Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Since when do you need the permission of the cops to exercise your First Amendment rights?

I’m certainly no fan of David Gregory. I think he is typical of the new breed of “journalist”, more interested in making news than reporting it. But I also think this nonsense about him showing a high capacity magazine on his Sunday show to be just that, nonsense.

Apparently, now we have to go to the police to get permission to show items on television when they are deemed illegal by our authorities, even if the intent is totally benign.

What has this country come to if it is necessary now to clear our speech with the authorities?

NBC was told by the Washington police that it was “not permissible” to show a high-capacity gun magazine on air before Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” according to a statement Wednesday from the cops.

“NBC contacted [the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department] inquiring if they could utilize a high capacity magazine for their segment,” Gwendolyn Crump, a police spokeswoman, said in an email. “NBC was informed that possession of a high capacity magazine is not permissible and their request was denied. This matter is currently being investigated.”

Since when do we need permission from the authorities to exercise our First Amendment rights?   Here we have a perfect example of the law making criminals of otherwise law-abiding citizens. This is the state of our nation. We no longer enjoy the freedoms we once had, and our rights are fast becoming permission granted by government.

As I’m sure you know, that’s not the way it was supposed to work.

~McQ

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Meanwhile in Egypt, an Islamic Constitution is signed into law

And apparently, our current government, given their history, will really have no problem with it.   Why do I say that? Because their love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood extends back quite some time. Despite all the warnings that the Brotherhood was radical and Islamist, this administration and Democrats have been making overtures for years.

Going back to April 2007, Democrats made special efforts to link up with the MB when visiting then-House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., met with Dr. Saad el-Katatni, the MB’s parliamentary leader, at former U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone’s home, at a time when then-Secretary Condoleezza Rice has publicly refused to meet with the Brotherhood.

Mr. Ricciardone, who I can call a friend, once told me that his friendship with another MB leader, Essam El- Erain, extended for close to 30 years. Perhaps that was the catalyst for this meeting and subsequent meetings that took place at his residency.

A stream of meetings as well as public and private contacts followed between current U.S. Ambassador Ann Paterson and members of the Brotherhood since her arrival to Egypt shortly after the revolution. The ambassador seemed to favor the Brotherhood and the hardliner Salafis over the rest of the secular players in Egypt.

In fact, she has turned down requests for meetings from heads of political parties and other secular politicians, myself included, who opposed the Brotherhood.
In addition to the ambassador, other U.S. officials such as Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Sen. John Kerry made the pilgrimage to the MB headquarters and made sure to meet with their leader, Khairat El-Shater, at times even publicly praising him, as did Mr. Kerry. Those visits were made during a time where no political group had emerged as a leader in post-revolution Egypt.

The result, of course, is a state much more inclined to hostility toward Israel and the United States. Additionally, with the signing of the new Constitution, the secular state is dead. It will relegate women and minorities to second-class status. Additionally, given the Brotherhood’s history, Egypt is likely to lend more support to Hamas and Hezbollah. It is also likely, given the fact that it controls a border area on Gaza, that weaponry into that area will flow unimpeded.

I wanted to bring John Kerry’s role in this  to light, since it is likely he will be the next Secretary of State. Just as he provided propaganda fodder for the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam war, he and other Democrats have provided “justification” for the Muslim Brotherhood’s move to establish Sharia law in Egypt.

The MBs used these high-level meetings to tell the Egyptian people that the U.S. was supporting them and did not object to their rule. Many of us reached out to U.S. officials at the State Department and complained that the U.S. policy regarding the MB was putting the secular forces in Egypt at a disadvantage because it seemed to be propping up the MB, but our concerns were dismissed.

We warned of the MB’s desire to impose Sharia law once in power and the grim effect it would have on the rights of the millions of Christians and moderate Muslims, including women and children, yet all of our warnings were dismissed. It seems that a policy decision was made to bring the MB to power in Egypt at all costs, and it happened.

As it turns out, the situation in Egypt, backed by Democrats and this administration, has made the country a less reliable US ally, has turned the cultural clock there back to the seventh century with the establishment of Sharia law, and has relegated a large portion of Egyptians to second-class status all the while becoming much more of a threat to the country of Israel.

If the purpose of foreign relations is to create situations that are favorable to the United States, this has been an epic failure.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 26 Dec 12

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a relatively weak 2.9% increase from the previous year. ICSC-Goldman reports a weekly sales increase of 0.7%, and a 3.2% increase on a year-over-year basis.

The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose a seasonally-adjusted 0.7% in October, which is 4.3% higher on a year-over-year basis.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index declined from 9 last month, to 5 in December.

State Street’s investor confidence index rose 0.4 points to 80.9 in December. The report says confidence is "weak".

~
Dale Franks
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England: gun ban totally ineffective

It would be nice for once to learn from the experience of others. However our hubris won’t allow it apparently. Here are a couple of  charts which will make the point graphically. We can do all the feel-good legislation we want to, but it’s not going to change a thing.

Note the fact that despite the ban, homicides committed with firearms in England have shown an increase. We’ve talked about why that may be. Part of it is the fact that criminals don’t obey laws or bans. The other part of it has to do with the fact that the ban has created a de facto gun free zone. Therefore, criminals feel “safe” when attacking just about anyone. Thus as noted before, the increase in “hot burglaries”.

Also note that the number of homicides in England has also risen during that time. As we’ve noted before that is likely to change in culture. But there’s no question that the firearms ban has been a total and utter failure.

Will we learn from this?

Of course not. You can see it forming up now. The demand to repeat the failure of England. Apparently, we believe criminals will obey the law. And we also apparently believe that they won’t look for soft targets.

Because, you know, we’re different.

~McQ

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A government we can’t afford

In the Telegraph today, Janet Daley tries to explain the same thing I’ve been trying to explain here for, well, years.

Any political leader prepared to deceive the electorate into believing that government spending, and the vast system of services that it provides, can go on as before – or that they will be able to resume as soon as this momentary emergency is over – was propelled into office virtually by acclamation.

So universal has this rule turned out to be that parties and leaders who know better – whose economic literacy is beyond question – are now afraid even to hint at the fact which must eventually be faced. The promises that governments are making to their electorates are not just misleading: they are unforgivably dishonest. It will not be possible to go on as we are, or to return to the expectations that we once had. The immediate emergency created by the crash of 2008 was not some temporary blip in the infinitely expanding growth of the beneficent state. It was, in fact, almost irrelevant to the larger truth which it happened, by coincidence, to bring into view. Government on the scale established in most modern western countries is simply unaffordable. In Britain, the disagreement between Labour and the Conservatives over how to reduce the deficit (cut spending or increase borrowing?) is ridiculously insignificant and out of touch with the actual proportions of the problem.

Just as our debate here on what constitutes a "balanced approach" to cutting the deficit. The truly silly part of that debate is the demand that "the rich" pay more in taxes, as if that money would somehow close the gap in financing the welfare state. In France, the government wants a 75% tax rate, but…

Barack Obama knows that a tax rise of those proportions in the US would be politically suicidal, so he proposes a much more modest increase – an income tax rate of around 40 per cent on the highest earners sounds very modest indeed to British ears. But that is precisely the problem. If a tax rise is modest enough to be politically acceptable to much of the electorate, it will not produce anything like enough to finance the universal American entitlement programmes, social security and Medicare, into a future with an ageing population. There is no way that “taxing the rich” – that irresistibly glib Left-wing solution to everything – can make present and projected levels of government spending affordable.

Right now, mandatory entitlement spending alone is 62% of the Federal budget, and it will rise continuously under present law. At the same time, federal revenues don’t even cover the cost of those entitlements, plus interest payment on the national debt.

Think about that. We could eliminate the entire Federal Government except for entitlement spending and interest on the national debt, and we would still have to borrow money to pay for it.

The president’s proposal for increasing taxes on "the rich" would bring in an extra $40 billion dollars next year. So, instead of borrowing $1.1 Trillion next year, we’ll only have to borrow $1.06 Trillion. Somehow, we are told, this will be massively helpful.

Meanwhile, if interest rates return to their historic average levels the cost of debt service alone will rise from $250 billion per year to $750 billion per year.

But, really, anyone who isn’t as dumb as a bag of hammers already knows that the amount of government we have is unaffordable, simply by noting that we’ve increased the national debt from $1 trillion to $16.3 trillion since 1980. It took us 190 years to accumulate $1 trillion in debt. And 32 years to multiply it more than 15 times.

We have three choices. We can cut all Federal spending by half. We can have massive tax increases on the middle class. We can do nothing and eventually default/hyperinflate our monetary and financial system away.

Based on the politics of 2012, I assume it will be the latter.

~
Dale Franks
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If we had just bought what the establishment GOP was selling, they would have thrown in undercoating for free

I don’t visit The Corner at National Review as often as I used to. Their pop-behind ads annoy me too much. But with good stuff from Jonah Goldberg, Mark Steyn, Andrew McCarthy, and a few others of that ilk, I still go by from time to time, despite the ads.

Almost as annoying as the ads are the Gentry GOP types who are constantly providing cover for establishment Republicans. Ramesh Ponnuru leads that crew. Ponnuru had a post yesterday, with a follow-on today, that both serve as a fine illustrations.

Both are about the intricate strategerizing (as another establishment Republican might put it) around the so-called fiscal cliff. I tried to understand what he was getting at. I really did. But it all just came out as complicated blather to promote some kind of go-along-get-along viewpoint. I never did understand his argument. I’m pretty sure that he wants the Republicans who blocked the last deal to get with the program and support the establishment cohort led by Boehner, but even after reading his posts through twice I still don’t get *why*.

He ends the first piece with this paragraph:

That some Republicans are willing to see higher taxes for the sake of anti-tax purity is topsy-turvy enough. Adding to the vertigo: The Republicans (inside and outside the House) who fret about blurring the party’s definition are the ones who are doing most to blur it. They are the ones who are, in most cases, accusing Republican leaders of seeking to raise taxes when they are actually trying to cut taxes as much as they think possible—cut them, that is, from the levels the law already has in place for 2013. They’re the ones who are accusing most House Republicans of  “caving” to the Democrats, even as some of them prefer that the Democrats get their way entirely. That’s where the convoluted politics of this moment have led us.

This word salad sounds like an old Dilbert cartoon to me. In it, Dilbert is asked to sign a document stating "Employee election to not rescind the opposite action of declining the reverse inclination to not discontinue employment with the company."

The Gentry GOP’s equivalent seems to be "Voting for the bill to raise taxes in order to not raise taxes while electing to stand firm on not doing anything on spending while ensuring the previous action of claiming to reduce spending." Or something like that. I’m not really sure.

On stuff like this, I am a firm believer in the Asimov principle. In an introduction to one of his books, he said (approximately) "When I read something I don’t understand, I don’t assume I’m stupid." There are plenty of reasons for something to be incomprehensible that don’t have anything to do with me:

- The author might not know what he’s talking about

- The author might be a very bad communicator, and so just can’t explain himself very well

- As in the Dilbert example, the author might be trying to obfuscate the issue

For the entire discussion over the fiscal cliff, from Democrats, the media, or establishment Republicans, I’m going with the last explanation. It’s pretty clear at this point that the whole thing simply does not matter that much in the long term. No proposal being taken seriously will do anything to alter our long term trajectory. So the entire episode is just for political maneuvering.

That’s the part Ponnuru doesn’t seem to get, or at least he doesn’t assign any real weight to it. He doesn’t understand why twenty or so Republicans just won’t go along with the gag.

I get it completely. They have the intuition that they are being gamed.

Analyzing the details doesn’t help, because those details are intentionally confusing, and leave entirely too much room for statists to make things come out the way they want later.

If you’ve ever been subjected to the car salesmen who insists that this wonderful deal he’s offering you won’t be good tomorrow, you know the dynamic here. Those in the GOP who won’t go along with the game sense that the ruling class is using the same technique, with the fiscal cliff deadline as the nominal justification.

In general, I’m sick of any argument by an establishment GOP type that it’s necessary to do X to avoid being blamed for Y. Much of this fiscal cliff discussion seems to be in that vein. I’m sick of it because it pre-supposes that there is a path where the GOP won’t be blamed for the bad things that happen. That’s ridiculous.

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Considering armed school guards

Is it really so horrible to talk about armed law enforcement officers at our schools?   Or do we prefer continue to listen to stories and watch video of anguished parents standing outside a school under siege and wondering whether their child made it?

If we really want this “discussion” that the left appears to be craving, this is a viable and practical way to combat such acts of violence in schools.  And yes, it means more guns and near a school too.  Unless you’re comfortable with a 20 minute wait time for the local cops to arrive.  Yeah, not much shooting can happen in 20 minutes, can it?

Of course, we all know what that really means when the left claims to want to have a discusion, don’t we?  It means the left getting their way and  banning guns. They are really not interested in considering alternatives or actually hearing contrary opinion. And God forbid you should use facts. When the left talks about having a discussion, they’re essentially saying ‘you sit and listen to me talk and then we’ll do it my way’.  And if you refuse, they call you every vile name they can think of, and when you answer, they claim you’re being uncivil.  Wash, rinse and repeat.

Anyway …

It seems interesting to me that no one had a real problem with air marshals when they were put on aircraft. Remember them? They were a reaction to the fact that government had disarmed everyone that flies on an airplane, and consequently terrorists with box cutters were able to take advantage of that and finally kill 3,000 on 9/11 without anyone on two of the flights being able to put up a defense (except flight 93, of course).  The flying public was downright pleased, in fact, to know the marshalls were aboard.

LaPierre discussed in detail an inconvenient fact many in the media and on Capitol Hill have failed to acknowledge: gun free school zones leave children vulnerable to violent attacks carried out by madmen. LaPierre said making schools gun free over the years has simply told “every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with little risk.”

He’s right. You think an “insane killer” would attempt the same thing at a gun show? They are not that insane. Instead they look  the place of least resistance. And that would be a “gun free zone”. Schools, unfortunately, are easy targets because they are usually  gun free zones.

Right now we have no problem arming guards and  stationing them  at critical facilities. You read about very few “insane killers” trying to get inside a federal building, at least not anymore. That’s because they know they will meet armed resistance. So why not go to a school instead?

If the left really wants to have a “discussion” about the school shootings in Connecticut, then this must be on the table. The whole point of course is to make those “insane killers” reject schools as an easy target. What better way to do that than to make it clear that they will face  well trained armed guards if they try?

It all goes back to the discussion of  human nature.  Few  “insane killers” are going to go somewhere where they may not be able to  accomplish their murderous deed in the manner they wish. Instead, they’re going to look for the easiest target.  Certainly having armed guards at schools isn’t what we would prefer (and no, it won’t forever traumatize little Johnny and Jane to have them). But reality rarely cares what we prefer.

It is time we deal with reality.  Bulletin: we live in a dangerous society that has any number of deranged people in it.  I’m not sure how many more school shootings we have to suffer before we get the message. Certainly not an ideal solution, but definitely a very practical solution.  It won’t guarantee the safety of our children necessarily, but it certainly will give them a fighting chance. And, probably more importantly,  once it becomes known that schools routinely employ armed guards, my guess is the “insane killers” will attempt to find newer and less threatening targets with which to claim their 15 minutes of fame.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 21 Dec 12

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

The Reuter’s/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index is down nearly 10 points in December to 72.9  from last month’s 82.7.

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index turned positive, coming in at 0.10 vice a revised -0.64 in October.

Personal income in October was up 0.6%, following a flat October. Consumer spending rose 0.4%, compared to a -0.2% drop in October. For inflation, the PCE price index fell -0.2% while the core rate was unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, income is up 4.1% while spending is up 3.5%; the PCE is up 1.4% at the headline level and 1.5% at the core.

Durable goods orders in November rose 0.7%, while ex-transportation orders were up 1.6%. This is the second consecutive monthly increase.

The Kansas City Fed manufacturing index fell to -6 in November from -4 in October.

~
Dale Franks
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Gun ownership doesn’t correlate with murder rates

In a recent study two Harvard professors determined that banning guns will not solve the violence or murder problem. That in fact, guns really have nothing to do with it. Instead it is instead a matter of culture.

The reason that gun ownership doesn’t correlate with murder rates, the authors show, is that violent crime rates are determined instead by underlying cultural factors.  “Ordinary people,” they note, “simply do not murder.”  Rather, “the murderers are a small minority of extreme antisocial aberrants who manage to obtain guns whatever the level of gun ownership” in their society.

Therefore, “banning guns cannot alleviate the socio-cultural and economic factors that are the real determinants of violence and crime rates.”  According to Dr. Kates and Dr. Mauser, “there is no reason for laws prohibiting gun possession by ordinary, law-abiding, responsible adults because such people virtually never commit murder.  If one accepts that such adults are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than to commit it, disarming them becomes not just unproductive but counter-productive.”

The sort of reasoning Kates and Mauser use for  seems to be foreign to those who want to ban guns. It is not a problem of law abiding citizens because, as the authors state, law-abiding citizens don’t commit murder. Consequently, taking their guns away will have no fact other than to make them easier victims. The counter gun culture tries very hard to correlate guns with violence and murder. But looking at the number of guns owned in America as well as the number of Americans who own guns (45 – 52 million), we see that in reality gun crime and gun violence are statistically small.   As the authors state disarming law-abiding citizens is “not just unproductive but counterproductive.”

Additionally, they use these things called “facts” to gut  the myths that have grown up around gun ownership and violence. For instance, the myth surrounding the Soviet Union and its strict gun control.

In their piece entitled Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and some Domestic Evidence, Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser eviscerate “the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths.”  In so doing, the authors provide fascinating historical insight into astronomical murder rates in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and they dispel the myths that widespread gun ownership is somehow unique to the United States or that America suffers from the developed world’s highest murder rate.

To the contrary, they establish that Soviet murder rates far exceeded American murder rates, and continue to do so today, despite Russia’s extremely stringent gun prohibitions.  By 2004, they show, the Russian murder rate was nearly four times higher than the American rate.

The authors also look at the gun control policies in Europe and find evidence that counters the correlation between gun ownership and violence.

More fundamentally, Dr. Kates and Dr. Mauser demonstrate that other developed nations such as Norway, Finland, Germany, France and Denmark maintain high rates of gun ownership, yet possess murder rates lower than other developed nations in which gun ownership is much more restricted.

For example, handguns are outlawed in Luxembourg, and gun ownership extremely rare, yet its murder rate is nine times greater than in Germany, which has one of the highest gun ownership rates in Europe.  As another example, Hungary’s murder rate is nearly three times higher than nearby Austria’s, but Austria’s gun ownership rate is over eight times higher than Hungary’s.  “Norway,” they note, “has far and away Western Europe’s highest household gun ownership rate (32%), but also its lowest murder rate.  The Netherlands,” in contrast, “has the lowest gun ownership rate in Western Europe (1.9%) … yet the Dutch gun murder rate is higher than the Norwegian.”

Dr. Kates and Dr. Mauser proceed to dispel the mainstream misconception that lower rates of violence in Europe are somehow attributable to gun control laws.  Instead, they reveal, “murder in Europe was at an all-time low before the gun controls were introduced.”  As the authors note, “strict controls did not stem the general trend of ever-growing violent crime throughout the post-WWII industrialized world.”

Citing England, for instance, they reveal that “when it had no firearms restrictions [in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries], England had little violent crime.”  By the late 1990s, however, “England moved from stringent controls to a complete ban on all handguns and many types of long guns.”  As a result, “by the year 2000, violent crime had so increased that England and Wales had Europe’s highest violent crime rate, far surpassing even the United States.”  In America, on the other hand, “despite constant and substantially increasing gun ownership, the United States saw progressive and dramatic reductions in criminal violence in the 1990s.”

So, if one is honest and reads the evidence clearly, they are left with the understanding that the attempted correlation between gun ownership and violence doesn’t really exist. In fact, it appears that it is indeed the culture that is the cause of violence. One could even argue that disarming the public makes them the culture of victims. For example, one of the things we hear about England is that there has been a vast increase in “hot burglaries” since firearms have been banned. That ban has emboldened the criminals. They no longer fear the homeowner. They know the homeowner does not have a gun. Why? Because they’re law-abiding citizens.

Finally, Kates and Mauser talk about the seeming change in American culture and its impact on violent crime.

Critically, Dr. Kates and Dr. Mauser note that “the fall in the American crime rate is even more impressive when compared with the rest of the world,” where 18 of the 25 countries surveyed by the British Home Office suffered violent crime increases during that same period.

Furthermore, the authors highlight the important point that while the American gun murder rate often exceeds that in other nations, the overall per capita murder rate in other nations (including other means such as strangling, stabbing, beating, etc.) is oftentimes much higher than in America.

As should be obvious to anyone, those that are murdered really don’t care about the means that murder. Dead is dead.   The key to reducing murder is cultural. It has nothing to do with the weapon involved. As Kates and Mauser pointed out the per capita murder rate in other nations is often higher than ours. And many if not most of those include countries with strict gun bans.

It should seem clear, given the experience of many European countries with strict gun control, that banning guns does not solve the murder and violence problem. It would be nice for a change if we would learn from the experience of others. As horrific as the Newtown massacre was, it wasn’t perpetrated by a person anyone would consider a law-abiding citizen.  In fact, he had no concept of the principle of law or his responsibility to abide by it.

If we want to learn from that incident, the lesson isn’t about guns.  It’s about how inadequate our means of handling those who pose a danger to society really are.  Megan McArdle does a good job of discussing that very important point.

This study seems to point to what many would argue is obvious. However there is a strong, emotional lobby that continues to want to ignore the primary problem in favor of banning the instrument of murder in this particular case. It is foolish and shortsighted.  It would be feel-good legislation, made in haste as usual and in the end accomplishing nothing. We have a history of knee jerk legislation made in haste in which the consequences are unforeseen and usually unintended.

What should be clear is we don’t want to end up like England.

~McQ

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