Archive for January, 2013

VDH on ‘Lead from Behind’

“This bipartisan activist policy is coming to a close with the new “lead from behind” policy of the Obama administration. Perhaps America now believes that the United Nations has a better record of preventing or stopping wars — or that the history of the United States suggests we have more often caused rather than solved problems, or that with pressing social needs at home we can no longer afford an activist profile abroad at a time of near financial insolvency.

Yet the reasons for our new isolationism, analogous to early 1914 or 1939, do not matter; all that matters is the reality that lots of bad actors now believe that the United States cannot or will not impede their agendas — and that no one else will in our absence. Americans are rightly tired of the Afghan and Iraq wars. Yet we left no monitoring force in Iraq and are winding down precipitately in Afghanistan, and thus have no guarantees that our decade-long struggle for postwar consensual government will survive in either place.”

Professor Hanson says War Is Like Rust: “War seems to come out of nowhere, like rust that suddenly pops up on iron after a storm.

There are some who deny human nature or have a strong belief that history is no predictor. The denial is often flavored with rationalizations such as the idea that the source of all evil is Western Culture — that gets into an interesting exploration about personal feelings of guilt and how they are expressed.

VDH says “there is no evidence in either human nature or our recorded past to believe such a rosy prognosis.”. The biggest problem seems to be that evidence makes no difference to all too many.

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A first step is to agree on a common language

“In disputes over the future of gun laws, people espousing different positions often literally don’t understand each other.

“The sides are speaking different languages,” says Harry Wilson, author of “Guns, Gun Control, and Elections: The Politics and Policy of Firearms.”

Many of the most frequently used words and phrases in this debate mean different things to different people — or, in some cases, don’t have clear meanings to anyone.”

Josh Leva says Loaded language poisons gun debate

As with the use of children as props in a debate, words without clear meaning chosen to frame the debate debase the debate. They move it from a matter of rationale discussion of values and ideologies to matters of emotion and comfort where actual consequences and implications are set aside or even denied.

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A Marine Corps officer wonders who is pushing the agenda

“The Marine Corps passed to congress and higher that it would not be a good idea ton implement women into the infantry. What does the Marine Corps know? They only have been fighting our nations wars, that’s all. Well, to already cluster strike an idea that apparently everyone in the room already knows the results except those in DC, a female Marine gives her two cents. But hey, it’s only another Marine telling everyone, it’s a bad idea. Let’s do it anyway!!! Brilliant. “

Maj Pain at BlackFive says Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal quoting Capt Katie Petronio, “a company grade 1302 combat engineer officer with 5 years of active service and two combat deployments, one to Iraq and the other to Afghanistan.”

“Who is driving this agenda? I am not personally hearing female Marines, enlisted or officer, pounding on the doors of Congress claiming that their inability to serve in the infantry violates their right to equality. Shockingly, this isn’t even a congressional agenda. … it’s very surprising to see that none of the committee members are on active duty or have any recent combat or relevant operational experience relating to the issue they are attempting to change. I say this because, at the end of the day, it’s the active duty servicemember who will ultimately deal with the results of their initiatives, not those on the outside looking in.”

The captain has ‘been there, done that’ and has first hand experience with the result. Her story is worth careful consideration.

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It ain’t them. It’s us. — dissonance by David

“Frankly, I don’t know whether the majority of Americans have fundamentally changed, whether ignorance, apathy and/or a sense of helplessness have seized too many right-thinking Americans, whether the Saul Alinsky-fed Democrats are just superior at propaganda or whether the Republican political class, out of frustration or lack of conviction, has given up.”

What is the source of this bit of dissonance? A list is presented and the stimulus was a story about a sports star. David Limbaugh offers Half-Plaudits to Mickelson.

“The sports media, which are every bit as shamelessly liberal as their counterparts in the political media, savaged Mickelson for daring to complain about paying his “fair share.” After they shamed him, Mickelson apologized — regrettably — saying he should have kept his thoughts to himself.”

“Should we applaud a culture that lacks the moral courage to discourage envy and covetousness and instead champions them? This is liberalism, folks. This is the left’s ideal America.”

There are many who are trying to figure out why “what’s it matter” is sitting on top of gravestones, irrational debate has taken over politics, and the Senate majority leader is “disengaging” while the Republicans “cave” – at least according to headlines.

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What is modern combat really like?

Trying to make women and men equal in all ways is one of those high sounding nifty ideas that recently came to the fore in the idea of allowing women to serve in combat roles in the military. It is also a ‘nifty idea’ that has problems with reality. Scott Johnson quotes and Iraqi marine to label that idea An act of wanton destruction.

“It seems to me an act of wanton destruction — David French calls it “Demilitarizing the military” — of a piece with Obama’s touch elsewhere. I commend to your attention Ryan Smith’s Wall Street Journal column “The reality that awaits women in combat.” Smith himself is a combat veteran with poignant memories of his service in Iraq. Available via Google News, the column may be inaccessible behind the Journal’s paywall. Smith writes:”

You can read a memoir such as Love Company: L Company, 399th Infantry Regiment, of the 100th Infantry Division during World War II and Beyond and you’ll find that the grunt on the front line in the European theater in World War II has a lot of experience that can be shared with one in Iraq in the 2000’s. That experience is considerably different from that envisioned by the ‘equality of sexes’ dreamers.

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Vietnam fantasies: Stone vs reality

“to a leftist there can never be an honest disagreement with a leftist policy: it must always come because someone is paid to oppose the Left. Again, we have no mention of the infiltration of campuses by active Soviet sympathizers and devout Communists, which continues to the present.”

Another propaganda film, one that is supposedly a documentary, has its deceit exposed.

“Vietnam did leave a lasting scar, one that was not fully healed until American forces effortlessly kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The nation was divided, but this was in no small measure due to the fact that many passionately understood that America’s cause against Communism was righteous and necessary. Nixon’s narrow election in 1968, for instance, was only “narrow” because George Wallace, even more committed to defeating the North Vietnamese, siphoned off millions of votes from Nixon. Stone’s series is only “untold” because few have had the temerity to portray Soviet propaganda on cable TV as historical fact. If we are lucky, it will continue to be “untold.””

Larry Schweikart provides A History Lesson for Oliver Stone on Vietnam – real history, not the made-up stuff that is mostly just leftist anti-U.S. fantasy. It is one of a series at on the efforts to re-write history so as to make it fit in what some want it to be rather than what it really is.

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Circling wagons: there is a difference

Jessoca Chasmar reports that an ‘Infuriated’ Boxer stormed out of Benghazi hearing. That was because “Mr Paul said it was “inexcusable” for the State Department to ignore the Benghazi cables.”

“To suggest that she’s retiring from this post after traveling a million miles and being one of the greatest secretaries of state because of Benghazi is unbelievable,” Ms Boxer retorted on MSNBC. “To speak to Sec. Clinton that way, it says more about him than it does about her.”

The fact of the matter is that the mid-east is in turmoil. U.S. diplomats have been killed due to security lapses. These are significant failures. But to people like Senator Boxer, the deaths and turmoil are less important than how far the boss in charge of these areas has travelled.

There is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. It is on display in the Benchazi hearings.

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Over-reach on gun control?

“Overextension is often the result of hubris, the delusion of invincibility as exemplified by Napoleon and Hitler. The enemies of the Bill of Rights have similarly assumed they could exploit the blood of the murder victims to revive an agenda that had been put down hard in 2000, but their resulting hubris yielded at least three irrevocably self-damning statements that should turn their opportunity into a catastrophe.”

William Levinson says it’s The Antigun Movement’s Bridge Too Far. His caveat is that the lessons will fade into the woodwork unless people act to highlight and communicate the lessons that can be learned. These lessons are from Governor Ed Rendell and “The Good Thing About Newton…”, Prime Minister John Howard who thinks Australia “Correctly” has no Bill of Rights, and Governor Andrew Cuomo who says “No One Needs 10 Bullets to Kill a Deer”.

That is, no crisis is too tragic to waste for these folks, they do not understand basic civil rights and why the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution, and they do not understand that civilian arms is mostly about property and civil rights and matters of self defense (rather than recreation).

The problem is Joseph Goebbels’ advice that “Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect.” Just how do you turn crude, clear, and forcible appeals to feelings into a nuanced and strong argument based in intellectual integrity? Just how do you get people to stop and think?

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Something about guns drives certain people totally nuts

“There’s a huge PR opportunity here. Painting the Second Amendment as a defense of racism & slavery is a nice way to rebrand NRA types — both the organization itself and its most virulent supporters.”

Daniel Wattenberg says that the Roots of Glover’s 2nd Amendment interpretation lie in eccentric historical claims of 9/11 truther. The idea that the 2nd amendment roots were in oppression rather than freedom came from a “left-wing website proudly specializing in provocation.”

But, to ‘never let a crisis go to waste’, the war for control over civil liberties takes advantage of every opportunity and ignores constraints of reality and integrity. As in the past election, any tool that can be found to paint the opposition is considered fair game no matter how much it must be distorted and twisted.

Perhaps, just perhaps, more people will take a look at the paint job and begin to see just how sloppy and dishonest it is. Then they can realize it is the painter and not the subject that needs a closer examination.

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Discretion, responsibility, and corruption

Professor Reynolds has published a short paper about the problem of too many laws — Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime.

It used to be that the Grand Jury was a bulwark against prosecutorial over-reach but a longstanding aphorism is that a good prosecutor can convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. The accused is at risk and the accuser has very little to lose. That is not a good balance.

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You can’t assume a rational voter

“repeating once again the facts demonstrating that failure and the flawed ideology that has created it, or more effectively repackaging the facts and arguments and having it delivered by an oratorical genius, is not going to cut much ice.”

Bruce Thornton says “It’s Not the Message, It’s Not the Messenger, It’s the Voter” in suggesting why much of the Republican analysis regarding the loss in recent elections is misdirected.

“Dig deeper into the ideas behind the policies and you’ll find out why the Democrats’ narrative is so much more appealing to such voters than is that of the Republicans. … individuals, families, churches, and communities must see to their own needs and wants and find some way to pay for them. … the limits of human knowledge all mean that we have to accept an imperfect world in which life isn’t fair: there are no winners without losers, there’s no free lunch, and we can’t eat our cake and have it.

The progressive Democrats, in contrast to the timeless wisdom even an illiterate peasant once understood, endorse a therapeutic view of human life. People aren’t responsible for their choices, for an unjust political and economic environment … Risk and trade-offs are not a permanent cost of human aspirations and actions, but can be removed from human life.”

“Better messages and better messengers are not going to overcome human nature. The melancholy truth is that our debt, deficit, and entitlement problems will not be seriously addressed until a critical mass of citizens feels the pain of these self-interested, shortsighted, catastrophic policies.”

The budget process is an example. For the last four years, government has been run on a cash flow basis with crisis after crisis as new credit is sought to cover bills and pay for expenses. A budget, such as the Senate has avoided, is a way out of shortsighted financial thinking that looks beyond immediate needs and desires.

The U.S. government is ‘special’ because those who created the Constitution were able to develop mechanisms to encourage and stimulate rising above “self-interested, shortsighted, catastrophic policies.” But a proclivity towards such failings is strong and there is no way to require people to think, to reason, and to consider reality. How to move voters in such a direction is a challenge.

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The dream of a defenseless citizenry

Something must be done! History and experience do not matter. Do something! anything!

The problem with unreasoned and ignorant ‘do something’ efforts is that the often run into unintended consequences. The idea to limit magazine size is one such idea.

“The rationale for such limits is that mass murderers need “large-capacity” magazines, while law-abiding citizens don’t. Both premises are questionable, and so is the notion that politicians should be the arbiters of necessity under the Second Amendment.”

Jacob Sullum describes The Threat Posed by Gun Magazine Limits and why Bans on “large capacity ammunition feeding devices” could endanger victims instead of saving them.

“the Court said, the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons “in common use for lawful purposes,” which clearly include guns capable of firing more than 10 rounds”

Why is the right to bear arms in the constitution? It isn’t hunting. Oleg Atbashian provides a clue in Pravda, Guns, and America

In regards to the effectiveness of the ‘do something’ ethos, see Jeffrey Scott Shapiro: A Gun Ban That Misfired. What I saw as a prosecutor in Washington, D.C., makes me wary of strict firearms laws.

The idea of restricting individual rights is one thing. The fanatacism behind efforts to do so is something to behold (and something that should cause concern).

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Tax returns and identity fraud: hidden costs

” In sum, e-filing helps the IRS with audit selection, costs the Treasury billions through fraud, and transfers many costs of tax administration to you.”

Starkman: E-Filing and the Explosion in Tax-Return Fraud

What this means is that the input is automated, the processing for IRS needs is simplified, but the verification process is insufficient. Things like verifying that the taxpayer ID on the return is the same as the one on the bank account before doing a direct deposit don’t seem to be in the list. With the data the IRS and the government maintains, data mining techniques could be used to help detect and prevent fraud. The private sector, credit card companies for instance, do this.

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emasculation: a true confession

What is the core interest in gun control? Emily Johnson describes her “conversion from gun-hater to gun-user” and provides a clue as she struggles with reality.

“There is one more thing that Chris likes about his gun. It makes him feel tough. He’s kind of a manly man, and firepower, whether you intend to use it or not, is a pretty manly thing. This is the tiniest part of why Chris is a gun owner, but it’s there, and it’s the part that I don’t like, and that I can’t approve of.”

This one goes deep. It is a part of the war on boys and men in modern culture. It is a part of the war on heroes and chivalry and the sort of cultural decency that Walter Williams described (see below).

“So, along with not trusting other gun owners to handle their guns properly, I also don’t trust them to shake off that feeling of power that a gun gives them – power over other lives. In the end, that’s the real problem with guns – their corrupting force.”

Guns do not have a force in and of themselves. They are tools that have value not only in their utility but also in their technology and craftsmanship. Corruption — evil — is not a matter of temptation but rather of humans to rise above it. By ‘simply wanting guns gone’ or by placing requirements such as licensing or selection, the responsibility of the individual is being usurped with that of government. Arguably, corruption in government is much more difficult a problem than it is in an individual.

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It’s a management problem: measure for easy prosecution or for results?

“These laws are intended to make the job of prosecuting drugged drivers easier,” said Daniel Rees, professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver who co-authored the study with D. Mark Anderson, assistant professor of economics at Montana State University. “In states without these laws, prosecutors must rely on field sobriety tests or evidence that a motorist was driving erratically in order to prove impairment.”

Drugged driving laws show little impact: All 50 states urged to adopt such laws describes a study by economists at the University of Colorado Denver and Montana State University.

“Using state-level data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for the period 1990-2010, Anderson and Rees examined the relationship between adopting controlled substance thresholds for drivers and traffic fatalities. They found that the relationship is statistically indistinguishable from zero and concluded that there is no evidence that these limits reduced traffic deaths.”

Much like a posted speed limit, the existence of drugs in the blood is an artificial criterion that serves more to facilitate an easy to obtain number. Such numbers make prosecution easier. They don’t make the roads safer according to this study.

There is a close analogy with ‘gun control’ as political ideologues struggle to find definitions for such terms as ‘assault rifle’ that can make prosecution easy. The goal of the legislation is set aside in the rush to ‘do something, anything’ that sounds as if it is supposed to work. The problem is that doing things that don’t work tend to irritate people and generate compliance problems or make everyone a criminal subject to selective government harassment.

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Guns, racism, and freedom from consequential oppression

“Many liberal ideas about race sound plausible, and it is understandable that these ideas might have been attractive 50 years ago. What is not understandable is how so many liberals can blindly ignore 50 years of evidence to the contrary since then.”

Liberalism Versus Blacks by Thomas Sowell describes the way that discrimination can be achieved using San Francisco as the example. It just has to fly under false colors as an unintended consequence of a feel good effort.

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Walter Williams on ‘the problem’

“Customs, traditions, moral values and rules of etiquette, not laws and government regulations, are what make for a civilized society. These behavioral norms — transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings — represent a body of wisdom distilled through ages of experience, trial and error, and looking at what works. The importance of customs, traditions and moral values as a means of regulating behavior is that people behave themselves even if nobody’s watching. Police and laws can never replace these restraints on personal conduct so as to produce a civilized society. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. The more uncivilized we become the more laws that are needed to regulate behavior.

Many customs, traditions and moral values have been discarded without an appreciation for the role they played in creating a civilized society, and now we’re paying the price. What’s worse is that instead of a return to what worked, people want to replace what worked with what sounds good, such as zero-tolerance policies in which bringing a water pistol, drawing a picture of a pistol, or pointing a finger and shouting “bang-bang” produces a school suspension or arrest. Seeing as we’ve decided that we should rely on gun laws to control behavior, what should be done to regulate clubs and hammers? After all, FBI crime statistics show that more people are murdered by clubs and hammers than rifles and shotguns.”

Are Guns the Problem? by professor Williams provides a comparison and contrast to the frothing at the mouth about gun control as in a recent press briefing or in New York.

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Myth of the month: Debt limit about paying bills

Bill McBride has hit this several times: Bernanke to Congress: Do your job, Pay the Bills. In doing so, he reveals a political bias.

The debt limit is a financial control. As with any complex system, government expenditures need many controls at many levels. In personal finance, the debt limit is your credit limit. It is a last ditch control.

A more basic financial control is a budget. That is where you plan your spending to meet goals against expected income. The problem the U.S. government has right now is that it doesn’t have a budget thanks to obstructionism of the Senate majority leader. For the last three or four years, the government has been going on a continuing resolution basis using the first budget approved by the President and Congress in 2009.

The President’s assertion about raising the debt limit in order to pay for things Congress has budgeted for sounds very nice. The problem is that the last time Congress passed a budget was two sessions ago. The tactics of the Democrats then are to bypass the upheaval in Congress due to the 2010 election and since.

What has happened in recent history when debt limits have been reached is the threats about teachers, firemen, and police. In other words, when government is faced with having to cut back on expenditures, they try extortion on their constituents. The programs that get put up for suffering are the high value or high emotion ones. The lack of seriousness in such behavior is starting to grind on those constituents but it appears that the President and others haven’t got the message, yet.

This is why the ‘just to pay the bills’ idea is insidious as well as just false. For McBride to fall for it demeans an otherwise excellent finance and economics blog.

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Traditional values and those who can’t stand them

It appears that the Boy Scouts prevail after 11-year battle over folks who “admitted that they had not tried to use the facilities because they break out in hives if they’re within a canoe’s length of anyone wearing a neckerchief.”

The issue was the use of Balboa Park in San Diego. The decision was by the 9th Circuit Court. 11 years of fighting a court case that should have been thrown out on day one. “The 9th Circuit’s opinion makes it clear that the case should have been tossed on arrival, not left hanging over the Scouts for 11 years like a Sword of Damocles.”

There are intolerant people. What seems rather unique about this era is just how they use the courts to harass, intimidate, and punish those who do not kowtow to their views.

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Prosecutorial discretion?

“One can distinguish between violations of the D.C. firearms law that occur as a result of providing information to the public and those that do not. Whether the distinction justifies non-prosecution in the former case is very much another question, but one that falls within the AG’s discretion to decide.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult not to suspect that the AG was moved by the fact that he liked the message behind Gregory’s violation of the law. I can’t help but think that the outcome might well have been different if the “First Amendment informational purpose” had been in service of a pro-gun message. ”

“Prosecutorial discretion should not be exercised in the case of flagrant disregard of the law — e.g., a violation that occurs in the face of instruction by the police that the action being contemplated is unlawful.”

Paul Mirengoff describes how David Gregory skates past prosecution. When justice becomes a matter of who you know and who you are rather than what you do, confidence in the law becomes eroded. It is the essence of corruption.

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