, “allowing 17-year-olds to register ahead of their 18th birthdays so they can vote as soon as they are eligible.”

In a fire hose of irony, Mitchell who actively participated in the “big lie” including being on line with Trump during his infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, justified such actions claiming, “Our constitutional republic’s survival is at stake.”  According to audio obtained by the Post, Trump phoned in to the attendees to endorse her message and promised to make changes in student voting if elected in 2024.

Republican controlled state legislatures are not betting on a second coming of Trump.  Idaho has banned student ID cards as a form of voter identification.  New Hampshire requires out-of-state college students to obtain a NH drivers license to vote.  (The ACLU has challenged the requirement claiming the license fee represents a poll tax.) In 2019, Texas has closed early voting sites on college campuses and is considering legislation that would completely eliminate college polling places.  A pending bill in Arizona would not let students use their college dormitory address for voter registration.

Why this visceral response to voting by college students?  Two factors.  First  according to ALL IN, a non-profit focused on civic engagement by younger voters, their has been a significant increase in student registration and voting.  In the 2020 general election, the percentage of student voters climbed to 66 percent, 14 percent more than in 2016. 

Second, those voters chose Biden over Trump by huge margins.  Consider the following which explains why Mitchell is most concerned about states like Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.  In Arizona, Biden’s margin over Trump among youth voters was 126,000 votes in a state Biden won by just 21,000 votes.  Georgia? Biden’s net youth votes (+188,000) contributed to a 7,000 vote statewide victory.  Michigan?  Biden youth vote (+194,000).  Statewide margin (+148,000). [Source: Tufts University Tisch College Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.]

Which brings me back to Mitchell’s concerns about a level playing field.  One explanation might be Democrats have out-organized Republicans on college campuses.  The data suggest just the opposite is true.  There are three national college republican organizations.

  • National Federation of College Republicans (NFCR)
  • College Republican National Committee (CRNC)
  • College Republicans United (CRU)

Additionally, there are 52 state Federations of College Republicans affiliated with one of the three national organizations or operating as independent entities.  Democrats are less structured but outreach tends to be issue oriented: reproductive rights, gun safety, environment.  One could argue campus based GOP clubs are their own worst enemies.  Let me share one example, the Young America’s Foundation.  It provides a speakers bureau for college Republican organizations.  Among its list of available speakers are Stephen Miller, Dana Loesch (NRA), Kellyanne Conway (of alternative facts fame), Oliver North (Iran/Contra) and Trump sycophants Sean Spicer, Ben Shapiro and Fox News host Jesse Watters.  Instead of forcing cancellations of YAF-endorsed speakers, liberals should welcome these folks on college campuses as they are the best messengers to drive more young voters into the Democratic column.

One more thing.  According to its 2021 IRS 990 filing, YAF had total revenue of 28 million dollars of which 26.5 came from contributions and grants. Major donors include the Koch family and the DeVos family. Total expenses were 20.7 million of which 6.6 million were paid in salaries and benefits and 1.8 million in fundraising.   The current YAF president, former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, received compensation in 2021 totaling $799,357.  Is anyone surprised OLDER Americans are the ones making money under the guise of supporting YOUNG Americans?

Based on its reluctance to support child nutrition and day care programs, the long-standing joke has been Republicans believe “life begins at conception and ends at birth.”  This latest effort to eradicate student voters suggests an equally appropriate meme.  “Life begins at conception and ends at college matriculation!”

For what it’s worth.

It’s Not Easy Being…

The last six months have been very good for some Americans…especially if you are anti-Semitic.

I will start with a few examples from my home state of Florida, you know, that place where “tolerance comes to die.” During the Georgia/Florida football game in Jacksonville on October 29, the following was projected on the stadium façade. “Kanye is right about the Jews.” One day earlier, an I-10 overpass was covered with banners. “End Jewish Supremacy in America” “Honk if you know it’s the Jews.”

Not to be outdone, two Florida-based neo-Nazi groups–the Goyim Defense League and NatSoc Florida–chose the Daytona 500 as its venue. They left nothing to the imagination, projecting “Hitler was right” on the outside of the grandstands. Where better to pull this off than the self-proclaimed, “Great American Race,” populated by many individuals who assume “great American race” refers to white Evangelicals.

Of course, the GOP leadership–governors and members of Congress–immediately denounced this fire hose of vile hatred. NOT! Just the opposite. After the GOP’s piped piper posted on Truth Social that “Alvin Bragg received in EXCESS OF ONE MILLION DOLLARS” from George Soros (not true), the snakes lined up in formation. Ohio Senator J.D. Vance tweeted Bragg was “bought by George Soros.” And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described Donald Trump’s indictment as “a manufactured circus by some Soros-DA.” [NOTE: There is no truth to the rumor Disney Studios is planning a reboot of 101 Dalmatians with DeSantis cast as male villian Cruello Deville.] Not to mention Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan and the Eight MAGites, who yesterday starred in a premiere matinee performance of “Bullies on Broadway.”

But that’s not what I came here to talk about. Certainly, I am concerned some deranged zealot might listen to this symphony of dog whistles and bull horns and deface a Jewish Community Center or desecrate a Jewish cemetery. Or worse, emulate Frazier Miller who killed three people outside a Jewish retirement home outside Kansas City in 2014. Or Robert Bowers who murdered 11 members of the Tree of Life Synagogue outside Pittsburgh in 2018 because right-wing media told him George Soros was funding immigrant caravans.

This morning, however, my concern is whether the Jewish community can have an honest discussion, including criticism of policies or actions by Jewish leaders, without adding fuel to the fire. I will start with the most serious case, Benjamin Netanyahu’s failed effort to castrate Israel’s judiciary system. Or his kowtowing to the ultra-Orthodox members of his fragile governing coalition when it comes to settlements on the West Bank or adherence to the Oslo Accords. Does vocal disapproval by Jews of what other Jews say or do feed anti-Semitism? I wonder when I read or hear white supremacists ask, “How can you call me anti-Semitic when some Jews admit their own people are making the world more dangerous?” Again, not true but we know that does not matter. Haters seek refuge in any port in a storm they, themselves, generated.

This next example may seem trivial, but none-the-less significant. While reading yesterday’s Washington Post article how GOP members of the Senate Judiciary opposed a temporary replacement for ailing California Senator Diane Feinstein, I had a visceral reaction. Not directed at Republicans. Instead I wanted to scream, “What is it about old Jewish women that makes them intent on letting the Federalist Society continue to pack the courts with ultra-conservative judges who nullify hard-fought-for rights?” First, it was Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She put longevity on the court ahead of the nation’s best interests. Now Diane Feinstein is holding up confirmation of almost all of President Biden’s judicial nominations.

It is not hard to imagine how different the court might be if Ginsberg had allowed Barack Obama to nominate and a Democratic Senate to confirm her successor. Would Chief Justice Roberts have delivered a less draconian majority opinion in the Dobbs case with support of four moderate and progressive justices? Has Feinstein considered whether the next Republican president would fill vacancies resulting from her absence with more Matthew Kacsmaryks, the Texas district judge who thinks he knows more about women’s health than the FDA and the AMA?

Does this make me anti-Semitic? Misogynist? Agist? All of the above? Or have I become another stereotype, an old Jewish male, sitting on the front porch, constantly annoyed about who is traipsing all over my lawn?

Maybe it is time for the Democratic National Committee to create its own actuarial tables. Not based on factors that determine how long someone will live. But considerations that signal when one of their own risks undermining the very policies and legal precedents they espouse.

For what it’s worth.

Maybe It’s You

I was doing a show at Ft. Polk for the troops in Louisiana a few months ago. Anyway, there are 40,000 men stationed at Ft. Polk. And this really well-dressed, drunk lady yells out, “Every one of them is a bad f***!” You know, after about 39,000 times, wouldn’t you start to go, “Maybe it’s me. I seem to be the only common denominator in this equation.”

Comedian Ron White/You can’t fix stupid

Conservatives are wringing their hands over what they believe is liberal indoctrination of young Americans at the nation’s colleges and universities. This is nothing new. In 2004, George Will, using an American Enterprise Institute survey, wrote:

 [The survey] of 1,000 professors finds that Democrats outnumber Republicans at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. That imbalance, more than double what it was three decades ago, is intensifying because younger professors are more uniformly liberal than the older cohort that is retiring.

This ideological shift is not limited to the humanities and social sciences. A similar review of faculty at Stanford and Berkeley, which included engineering and natural sciences professors, reported nine Democrats for every Republican. Pretty damning evidence that higher education in the United States is populated with left-wing madrasas. Except for a universal truth, there is a difference between correlation and causation.

Will points out this disparity has doubled in the past 30 years. So, just maybe, it is important to take a look at exactly how the conservative movement has changed in that same period.

  • The Republican Party, led by Ronald Reagan, believed the Soviet Union (now Russia) was an “evil empire.” Today, registered GOP voters give Vladimir Putin a higher favorability rating than Joe Biden, despite the former’s invasion of Ukraine and multiple crimes against humanity.
  • The current GOP majority in the House of Representatives rails against the national debt, but conveniently ignores the fact George W. Bush’s and Donald Trump’s tax cuts are the single largest contributor to the spending/revenue imbalance.
  • Conservatives claim the best government is government closest to the people. Yet, they fire locally elected district attorneys, intervene in local criminal investigations, dissolve local school boards, and yesterday, expelled two members of the Tennessee General Assembly for daring to challenge the state’s permissive gun laws.
  • They wrap themselves in the First Amendment, but ban books and punish those who disagree with them.
  • They claim to be for “law and order,” but are silent when the MAGA wing of the Republican Party honors convicted felons who pummeled Capitol police with American flags.
  • The party that once impeached Bill Clinton saying “character matters,” again plays deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to falsifying business records to disguise hush money payments to a porn star and a Playboy model and calls efforts to investigate the alleged perpetrator a “witch hunt.”
  • They declare “individual freedom” to be a sacred except when it comes to a woman’s right to choose and sexual orientation.
  • They promise economic opportunity for all but continue to push two economic theories (supply side and trickle down) which have resulted in an ever growing disparity between the haves and haves not.
  • And just yesterday, we watched as Republicans cried foul over Judge Juan Merchan’s donations to Democratic causes in 2020 (totaling $35) but said nothing about Justice Clarence Thomas’ accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported gifts from a major GOP donor.

Which brings me back to Ron White.  Conservatives sound an awful lot like that well-dressed, drunk woman at his Ft. Polk performance.  They are dissatisfied, not with sexual gratification, but ideological fulfillment.  Imagine if White had said:

There are thousands of college and university faculty out there. And you think every one of them is a socialist or communist who hates America. They come from a lot of different places and different backgrounds. So, maybe it’s you. You are the common denominator in this equation.

An argument can even be made that even the most conservative educational institutions contribute to this liberal movement.  Hillsdale College’s website states this uber conservative Christian liberal arts school challenges its students to “study timeless truths.”  If the administration and faculty believe what they say, they should not be surprised when students compare the brand of conservatism being peddled by the growing MAGA influencers in the Republican Party to that of a previous era and look elsewhere.

There was a college which promoted the principles of curiosity and personal exploration.  New College of Florida.  Once described as the learning ground for “free-thinkers and risk takers,” the school has been emasculated by Governor Ron DeSantis.  After replacing the entire board of trustees with friends and political allies, applications have declined, current students are transferring to liberal arts colleges in other states and alumni donors have pulled back $30 million in pledges.  Among its first actions, the new trustees abolished the Office of Outreach and Inclusion Excellence.

So much for school choice.  Oh, you can go to any college or university you want.  But it is becoming a false choice, much like having the freedom to select any flavor at the local ice cream parlor.  Except every tub is vanilla.

When Donald Trump said, “I love the poorly educated,” he made the point better than I can.  If a generation of young people with college degrees, at institutions where they were taught research skills and critical thinking, grow up to be liberal professors that is not the fault of the professors.  They are responding to the social, political and cultural environment in which they live, using a value-free skill set to observe and come to their own conclusions.

If conservatives want a better ratio of kindred ideologues in higher education, return to true conservative values that might make sense to inquisitive young people.  Until then, stop playing the victim, accept some personal responsibility, stop whining and lead by persuasion, not force and suppression of free thought. You know, the very things you allegedly claim to believe.

For what it’s worth.