Friday, December 28, 2012

Only 12 Senators Seem to Believe in the 4th Amendment

Rand Paul had recently introduced the 4th Amendment Preservation and Protection Act, which essentially just reiterated our 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.  Of course, it was defeated by a vote of 12 yeahs to 79 nays.  It's stunning how people have completely forgotten our constitutional protections.  If this is an example of bipartisan cooperation, I want no part of it. 

Just a reminder, here is the text of the fourth amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Seems pretty clear.  You can't just do a search without a warrant, which has to be based upon probably cause.  And here is the text of the key portions of the 4th Amendment Preservation and Protection Act:

Congress finds that the right under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures is violated when the Federal Government or a State or local government acquires information voluntarily relinquished by a person to another party for a limited business purpose without the express informed consent of the person to the specific request by the Federal Government or a State or local government or a warrant, upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. 

The Federal Government or a State or local government may obtain, and a court may admit, information relating to an individual held by a third-party in a system of records if--
    (A) the individual whose name or identification information the Federal Government or State or local government is using to access the information provides express and informed consent to the search; or
    (B) the Federal Government or State or local government obtains a warrant, upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

ll seems pretty consistent right?  The government can't just snoop on you because it feels like it, not without probably cause and a warrant.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Senate doesn't seem to like the 4th Amendment and the Supreme Court is nowhere to be seen.  What's happened to this country?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Japan Could Pull the US Into a War with China Next Year

Check out a rather worrisome piece by Hugh White, the former Deputy Secretary for Strategy and Intelligence in the Australian Department of Defence.:

THIS is how wars usually start: with a steadily escalating stand-off over something intrinsically worthless. So don't be too surprised if the US and Japan go to war with China next year over the uninhabited rocks that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyu islands. And don't assume the war would be contained and short.
Of course we should all hope that common sense prevails.
It seems almost laughably unthinkable that the world's three richest countries - two of them nuclear-armed - would go to war over something so trivial. But that is to confuse what starts a war with what causes it. The Greek historian Thucydides first explained the difference almost 2500 years ago. He wrote that the catastrophic Peloponnesian War started from a spat between Athens and one of Sparta's allies over a relatively insignificant dispute. But what caused the war was something much graver: the growing wealth and power of Athens, and the fear this caused in Sparta.
The analogy with Asia today is uncomfortably close and not at all reassuring. No one in 431BC really wanted a war, but when Athens threatened one of Sparta's allies over a disputed colony, the Spartans felt they had to intervene. They feared that to step back in the face of Athens' growing power would fatally compromise Sparta's position in the Greek world, and concede supremacy to Athens.

The Senkakus issue is likewise a symptom of tensions whose cause lies elsewhere, in China's growing challenge to America's long-standing leadership in Asia, and America's response. In the past few years China has become both markedly stronger and notably more assertive. America has countered with the strategic pivot to Asia. Now, China is pushing back against President Barack Obama's pivot by targeting Japan in the Senkakus.
The Japanese themselves genuinely fear that China will become even more overbearing as its strength grows, and they depend on America to protect them. But they also worry whether they can rely on Washington as China becomes more formidable. China's ratcheting pressure over the Senkakus strikes at both these anxieties.
Beijing apparently believes that if it keeps pushing, Washington will persuade Tokyo to make concessions over the disputed islands in order to avoid being dragged into a war with China, which would be a big win for them. Tokyo on the other hand fervently hopes that, faced with firm US support for Japan, China will have no choice but to back down.
And in Washington, too, most people seem to think China will back off. They argue that China needs America more than America needs China, and that Beijing will back down rather than risk a break with the US which would devastate China's economy.
Unfortunately, the Chinese seem to see things differently. They believe America will not risk a break with China because America's economy would suffer so much.
These mutual misconceptions carry the seeds of a terrible miscalculation, as each side underestimates how much is at stake for the other. For Japan, bowing to Chinese pressure would feel like acknowledging China's right to push them around, and accepting that America can't help them. For Washington, not supporting Tokyo would not only fatally damage the alliance with Japan, it would amount to an acknowledgment America is no longer Asia's leading power, and that the ''pivot'' is just posturing. And for Beijing, a backdown would mean that instead of proving its growing power, its foray into the Senkakus would simply have demonstrated America's continued primacy. So for all of them, the largest issues of power and status are at stake. These are exactly the kind of issues that great powers have often gone to war over.

Remember that we have a mutual defense treaty with Japan and if we were to violate that by not coming to Japan's aid, all our treaties would be considered worthless.  It was a series of such treaties which helped spark World War I, which started as a spat between Austria and Serbia and ended with 16 million dead (almost 4 times more than the entire population of Serbia!).

Maria Bartiromo vs. Senator Cardin

Watch Maria Bartiromo from CNBC lay into Senator Cardin for being unwilling to bend on raising tax rates on the rich to cheers from the trading floor. No wonder Joey Ramone wrote a song about her. (h/t Brietbart):

Monday, December 24, 2012

John Kerry's Horrible Record in Latin America

Some people think John Kerry would be an improvement over Susan Rice, his Latin American record indicates he would be a disaster:

Mr. Kerry's record of promoting American values abroad is dismal. It isn't that he opposes U.S. intervention—far from it. The trouble is that he has a habit of intervening on behalf of bad guys. A left-wing world view and an earnest conviction that it is his destiny to impose it on others may make him a perfect fit in the Obama cabinet. But it won't be good for poor countries or for U.S. interests. 

Latin America knows all too well the dangerous combination of Mr. Kerry's arrogance and, to be polite, let's say, naiveté. In 1985, in the midst of the Cold War, he led a congressional delegation to Nicaragua, where he met with Sandinista comandante Daniel Ortega. The Sandinista reputation as a human-rights violator was already well-established, and the Soviets were stalking Central America. Nevertheless, Mr. Kerry came back from Managua advocating an end to U.S. support for the resistance known as the "Contras." The House took his advice and voted down a $14 million aid package to them. The next day Mr. Ortega flew to Moscow to get $200 million in support from the Kremlin. 


Highland peasants had joined Marxist intellectuals calling themselves Sandinistas to overthrow dictator Anastasio Somoza, only to find themselves slaves of a new master in the 1980s. "Women from the poorest families balanced canastas filled with fruit or grains on their heads and went to market, exactly as they always had and the Sandinista police raided the buses and arrested the women as speculators." Locals "felt that they were losing control over their products, their freedom of action and their land." The pushback wasn't only from large landowners. "The smaller the patch, the more fiercely they clung to it."
Sandinista-backer Fidel Castro sent Cubans to help. "Almost instantly" Mr. Berman wrote, "a blazing hatred for the Cubans—known as Russians to the people who despised them—swept through the northern and eastern countryside." The peasants "came to a horrifying conclusion: that the Sandinista National Liberation Front was a political movement that was devoted to contempt of God and theft of land; a movement that called itself Nicaraguan but was actively trying to turn the country over to foreigners; a movement that claimed to be for the peasants and the poor but was actually their most implacable enemy."
It is still not clear whether Mr. Kerry realizes he was flacking for jackboots. Let's assume that he was merely a sucker who fell for Soviet and Cuban propaganda. Does a similar knowledge deficiency explain why, when he ran for president in 2004, he told a Boston audience that the Colombian guerrillas, famous for killing and maiming civilians, "have legitimate complaints"?
That same year, Sandinista comandante Tomás Borge and Argentina's Peronist Cristina Kirchner both endorsed presidential candidate Kerry. More strange friends.
In June 2009, Mr. Kerry again went to bat for the dark side, this time in Honduras. President Manuel Zelaya, an ally of Hugo Chávez, had been unconstitutionally trying to extend his time in office. The Honduran Supreme Court ordered the military to arrest him. All the other branches of government, the Catholic Church, Honduras's human-rights ombudsman and Mr. Zelaya's own party backed the court's decision.
Mr. Chávez, Fidel Castro and the Obama administration became furious, called it a "coup d'état" and moved to isolate the tiny country. When Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) planned a fact-finding trip to Tegucigalpa, Mr. Kerry's office tried to stop him by blocking funding. When the Law Library of Congress concluded that the Honduran high court had acted legally, Mr. Kerry wrote to the head of the library demanding that the opinion be retracted and "corrected." In the spring of 2010, a Kerry staffer traveled to Honduras to pressure officials there to adopt the Obama administration's "coup" narrative.

How someone like this becomes Secretary of State of the United States, there's nothing to do but shake your head.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rand Paul Speaks Out Against the Infinite Detention Provision in the NDAA

Senate Approves Infinite Detention of American Citizens by a margin of 81-14

It looks like there is one thing that most politicians from both parties can agree on, that civil liberties should be ignored when they are inconvenient.  The Senate has just passed the National Defense Authorization Act by a margin of 81-14 (after the House approved the same bill 315-107).  Tucked in there is a section which codifies, for the first time, the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial until "the end of hostilities" in an undeclared war (which means forever).  Not only that, it expands the scope of who could be covered for action by the US government.  While the original authorization of the use of military force from 2001 targeted those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001" the NDAA expands this to cover those who "substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."  How does one define "associated forces"?  Do they have to be in an org chart?  Or just someone who basically agrees with them?  It doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to think that at some point an amendment might be attached to legislation that adds the phrase "or any other group deemed by the President to be a clear and present danger to the United States".  Suddenly all of us are at risk.  Half the Democratic Party already thinks the Tea Party is just a hate group that should be suppressed.  The Senate had previously attached an amendment which guaranteed the basic civil rights of American citizens but John McCain, that big government Republican, had it stripped from the final conference committee version.

Rand Paul seems to be one of the few politicians of either party on the right side of this issue.  I hope he is able to make a good run for it in 2016.

Plan B wasn't going to save us from the fiscal cliff anyway

A lot of Republicans, especially those who were in the tank for Romney since the beginning of the primaries, have been accusing conservatives for forcing us over the cliff because of their opposition to the Boehner plan to increase taxes on millionaires.  Guess what, Plan B wasn't going to save us from anything at all.  Note the key fact that the Republicans don't have control of the Senate so Democratic agreement would be necessary to get Plan B passed and as we saw in the House, Democrats were in no hurry to vote for it.  90% of the Republican caucus was for Plan B, so it wouldn't have taken much Democratic support to get it to passage but clearly there was no Democratic support for passage.  The whole plan by the White House was to get Republicans to vote for some sort of tax increase, in violation of their pledge, and then take us over the fiscal cliff anyway and blaming Republicans for it.  And the Republicans were walking right into that trap.  It wouldn't matter if we only said we were going to increase taxes on people making $10 million a year or more, for the next 2 years we would only hear about how 90% of House Republicans violated their pledge and couldn't be trusted.  This would help to widdle off both conservative and independent support from Republican candidates, possibly giving the House back to the Democrats.

Don't believe me?  Don't think just raising taxes on the rich is a big deal?  Well it is.  It's been 20 years since George H. W. Bush's violation of his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge and people still remember it.  What they don't seem to remember is what exactly got increased.  It was mainly an increase in the top tax bracket from 28-31% and then some increased sin and excise taxes on stuff like luxury yachts, airplanes and furs.  This cost George H.W. Bush re-election and breaking the pledge would have cost the Republicans the House.

Some have pointed out that Grover Norquist has indicated that he wouldn't consider Plan B a tax increase.  Guess what, voters view the no tax pledge to be with them, not with Grover Norquist, who they don't know from Adam.  Fighting 2 years worth of negative attack ads with "Grover said it was okay" just wouldn't fly.

So today we are set to go over the cliff, just like we were yesterday.  Obama has shown no desire to make any sort of deal and it seems that he wants to go over the cliff.  Let him, let's see how happy he is going over the cliff when he sees his legacy going down the tubes with a double dip recession.  He will be much more willing to deal at that point.

You Have As Much a Right to Life as Obama or Bloomberg

Karl Denninger has written an epic editorial on the hypocrisy of Obama and Bloomberg on gun control.  Here are some key segments but read the whole thing:

If there's a bump in the night and it's a thug intent on attacking my family, it's my responsibility to deal with it first.  That's who I am as the head of the household.  I am the first responder, because my other alternative is to be the first victim, either alongside or right in front of my daughter.  And again, while you don't expect such an event to happen, and you arrange your life as best you're able to prevent it, there is no such thing as a guarantee.
Now please understand one thing very clearly before we continue.
Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama don't have this issue. 
They literally do not care about such things, and they design their life and their public office so as to be able to not care.  It is an intentional act they could cast aside should they so choose, but they have not and will not.
Mayor Bloomberg has a small cadre of hired hands who are near and with him literally 24 hours a day.  They are armed, all the time, and they are paid to worry about these things so he doesn't have to. 
Likewise, President Obama has a literal army of trained, armed soldiers in the form of parts of the military and an entire division of officers (The Secret Service) whose job it is, once again, to make this not his problem for both him and his entire family.  Michelle and his children do not have to concern themselves about these issues because there are literally over a thousand others who are paid to take that responsibility -- up to and including eating a bullet in their place.
If you believe that you have a right to life because your creator endowed you with that right, and that this right is unalienable and thus cannot be taken from you (although it can certainly be disrespected!) then it follows that you have not only the right but the responsibility to defend your life.  That is, you have the right and the responsibility to deter to the best of your ability any other person who would take your life from you.
You may choose to delegate this responsibility to others, as Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have, but your right to life is not inferior to theirs.  It is equal.  President Obama has no more right to live than you do.  You are his equal from the standpoint of what your creator, and his creator, endowed both of you with.
So we have established that you have the right to live, as does the President.  And if the President has the right to defend his life with deadly force, and indeed the responsibility to do so, then, should it be necessary, so do you.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Zero Interest Rates are the Problem

From the ever wise Andy Kessler:

In a "beatings will continue until morale improves" announcement, the Federal Open Market Committee, on September 13, declared, "If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the Committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability."
But maybe, just maybe, ZIRP is the problem, not the solution. Money is not stupid. Corporations are sitting on almost $2 trillion in cash. The humps in strategic planning or business development at every Fortune 500 company run spreadsheets that forecast the return potential of new projects or factories and compare that against the cost of capital or the risk-free rate of return before pitching said projects to upper management. But because of ZIRP, the risk-free rate of return is zero, so, in Excel anyway, it looks like every project or factory makes financial sense. But that can't be right. This is what causes uncertainty, a financial compass that spins round and round rather than pointing to value creation. Which means managers sit on their hands. So in the real world, none of the projects makes sense. In other words, the very Fed policy aimed at growing the economy and creating jobs is instead causing cash to be held until morale improves.
Savers are getting ripped off. Interest rates are near zero, yet the inflation rate as of October 2012 was 2.2 percent, which means real interest rates are negative 2 percent, so savings are being diluted by 2 percent a year. It's a stealth, non-voted-on tax, maybe as much as $200-300 billion a year. This is not news. The Roman emperors debased their coins from 4.5 grams of pure silver to less than a tenth of a gram over a few centuries. Hardly anyone noticed until the Visigoths (or was it the Vandals?) showed up to sack Rome. The U.S. dollar has been diluted by 96 percent since the Federal Reserve was created 99 years ago. Modern vandals!
But until ZIRP, no one really noticed. If you got 5.25 percent on your passbook savings account back in the '70s, you thought you were making money, even if the inflation rate was higher. Same for 2.4 percent returns in money market funds in, say, 2007. Two percent inflation and corresponding interest rates are considered stable. It's an old trick. The European Central Bank official edict declares that "in the pursuit of price stability, it aims to maintain inflation rates below, but close to, 2 percent over the medium term."
Think about it. If interest rates are zero, you might as well stuff hundred dollar (or euro) bills in your mattress. Why risk giving it to banks for no return? But at 2 percent inflation, you can't hold onto cash, else you lose 2 percent each year. So you put it in banks, or, if you are a corporation, invest it for a higher return. The spreadsheets are believable. At 5 percent inflation, you might as well spend it now on that Deere Riding Mower or Ducati Monster 796 rather than wait and see prices rise.
So the eggheads at the Fed are conceptually right and real-world wrong. Bernanke's in office for another year, and it's doubtful Obama will reup his membership at the Fed. So why not junk the ZIRP today and let interest rates rise, most likely to 2-2.5 percent, reflecting current inflation expectations? Several things will happen—rising rates would restore a generation of savers, unleash a torrent of corporate spending, which will create jobs, and yes, cause federal interest payments to rise, which may force rationalization of unnecessary government spending. Why is any of this a bad thing?

Sounds pretty good to me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

There Is No Correlation Between Gun Ownership Rates and Homicide Rates Between States Either

In reaction to my previous post on international gun ownership rates and homicide rates, one of my liberal friends pointed me to a study that compared high gun ownership states to low gun ownership states and tried to conclude that guns were a factor.  The study used pretty old data from 1988-1997 and also didn't show much of the underlying data or analysis that they used to come to their conclusions.  They mentioned they used a proxy for gun ownership but then didn't provide the state by state level data to indicate what that proxy said.  Anyway, I decided to do my own correlation using this gun ownership data (the percent of the state's population that own's a gun) and correlate it with this state level homicide data.  What I found confirmed my original post, there is no correlation, unless you think an R squared of 0.008 is a sign of correlation:

There Is No Correlation Between Gun Ownership Rates and Homicide Rates

A few years ago, Professor Carlisle Moody of the College of William & Mary wrote a paper on homicide and gun ownership that showed that there really isn't a correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates.  Here's some data that I recreated in graphical form (I also had Excel add a trendline):

As you can see, there are a few countries with far higher murder rates than the US (Estonia, Russia and South Africa) that have far higher murder rates despite far lower gun ownership rates.  Russia actually has a 4x greater murder rate despite having one tenth the firearms ownership.  Switzerland had double the gun ownership rate of New Zealand yet has less than half the murder rate.  It should be no surprise that the R squared statistic (a measure of correlation) for this comparison is 0.006.

I'm sure some will argue that Estonia, Russia and South Africa are outliers and so they should be excluded.  Well even if you take those away, the R squared is only 0.2, a weak relationship at best.  If you take out the US, which is an outlier on gun ownership, almost double the second highest country, the R squared goes back down to 0.031 for the 22 countries remaining in the dataset.

Some others will probably argue that you can't argue with the fact that we have a higher homicide rate and a higher gun ownership rate than most western countries.  That is true, but there are probably other things at play here.  I mean, we have a gun ownership rate that is 15 times higher than the UK and a homicide rate that is a bit more than double.  That's not a one to one correlation, not even close.  Part of it could be a different cultural/ethnic makeup.  If you look at the DOJ data on homicide offenders by race, homicide rates among whites is actually much closer to what we see in Europe (3.5 per 100,000 among whites compared to 5.56 for the US as a whole and 2.1 in the UK).

Going after guns will only decrease our individual liberty and will not make us safer in any measurable sense.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Obama: F___ the Jews, they'll vote for us anyway

It's amazing that its just been 6 weeks since the election and the actions that Obama has taken against the Jewish State.  Just today the State Department spokesman denounced the plans to build in the E1 corridor which is considered to be land that would remain part of Israel in any peace deal.  After all, without the E1 corridor the major settlement at Ma'aleh Adumimwould be unconnected to the rest of the country.  Anyway, here are the strong words coming from the Obama administration:

"We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action.  These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel's leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk."

It's provocative to issue building permits on land that will be part of a Jewish state even after a peace agreement?  Also, from what I can tell, both Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens would be allowed to live there so it wouldn't be discriminatory.  Unlike Palestinian policy which even gives the death sentence for selling to Jews.

If this was the only instance, I'd probably just chock it up to the usual idiocy from this administration.  But of course, there is more as Obama seems likely to nominate the anti-semitic, anti-Israel Chuck Hagel.  Here is his record (h/t Israel Matzav who is quoting the National Jewish Democratic Council):

In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.

In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yassir Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.

In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections.

In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran's nuclear program at the G-8 summit.

And remember when Hezbollah attacked Israel and kidnapped its soldiers, sparking a second Lebanon war?  Guess which side Hagel was on:

"How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend -- the country and people of Lebanon -- is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?" 

No wonder Iran is excited by the prospect of his nomination.  If you were anti-Israel you probably couldn't have found a better choice to be Secretary of Defense.  He's a Republican and a former Senator so it would be hard to get enough Republican votes in the Senate to kill his nomination.

Then of course is the refusal of the Obama administration to stop the upgrade of the Palestinians in the UN.  As Caroline Glick wrote:

Obama enabled the Palestinians to get their non-member state status at the UN by failing to threaten to cut off US funding to the UN in retaliation for such a vote. 

Both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush issued such threats during their tenures in office and so prevented the motion from coming to a vote. Given that the Palestinians have had an automatic majority in the General Assembly since at least 1975, the only reason their status was only upgraded in 2012 is because until then, either the PLO didn't feel like raising the issue or the US threatened to cut off its financial support to the UN if such a motion passed.  This year PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas said he wanted to have a vote and Obama responded by not issuing a threat to cut off UN funding. So the Palestinians got their vote and, as expected, it passed overwhelmingly. 

Seeing the upgrade as a Palestinian move is a mistake. It was a joint Palestinian-American move.

And even if you aren't so pro-Israel as I am, these moves should really scare you.  As Danielle Pletka at AEI testified:

[O]ne of the most interesting things that you hear from Gulf leaders is their shock at the gap that had opened up between Israel and the United States over recent years. They view that as a barometer of American friendship and loyalty. If you won't stand by Israel, how can we trust you to stand by us against Iran? And the answer is, of course, that they don't.

This won't end well.

"We Can't Tolerate This Anymore", It's Time to Ban Cars, Stairs, Gravity, Pools/Lakes/the Ocean

The CDC has a fascinating site which gives you cause of death statistics for 2010 and it really points out that maniacs with assault weapons are the least of our kids worries.  Taking into account Newtown, we are probably going to have 30 school-associated shooting deaths this year, up from the range of 3-24 deaths annually since 1999.  However, according to the CDC, we had 4,419 kids aged 0-19 die in 2010 in vehicle accidents.  That means your child is 150 times more likely to be killed in a car than by a "assault rifle" wielding madman.  When you consider the fact that there are 310 million firearms in the United States and about 244 million cars, that car in your driveway is almost 190 times more likely to cause the death of a child than your gun is to be involved in a school shooting.  Essentially, even if school shootings go to zero, that is no more than a rounding error when you think of the number of kids that die every year in car accidents.

There's more.  1,027 kids aged 0-19 die every year from drowning, making that the community swimming pool and other such bodies of water over 30 times more dangerous for your kid than some guy who wants to re-enact Call of Duty in the halls of a school.  Even accidental falls kill more children every year.  127 kids died from accidental falls in 2010, making your child 4 times more likely to be a victim of gravity than a madman in the school.  365 kids die accidentally because of fire.  78 kids die from the adverse effects of medical care or drugs every year.  How can we tolerate this anymore?!?!?

I'm not making light of what happened in Newtown, as a parent, the prospect of that happening to my kids scares me to death, I just don't think we can legislate a safe environment for our kids.  This is life, bad things will happen.  There are things that we might be able to do to mitigate some of those bad things from happening but in the end you can't really stop them.  You can make the risk of another Adam Lanza go to absolute zero and yet as I've shown, you will not have materially decreased the chances that something bad will happen to your child and there is no realistic way to, short of banning bodies of water, gravity and automobiles.

Due to our headline driven culture, we seem to be more impacted by 30 deaths annually than 1,000 times more deaths that we face annually due to something as "boring" as the flu.

Our Children Are Far More Likely To Be Kidnapped And Sexually Assaulted or Killed Than Hurt By Someone With An "Assault Rifle" in a Mass Shooting

I was recently having a discussion on Facebook with a friend of mine from college about something I posted about how Israel has fewer school shootings because there is much more security over there and even teachers are often armed.  He asked how do you explain something like that to a 6 year old.  That got me thinking, we actually already explain "stranger danger" pretty regularly in schools and at home as we are constantly under threat of someone taking our kids.  Every month or so I get an alert from my school about someone in a car trying to lure a child they don't know into it.  If the child is small, they promise candy or toys.  Sometimes they say that their parents have been hurt and they are going to drive them to the hospital.  It isn't hard to imagine what would happen if the child gets into the car.  That is a much bigger worry for me than some random guy going into a school with a semi-automatic rifle and the statistics show my worries are correct.

The latest official statistics from the Department of Justice are from 2002 but I'm sure they haven't changed by too too much.  They estimate 58,000 children are abducted by non-family members and 46% of the time are sexually assaulted by the perpetrator.  There are also 115 "stereotypical" abductions which is defined as:

A nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a slight acquaintance or stranger in which a child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom or abducted with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.

In "stereotypical" abductions, the ones that are often featured on crime dramas, the child returns home only 57% of the time and are usually injured in some way.  Most of the time they are just killed and sometimes they are not found at all.

The difference in the abduction definitions is that in one the perpetrator will only kidnap the child for a defined period while in the other one the intent is to kidnap "permanently". Either way, based on these numbers, about 27,000 kids are molested while being abducted and another 50 or so are killed after being abducted. 

As an apples to apples comparison, let's look at the number of school violence associated deaths in the same year as these kidnapping statistics.  In the 2001-2002 school year there were 17.  In 2002-2003, there were 16.  Some of these were from suicides or fighting or stabbing so the total number of shooting related deaths in those two years was only 8 (5 in 2001-2002 and 3 in 2002-2003).  Put simply, in the same year as these child abduction statistics came out your child was 10x more likely to be murdered in an abduction by a stranger than in a school shooting.

Even factoring in Newtown and the ones I was able to find listed on the internet, the number of shooting related deaths in schools this year is probably around 30.  Again, you child is more likely to be killed due to some crazy sick psychopath abducting them and far far more likely to be sexually assaulted than to be killed by an "assault rifle" attack.

Instead of being driven by headlines, how about we focus on a real issue that is a danger to our children, one that has nothing to do with "assault rifles". 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Comments Regarding the lIlogical Thoughts Following the Newtown Massacre

After the stunningly horrific tragedy in Newtown, CT people have naturally gone from grief to wanting to figure out how to stop these kinds of things from happening in the future.  Like some sort of pavlovian response, the first thought for many seems to be more gun control and less individual liberty.  Unfortunately, some of this is because people have some misconceptions about things like semi-automatic weapons and gun control in general.  First, for those who have never handled a firearm, they seem to confuse the term "semi-automatic" with "fully automatic".  A semi-automatic rifle is really just a big pistol.  If you pull the trigger, one bullet comes out.  Sure, the rifle might look "military style" but that is pretty much where the comparisons end, for the most part.  Adam Lanza would have killed just as many kids with a pistol.  He had at least 10 minutes from when he shot into the school to when the Police showed up, giving him plenty of time to reload multiple magazines of bullets if he wanted to (John Hinderker of Powerline commented that "when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.").  It's not like the school had any security to stop him anyway.  It was a building full of little kids and unarmed women, the only thing that stopped Adam Lanza was himself, he shot himself when he heard the police coming.

Then there is the misconception that gun control can "stop the crazy".  Unfortunately, the answer is no.  People will always be crazy and will try to hurt kids for no apparent reason.  Just take a look at the school attacks in China with items like knives, cleavers and axes.  Recently, one man with a knife stabbed 23 children all by himself (no word on the Chinese banning knives and mandating the use of sporks for dinnerware).  Then there is the case of Norway, which is not thought of as being terribly lax on gun control (no, the NRA did not get its start as the Norwegian Rifle Association).  69 people, mostly teens, were killed on a one man assault on a summer camp by a guy dressed as a cop.  Heck, one of the first instances of a school massacre in what is now the United States happened in 1764, about 180 years before even the invention of semi-automatic "assault rifles", when Indians massacred 10 kids in a schoolhouse. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, crazy finds a way.

Some others think that we need to make it easier for the crazy to be forcibly committed.  Again, I'm not sure how you are going to help matters here unless you literally lock up everyone who is introverted.  Is every nerdy kid in high school who is uncomfortable in social situations supposed to be locked up?  Or how about kids who also like video games?  That seems to be the common denominator after Colombine, the Norway Massacre and Newtown.  Like nerdy kids didn't have enough to worry about without bullies now being able to say "careful or I'll have you committed".  How about just autistic kids who like video games?  But wait, aren't you then discriminating against those with disabilities?   It just doesn't seem like a realistic solution, especially from what I've read so far in this case.

I really don't think anything can stop this type of thing from happening again.  We have over 300 million people in this country, a few are bound to go so completely nuts that they target innocent children.  But is there anything that we can do to mitigate the damage when someone does go nuts and tries to kill our children?  I think we need more guns around, not less.  Take Israel as an example.  Israel is situated next to an entire nation of Adam Lanza's, many of whom are armed with fully automatic weapons.  What keeps them from killing 30 kids every day or week (and you know many of them want to)?  It's the fact that they'd be stopped quickly by an Israeli with a gun.  Hence that is why the Palestinans feel they need to resort to explosives as the devastation is pretty much instantaneous and you don't care how many people around may be armed. 

I just want to finish by pointing out that the vast majority of gun owners, own a gun for protecting their family.  How does it make sense to make them even less secure than they are now?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mayan Doomsday’s effect on survival outcomes in clinical trials

The folks at the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), a legitimate medical publication, have published a pretty funny article on what the Mayan apocalypse would do to clinical trial outcomes.  I don't think I would ever see the phrase "zombie repopulation" in a medical/scientific publication.  Check out this key graph:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Over the Course of Obama's Presidency, Our Deficits Have Been Almost as High as Greece's

ZeroHedge has this great chart of the cumulative deficits as a % of GDP for the OECD from 2008-2012.  Maybe Obama should cut back on those $4 million vacations that would make royal families blush:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Video: The Free Syrian Army Has a Child Behead a Captive

A very graphic reminder of the fact that the Free Syrian Army aren't necessarily people we want to be supporting (h/t Israel Matzav):

The Popping of the Renewable Energy Bubble Is Something to Behold

Check out this chart of the RENIXX Renewable Energy Index (h/t Business Insider).  It peaked at 1918.71 in December 2007 and closed last week at 159.36, which means it has lost 92% of its value in 5 years despite extensive subsidies by the federal government.  As Romney said during a debate, the government doesn't pick winners and losers, they just pick losers.

William Kristol is Doing a Great Neville Chamberlain Impersonation

How bad are things in the Republican Party these days?  William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard berated the Wall Street Journal editors today for sticking to their anti-tax increase guns.  You see Kristol, like many in the establishment (and most car salesman and investment bankers) seem to think any deal, no matter how bad, is better than no deal at all.  He thinks we should give in as a form of "tactical retreat" and try to move on from the current state we are in.  If we don't:

If we go over the cliff, there won't be damage to Obama's chances of second-term success. Quite the contrary. What Republicans will have done is to make Democrats the party of tax cuts and Obama a president fighting for economic growth.

Democrats will be the party of tax cuts and economic growth?  What a laugh.  This whole cliff issue is only occurring because the Democrats want to raise taxes.  And if they are the party of economic growth, why has it been so absent over the last 4 years?  If this fight was happening in October and people's knee jerk reactions to going over the fiscal cliff would guide their voting decisions, Kristol might have a point.  But we are two years before the next elections so really, does it matter if the Republicans get the immediate blame?  Remember, between now and the next elections the bureaucratic debacle that is Obamacare is set to be enacted.  Any wishful thinking by voters towards Democrats because of some good spin today will be long forgotten as people lose their insurance and then have to immediately buy new insurance or face IRS penalties.  And then let's not forget all the goodies in the other 2,000 pages of Obamacare and all the unintended and unforeseen consequences that will bring about. 

Kristol and the rest of the establishment are also under the delusion that Romney wasn't really moderate enough during his Presidential campaign.  They seem to take the base for granted and are neurotically concerned what the middle 10% of Americans think about them, as they believe that attracting them to the GOP will fundamentally help the parties chances.  Guess what, if they lose the base, they are nowhere.  If the base starts staying home because they increasingly start to think "there is no real difference between the parties" then it really won't matter how many independents you attract. 

We didn't vote Republican so that the Republican leadership would prostrate themselves in front of the independent voters and try to maximize poll numbers at all times.  No, we voted Republican to fight for our individual liberty, for free markets, for low taxes, for the ideas this country was founded upon but are increasingly under seige.  If Republicans can't stand their ground two years before the next election, when exactly will they?

Appeasing Obama now will only work as well as other episodes of appeasement have in the past.  The appeaser only looks weak and gains absolutely nothing, not even much of a reprieve. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Welfare Spending Equates to Paying Every Household in Poverty $61,000 per Year

This is rather shocking.  What people don't ever seem to realize is that this $61,000 that we are spending every year on the poor has to come from somewhere and is so high that it is keeping people from working.  After all, it is HIGHER than median household income:

Here is more from the Senate Budget Committee:

Based on data from the Congressional Research Service, cumulative spending on means-tested federal welfare programs, if converted into cash, would equal $167.65 per day per household living below the poverty level," writes the minority side of the Senate Budget Committee. "By comparison, the median household income in 2011 of $50,054 equals $137.13 per day. Additionally, spending on federal welfare benefits, if converted into cash payments, equals enough to provide $30.60 per hour, 40 hours per week, to each household living below poverty. The median household hourly wage is $25.03. After accounting for federal taxes, the median hourly wage drops to between $21.50 and $23.45, depending on a household’s deductions and filing status. State and local taxes further reduce the median household’s hourly earnings. By contrast, welfare benefits are not taxed.

The universe of means-tested welfare spending refers to programs that provide low-income assistance in the form of direct or indirect financial support—such as food stamps, free housing, child care, etc.—and which the recipient does not pay into (in contrast to Medicare or Social Security). For fiscal year 2011, CRS identified roughly 80 overlapping federal means-tested welfare programs that together represented the single largest budget item in 2011—more than the nation spends on Social Security, Medicare, or national defense. The total amount spent on these federal programs, when taken together with approximately $280 billion in state contributions, amounted to roughly $1 trillion. Nearly 95 percent of these costs come from four categories of spending: medical assistance, cash assistance, food assistance, and social / housing assistance. Under the President’s FY13 budget proposal, means-tested spending would increase an additional 30 percent over the next four years.

The diffuse and overlapping nature of federal welfare spending has led to some confusion regarding the scope and nature of benefits. For instance, Newark Mayor Cory Booker has recently received a great deal of attention for adopting the “food stamp diet” in which he spends only $4 a day on food (the median individual benefit) to apparently illustrate the insufficiency of food stamp spending ($80 billion a year) or the impossibility of reductions. The situation Booker presents, however, is not accurate: a low-income individual on food stamps may qualify for $25,000 in various forms of welfare support from the federal government on top of his or her existing income and resources—including access to 15 different food assistance programs. Further, even if one unrealistically assumes that no other welfare benefits are available, the size of the food stamp benefit increases as one’s income decreases, as the benefit is designed as a supplement to existing resources; it is explicitly not intended to be the sole source of funds for purchasing food. 
 Does it sound like our problem is that the top 1% is only paying 40% of the taxes?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ryan and Rubio Are Strangely Silent About Both the Fiscal Cliff and the Conservative Purge

PPP just came out with a poll about the different contenders for the major party nominations in 2016.  Ryan and Rubio are the two candidates most preferred by conservative Republican voters (Chris Christie wins "moderates") yet where are they with regards to one of the most important near-term issues facing this country today, the fiscal cliff?  They both seem to be too busy giving speeches trying to rebrand themselves as inclusive and compassionate conservatives to bother actually fighting for our ideals.  If they are truly trying to lead this country, shouldn't they start right now, when we actually need it?  Shouldn't they have their own plans that don't include tax increases?  My guess is that if one or both of them came out with a plan or plans for the fiscal cliff that doesn't involve higher taxes that they would be able to get Republicans to dump Boehner's festering turd of a plan.   Instead, we have nothing.  Pretty much just crickets and some campaigning for themselves.  They are also completely silent on the conservative purge from Ryan's own Budget Committee (though it seems likely Ryan himself ok-ed the purge from the committee that he chairs, so it's not surprising he isn't commenting on that). 

Rand Paul, on the other hand, is being far more hands on with the fiscal cliff issue and also made these comments about the purge on Peter Schiff's radio show:

We had a couple of congressmen who stood up and said you know what the Paul Ryan budget doesn't balance for 28 years, and so for voting against the Republican establishment they were purged...  I guess it shows the true colors of people.  I don't know if any of these people want to run for president, maybe they're going to have to explain why they wanted to purge people from their committees who believe in balancing the budget.

If Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio aren't willing to stand up for conservative principles from attacks from within the Republican Party, how can we possibly have faith that they will do so when there are attacks from without?  I'm not that surprised by Paul Ryan, who I believe is over-rated given his horribly sucky budget plan but I am a little with Rubio who took on the establishment in the form of Charlie Crist in order to get elected in the first place.  I guess now that he has Presidential aspirations, he is now far less willing to rock the boat and is likely to be a major disappointment going forward.

Congressman Amash: I was kicked off the Budget Committee for Wanting to Balance the Budget

Last night, Congressman Justin Amash, who was purged by the GOP leadership in the House from his Budget Committee position tweeted the following:

Only in Washington, DC, is a person taken off of the Budget Committee for wanting to balance the budget.

What a sad state of affairs, especially since he was kicked off by people who claim to be for a balanced budget, the Republican Party.  The leadership is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rand Paul: Raising Rates and Eliminating Deductions are Both Bad Ideas

On Lou Dobbs:

Newt: Republicans Need to Get Serious

Newt makes the point that Clinton only started negotiating with them in good faith after they shut down the government twice, because he knew at that point they were serious and willing to take the heat:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Classic Nigel Farage Video

This is the one where he says to the EU President, to his face, that he has the charisma of "a damp rag" and that he comes from "pretty much a non-country", Belgium, and "the sooner you're put out to grass, the better."

We Should Have Listened to Milton Friedman

Here is a great quote from Milton Friedman:

I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.

Unfortunately, we have done the exact opposite and now we have a climate where the right people do the wrong thing and they get rewarded politically for it.

Looks like the Republican Civil War is On

The establishment is looking to purge conservatives and the Tea Party from the GOP.  Check out this op-ed from the former research director of the RNC (in the New York Times, of course):

In the 1960s, Buckley, largely through his position at the helm of National Review, displayed political courage and sanity by taking on the John Birch Society, an influential anti-Communist group whose members saw conspiracies everywhere they looked.

Fast forward half a century. The modern-day Birchers are the Tea Party. By loudly espousing extreme rhetoric, yet holding untenable beliefs, they have run virtually unchallenged by the Republican leadership, aided by irresponsible radio talk-show hosts and right-wing pundits. While the Tea Party grew, respected moderate voices in the party were further pushed toward extinction. Republicans need a Buckley to bring us back.


But his biggest challenge came from the far right, primarily in the form of the John Birch Society. During the 1950s and early '60s, Birchers demanded that the government rid itself of supposed Communists — including, according its founder, Robert Welch (no relation, thank heaven), Dwight D. Eisenhower.


Mr. Christie and Mr. Bush are ideally suited to drive extremists from the party.

The Tea Party are "modern-day Birchers"?  Really?  Somehow believing in individual liberty and limited government is the same as believing that Ike was a closet communist?  And should be driven from the party?  For standing up for the ideals that this country was founded on?  This from a senior Republican member of the establishment?  Wow, the GOP is just lost if that is what the GOP leadership thinks. 

And this wasn't the only thing that happened in recent days.  The leadership has also purged conservatives from key committee assignments for not "playing ball" and for actually and shockingly trying to keep the promises they made to their constituents.  They also decided to agree to at least $800 billion in tax increases over the next 10 years, which if enacted will almost surely cause a recession.

The conservatives in the party aka the base that votes Republican year after year, needs to rise up, as we did in the past and right this ship.  Before we are simply the party of slightly smaller government instead of limited government and big freedom.

The Problem in Education is Not Spending

Here is a very informative infographic (click to enlarge). We spend more than the rest of the civilized world on every student in our system and yet we get some of the worst test scores.  And we don't just spend a little more, we spend a lot more, we spend over 4 times the level per student than the Russians do and yet get similar test scores.  We need to stop teaching kids that they have self-esteem even though they can't even spell self-esteem.