Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

December 22, 2012

Current Events, Firearms, Opinion

Comments Off on Firearm and Homicide Statistics

The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut has brought out the gun control extremists, people like Dianne Feinstein, who is either very naive or believes the citizens of the United States are extremely gullible. With all the renewed demands for a new ban on semiautomatic firearms and high capacity magazines, I thought it wise to check some statistics. I compared homicide data in the United States with the same information from Canada. I chose Canada because its gun laws are very restrictive and its homicide rate is similar to those found in the western European countries, where severe restrictions on ownership and carrying of firearms are common.

The United States has a homicide rate of 4.8, which is 4.8 deaths per hundred thousand population. Roughly two-thirds of those deaths are with firearms, mostly handguns. Long guns (rifles and shotguns) accounted for only a few percent of homicides. No reliable statistics are available for homicides by what were called assault weapons, but some analysts use homicides with rifles as a proxy for homicide by assault weapons, and conclude that homicides with assault weapons do not exceed 2 or 3%. Approximately half of all homicides are by black Americans. The homicide rate has declined for several decades, even after the 1994 to 2004 assault weapons ban expired. Homicide rates are very high in some American cities, such as Detroit, New Orleans, Newark, and Washington, D.C. Homicide rates are generally lower in places where carrying guns concealed is not highly regulated, although this is not a perfect correlation. Washington, D.C. is very restrictive on concealed weapons and has a high murder rate; New York City is also very restrictive but follows national norms on homicides.

Canada has a homicide rate of 1.6, with one-third caused by firearms.

Recall that half of homicides are committed by black Americans, who comprise a little more than 13% of the U.S. population. Normalizing for that disparate contribution and assuming that this group should contribute to homicides at a rate no greater than other Americans, I calculate a homicide rate equal to: (4.8/2) + (0.13)(2.4) = 2.7

Adjusting for the disparate affect of black homicides in the United States, and subtracting all firearm related homicides in both the United States and Canada at the Canadian rate of one third (assuming U.S. laws became equally restrictive, and that there was no substitution of weapons for those murders), you get a homicide rate of 1.1 for Canada and 1 .8 for the United States. You can draw conclusions about differences between Americans and Canadians from the statistics:

The American homicide rate would likely be greater than that in Canada even if Americans had the same laws concerning firearms as Canadians. The American homicide rate would be at least 50% greater than Canada’s, suggesting Americans are considerably more violent than Canadians.

The assault weapons ban and its expiration did not seem to affect the steady decline in homicides in the United States and appears to be more aimed at banning weapons in a method most likely to garner legislative support. The ban is not a safety measure; it is a first step in what will be a continuing effort to limit gun ownership in the United States.

Decreasing homicides in the U.S. through restricting firearms rights will require such extensive regulation as to leave the 2d Amendment a useless relic, like the rights in the constitution enjoyed by the citizens of the defunct Soviet Union.

The way to reduce violence in the United States is to do the hard work needed to, well, reduce violence. I am not a sociologist, but that probably means better education systems, more recreational opportunities for youth, better dispute resolution training and systems, better functioning police and courts, better laws (such as making sure the laws on the books are important to safety and are actually applied), better urban and suburban design, more public recreational spaces in urban areas, and more job opportunities for all groups in our society.

August 18, 2012

Current Events, Opinion

Comments Off on Romney v. Obama

We face a clear choice in the presidential election. Romney and Ryan are fiscally and socially conservative. Obama seems infatuated with the progressive politics of the day. It feels as though Romney and Ryan are advocating short-term controlled pain in exchange for long-term prosperity, while Obama and Biden propose business as usual, unbridled spending, and an uncontrollable and harsh financial day of reckoning at some point in the future, when they are being paid dearly by us in retirement.

Victory for Romney and Ryan can be achieved by countering Obama’s condescending rhetoric with data, moving to the center on taxes for the rich while maintaining a conservative fiscal agenda, assuring us of maintaining social freedom, and advocating for environmental health. Some of these things will annoy the party extremists in the Republican party, but who will they vote for if they abandon Romney?

February 19, 2012

Current Events, Money and Finance, Opinion

Comments Off on The Curse of Fame or the Risk of Wealth?

The Seattle Times published an essay by Kathleen Parker on February 15 entitled Whitney Houston: the Curse of Fame. The earliest comments to the article disagreed with Ms. Parker, assuming that Whitney died of a drug or alcohol overdose and emphasizing that Ms. Houston made her own bad choices. This is a case where you can agree with both viewpoints; there is no inconsistency. Whitney did make bad choices in how she lived, perhaps for almost the last two decades of her life. However, her situation, with lots of money, low education, the rigors of performing, and the company she kept certainly changed the risk of making those bad choices.  In all fairness, the comments as of today are more balanced than the early few. For example, one noted that there are actually few people with fame that succumb to self-indulgence and mind-altering substances.

Ms. Parker’s editorial is thought-provoking. Fame does not mandate stupid choices, but the loss of privacy is usually inherent, pernicious and irreversible. How many of us want our worst behavior, greatest weaknesses, physical infirmities, and social missteps known to all? This loss is costly, and not just economically. Have you ever gone shopping without wanting to meet anyone you knew or who knew of you?

It is very easy to think that more wealth would improve our lives and make things almost perfect for us; that the negatives accompanying wealth are minor annoyances. The truth is more harsh. Wealth brings about some serious problems. Everybody is friendly to you, even people that do not like you. It is difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Good choices, like learning a craft, volunteering, returning to college, starting a new profession late in life, exercising, limiting the intake of excellent liquor, avoiding expensive drugs whether legal or not, exercising, helping others, and even deciding to perform some menial labor on your own house (or at one of your estates) can become difficult choices and seem like silly things to do.

I have long noted the effects of wealth on people generally, and term the potential bad consequences from some choices open to them as “wealth risk.” The wealthy can buy cars with top speeds near 200 mph that are street legal. They can sky dive, engage in rock climbing, buy illegal drugs in copious quantities, and engage in many activities that are more risky than working forty hours each week.

It seems most of us should find happiness in our present circumstances and get to a point where we might change very little of our lives with an unexpected infusion of wealth.

December 21, 2011

Current Events, Opinion

Comments Off on U.S. Congress Is Dysfunctional

The U.S. Congress is spending more time on the Social Security payroll tax cut than they did debating the invasion of Iraq. As a body, they decided quickly to illegally invade a nation based on erroneous intelligence that even if correct did not justify their action. This cost thousands of young Americans their lives and left many with physical and mental injuries. It cost about $1 trillion, give or take some trivial billions.

The payroll tax cut is an allocation decision among various accounts: the national debt, the social security trust fund, and the net worth of American families. On average, all three accounts or classes of accounts are in trouble. Therefore the decision on whether to continue the lower tax rate is almost trivial.

Perhaps we should recommend that Congress establish a special commission to study how a large group of intelligent people can be stupid in their collective actions. The first body to study will be the U.S. Congress.

May 6, 2011

Current Events, Legal Views, Opinion

Comments Off on Obama Kills Osama

The two major ways nations kill is by execution pursuant to criminal laws and through war. Osama bin Laden was not killed by the United States because of his criminal acts; he was not tried, convicted or sentenced. All of these processes are prerequisites to execution. Instead he was declared an enemy combatant by the executive branch and killed by the same branch of government. The only legislative involvement with Osama’s death was the passage of the Uniform Military Code of Justice into law long before he was shot. There was no court or judicial check on the use of executive authority.

It is quite clear that nations have the authority to defend themselves from attack by military invaders. The executive branch would argue further that it can initiate combat operation without a declaration of war under many broad circumstances. Interesting questions follow from this. Should the United States and the Commander in Chief  kill those, like Osama, who are unarmed, not a member of a uniformed military service, and not engaged in espionage against the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government during time of war?

I make no argument that Osama was not depraved, not evil, and not a perpetrator of heinous acts. That is established. But that Osama was an enemy combatant and could be declared such and then executed by the president of the United States without a check on that power is like the authority vested in British kings many hundreds of years ago. We revolted from a system with more protections for those being killed at the hands of the state than that.

The budget fight continues. Here are a few myths and observations:

1. It is the wrong time to fight the deficit and debt. Creation of jobs is what is important.

This is catchy. It is correct, except that we are essentially out of money. Indeed, the U.S. would be brilliant to spend any surplus on re-vitalizing the economy. The problem is that the U.S. already expended the funds and cannot afford to stimulate the economy as much as it should.

2. We should not cut spending for public radio because U.S. spending for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is trivial compared to the deficit and debt.

Most spending that is wasteful or that should be reviewed for cutting is trivial compared to the enormous debt of the U.S. This argument applied to all expenditures dooms to failure the frugal and diligent who believe spending is too high.

3. We are making cuts to the wrong programs.

The parties need to first agree on the magnitude of the cuts, then they can fight about where the cuts should be taken. There are two issues. There is no reason to disagree on the cuts, but where they should be made is a natural area for controversy.

4. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. New taxes are not justified.

The first sentence is true. However, the hole we have dug is too big to fill without new taxes. The only questions should be against whom should they be levied and how much should they be.

5. We have a budget deal that kept the U.S. Government open for business. Isn’t this wonderful?

Right. Congress cut the budget about 1% and spending is more than 40% greater than income. Great work.

6. We need to close tax loopholes for corporations.

This is not so. It is far better to use the Individual Income Tax as a tax for individuals and keep corporations in the U.S. by not taxing them at all.

 

There is no one to bail out the U.S. in case we default or otherwise need financial help. It took years to create the current mess and will take much diligence and pain to reverse the trend. The analogy is to the family that is spending at the rate of 140% of its income; a lot of good expenditures must be cut to make the finances work in the long term.

BBC World News is reporting this situation well, distinguishing between the debt and deficits of the United States and regularly comparing our debt to GDP ratio with that of other nations struggling under mountains of debt. When people know the amount of debt we have per worker the political pressure will increase on our leaders. This debt level makes every major spending decision, such as funding a huge stimulus package or war effort, a Hobson’s choice. We gamble with not addressing a present need or risk economic collapse because of excess spending and debt. This is not a path to a world leadership position and is unacceptable.

 

March 20, 2011

Current Events, Legal Views, Opinion

Comments Off on Professionals are Sometimes, Well Unprofessional

On February 18 an article appeared in the Seattle Times entitled, “Dispute Over Cancer Tied to Breast Implants.” A physician, Dr. Phil Haeck, advised his colleagues in a webinar to not describe a cancer caused by breast implants as cancer. He suggested avoiding other factual and descriptive terms such as tumor, disease or malignancy, and instead advocated that doctors use the less fear-inducing term “condition.”

This is very logical if the intent of the medical profession is not dissuading women from sometimes unnecessary surgery that enhances the income of doctors. It also violates an ethical duty. The doctor must  inform the patient  of probable outcomes and risks associated with procedures sought by them or recommended by the doctor. It is very similar to the duty lawyers owe clients, to inform them of their options and gain consent before acting on their behalf. Professionals should never assume their idea of a course of action is best for the patient or client and then proceed to bias their disclosure to get consent. Accurate and complete disclosure is the mark of the professional. Assuming the patient or client is incapable of making a good decision for themselves and not providing full disclosure is arrogant. Lack of frank disclosure should subject the professional to discipline.

 

March 12, 2011

Current Events, Managing Debt, Money and Finance

Comments Off on The Effect of Japan’s Debt on Recovery From the Earthquake and Tsunami

Japan will soon embark on a massive reconstruction from the earthquake. We all know that natural disasters that cause the death of people and the destruction of property are bad. This post confines itself to the property loss and economic effects.

I am a fiscal conservative, and have argued in this blog that the debt of the United States is a significant problem. Japan’s debt (compared to GDP) is much greater than the debt of the United States. Both countries are far from having a surplus.

If Japan had a budget surplus and monetary reserves, it could pay for the work needed to recovery from the earthquake. This would modernize the areas destroyed, employ people, and stimulate the Japanese economy for years to come. Instead, Japan has two very bad choices: minimize the repair subsidies by government or go deeper into debt.

The United States, to maintain freedom to choose military options based on national interests, to recover from disasters, to have money to help other nations, and to remain a world power and agent of change, must deal with its deficits and reverse the constant increase in our national debt.

February 14, 2011

Current Events, Opinion

Comments Off on The Obama Budget…

If Congress were to pass the Obama budget, we will add $1.6 trillion to the $14 trillion debt of the United States. This budget represents continued over-spending. The Republican solution is slightly better but still poor; they are quibbling about wanting another $100 billion in cuts. So the debt would increase by $1.5 trillion instead of $1.6 trillion following the Republican agenda. This will be a debate not worth listening to.

The analogy is telling my wife that her concerns with the family debt (of, say, $100,000) have been heard and I have an aggressive strategy to deal with it. I will only spend $10,000 more this year than we earn, increasing our family debt to $110,000 next year. As a matter of fact, my only plan is to reduce my debt spending, not eliminate it. The family debt will increase interminably, and is probably too big to pay back now anyway. And honey, don’t worry, nothing serious will go wrong requiring us to borrow even more money, causing a financial collapse. That can’t happen to us because we’re Americans!

On Monday, October 4, a New York Times article on the subject of state laws regarding carrying handguns in bars contained the following sentence:

The new measures in Tennessee and the three other states come after two landmark Supreme Court rulings that citizens have an individual right – not just in connection with a well-regulated militia – to keep a loaded handgun for home defense.

The two decisions, Heller and McDonald, recite the legal history of the Second Amendment language, which states: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, Shall not be infringed.” The author of the NY Times article, Malcolm Gay, seems to imply the right should only attach for members of an organized militia, which is untrue. The citizens of the United States are the militia. This was so when the Constitution was written, and the Court cited and acknowledged that history in their decisions. The Court’s correct interpretation of the intent of the Amendment helped build the foundation for both rulings.

The view of the opponents, that the Second Amendment gives the National Guard members the right to be armed, is strange. There is no document that preserves the rights of citizens, such as Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights or Bill of Right, that seeks to ensure the right to bear arms for those in uniformed military service. It is unnecessary for the sovereign to guarantee that those enlisted, and who can be called into war in the defense of the sovereign, will be entitled to bear arms. No country has failed to arm their own soldiers for lack of a constitutional provision assuring the right.

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