Category Archives: Politics

The Neoconservative Mind

David Brooks penned an opinion piece for the New York Times arguing that the trouble Republicans and the Romney campaign have relating to everyday Americans is that, within the Republican Party, traditional conservatism has been all but forgotten, and economic conservatism has been ascendant. I think this argument is flawed – current Republican policy is hardly radically free-market, and Mr. Brooks ignores the corrosive effect neoconservative ideology has had on the GOP. I would argue that it has not been the ascendency of the economic conservatives but the replacement of the traditional conservatives with neoconservatives. Continue reading

The NYT and ‘Extreme’ Views

As promised, here is the comparison of the 1980 and 2012 DNC platform. A while ago, a New York Times article cherry-picked a few lines from the GOP 1980 and 2012 platforms to support the narrative that modern Republicans are extremists, a lost party in which St. Ronald himself would feel uncomfortable. The tone of the article would have you believe that the Democrats have remained ‘moderate’ (read: They agree with the author) while the Republicans have drifted further and further into ever-greater depths of extremism. Particularly examined are clauses regarding gun rights and abortion. Let’s take a look at both parties’ changes on those topics since 1980. Continue reading

How Bad is a Nuclear Iran?

Charles Krauthammer’s weekly column argues that the President is restraining Israel and not presenting a sufficiently credible military threat to prevent a nuclear Iran. Most of his article focuses on the idea that Iran is ‘racing’ to get a nuclear bomb, and the President’s actions are isolating Israel, not Iran, but what I found most interesting was his very brief dismissal of the prospect of deterring Iran. Mr. Krauthammer believes that it is a ‘misreading of history’ to think that we can deter an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel. He believes that the religious conviction of Iran’s reigning mullahs precludes the possibility of a MAD policy working, therefore, Iran must be militarily prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Continue reading

Considerations for a Candidate

Recently, I’ve been part of a few discussions, and read a few others from Democrats, about the dilemma of supporting the ‘compromise candidate’ that ‘your’ political party puts forward, despite a lack of positive support for that candidate, versus supporting a third-party candidate doomed to fail, or not voting at all. The support-the-compromise candidate folks say that while ‘our guy’ – be it Romney or Obama – is imperfect, and not even someone the base really likes, he’s better than ‘the other guy.’ In the case of Romney, the argument is that while he’s going to spend a ton of money, and he’s the author of the pattern for the much-maligned Obamacare, and very few people really trust him, he is better than the other guy, so we have to vote for the lesser of two evils. For Obama, he promised to back off federal prosecution of state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries, shut down Gitmo, and reforming immigration law. Progressives who supported him on these issues are disappointed, but some feel they have no choice but to support their disappointing candidate, because ‘Romney is so bad.’ Continue reading

Don’t Be Evil

As of May 31st, Google, self-proclaimed champion of free expression and of increasing global access to information, began censoring Google Shopping search results. Specifically, if one is searching for information on firearms or ammunition via the search giant’s Shopping service, Google will return no results. This level of arrogance, paternalism, and hypocrisy is really rather angering. If Google’s leaders wish to promote stupid views on firearms, they should feel free to do so as private citizens, not as the heads of a public company. In the mean time, I’ll be binging it.

Don’t be evil, Google. Gun rights are human rights.

Syria, Free Societies, and Decentralized Gun Ownership

Many arguments for gun control attempt to cite a tension between the rights of individuals to acquire weapons for self-defense and the safety of society. “Sensible” gun control requires that some limitations on the individual right to bear arms be enacted to protect society at large. These limitations often take the form of bans on particularly potent weapons, such as the now-defunct U.S. assault weapons ban. While such laws may seem intuitive, I argue that the good of a free society requires not restrictions on military-style firearms, but the widespread and decentralized ownership of such arms.

Syria’s bloody rebellion saw the deaths of more civilians on June 6th. Over fifty-five civilians were killed in the town of Al-Qubeir. The perpetrators of this massacre were members of the Shabiha militia. Shabiha, roughly translated as “thugs,” are regime-friendly civilians armed by the government and used by the Assad regime as a sort of deniable means of suppressing rebels. President Assad would technically be telling the truth when he claims that criminals and terrorists conveniently killed and intimidated his foes.

What does this have to do with gun ownership? Centralization. The Shabiha militia, as previously noted, was armed by the government of Syria. Also, according to gunpolicy.org, there are only 735,000 civilian-owned firearms in Syria, or 3.9 firearms per 100 persons. For comparison, there are 270 million civilian-owned firearms in America, with approximately 88 firearms for every 100 citizens. This low rate of civilian firearm ownership in Syria allows the Assad regime to selectively arm friendly segments of society, thereby creating a radical imbalance of power. Suddenly, these favored groups have weapons, and the common people do not. They can intimidate or murder a subversive majority without fear of reprisal and without assuming any significant personal risk of death.

A free society, which our Republic is designed to be, requires that democracy be limited to guarantee the rights of minorities against majoritarian depredations. Our Bill of Rights, in addition to protecting the people from the government, also allegedly functions to protect one group of people from the legislated tyranny of another group. In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment legally guarantees equal protection under the law to all persons. Unfortunately, legal guarantees do not always equate to actual guarantees. The Constitution of the Soviet Union included legal guarantees to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. However, the people had no way of holding the government to these promises.

Consider a free society, with legal guarantees of equal rights to life, liberty, and property. In this imaginary republic, approximately (say) forty percent of the citizens, regardless of ethnic or social class, possess military-style assault rifles. Even relative poverty will not exclude persons from firearm ownership, if the society values weaponry. An AK-47 can be had for as little as $460, and I purchased my Kalashnikov for $300 from a private citizen (a practice legal in America and any free society). Suppose that a well-connected minority attempts to suppress dissent, Syria-style, in response to some new legislation enacting, oh, say, an unfair taxation scheme. Instead of mowing down unarmed demonstrators with no risk to themselves, soldiers in the employ of the oppressing group will have to face significant resistance. While it is certainly possible that the oppressing group will defeat the subversive group, such an accomplishment will require a war, and wars are costly in terms of both lives and money. Massacres are relatively cheap for the perpetrators. Further, while an oppressive class or regime might arm friendly groups with military weapons, the power gap between these ad-hoc militias and the general populace is merely well-equipped versus ill-equipped, rather than rifles against fists. While no sure guarantee of the rights of all people can realistically exist, distributed military firearm ownership presents a powerful deterrent to oppressive groups.

Such a society is one in which the rights of minority groups or poor majorities are more likely to be respected – not out of altruism, but out of that universal human quality: aversion to being shot. Combined with the fact that assault weapons are rarely used in crime, a compelling case for legal civilian ownership of assault rifles exists. Even if one believes that the good of society can legitimately trump or compromise individual liberty, the decentralized and widespread ownership of military-style firearms is clearly in the public interest.

The Mini-14 and California Gun Control

The Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle is pictured above. It is a scaled-down version of the military M-14 used in the early years of the Vietnam war, and chambered in .223 Remington, a cartridge very similar to 5.56NATO. Sans the high-capacity magazine pictured, this semi-automatic rifle is perfectly legal to purchase in California. This simple fact reveals the utter incoherence of our regulations here in the Golden State.

The original California assault weapons ban prohibited further acquisition of semi-automatic rifles that had both an easily detachable magazine (limited to ten rounds) and one or more “evil features.” These features include such sundries as a pistol grip, a muzzle brake, or a forward grip. Most are primarily ergonomic improvements. Our exemplar firearm normally comes with no features on the list, so it is legal to own in California. The lethality or utility of the firearm is not in question: the criminal Michael Platt used a Mini-14 to deadly and tragic effect in the 1986 Miami FBI shootout. However, add a simple aftermarket stock to the Mini-14 (such as this one) and the weapon magically becomes illegal. The magazine size has not changed. The barrel is the same. The bolt is the same. The lethality of the weapon has not changed. It does look considerably more scary, sure, but it is essentially the same firearm.

Some time after the California AWB, clever people invented the bullet button. This device covered the magazine detach button, forcing the operator to use a tool to remove the magazine. This legally transformed detachable magazine situations to an attachable-fixed magazine situation. While still very inconvenient, this invention allowed California gun owners to have AR-15- and AK-type rifles. This weapons would be inferior to the Mini-14, but still serviceable, and safer to use than fixed-magazine variants that require weapon disassembly to clear jams or reload. However, they do look like their more-useful military and free-state cousins – that is to say, scary.

Recently, the right of Californians to own even these crippled but ergonomic rifles has come under further attack. A CBS article inspired some new legislation to ban the bullet button. Mr. Yee is absolutely terrified that civilians could own these “military-style” weapons, but seems to be missing the point completely. These weapons are less lethal than the legal Mini-14! Further, a brief look at the history of this Ruger firearm shows that it too is a “military-style” weapon, along with the M1A and the M1 Carbine – all legal, all military. I can’t find any instances of a bullet button-equipped M16 or AK47 having been used in a crime. The Mini-14 has at least as much killing power as an M16, and has been used in two high-profile crimes (1986 Miami and the Norway shootings). But again, even a crippled M16 or AK47 looks scary.

I would hope that those who seek to restrict our inalienable and pre-existing right to keep and bear arms would at least do some basic research to learn the capabilities and functions of what they would seek to ban. Unfortunately, these laws are driven by fear. The lack of knowledge on the part of the legislators is appalling. To be oppressed is never fun. To be oppressed by fools is truly depressing.

The Catholic Educational Crisis

The Obama Administration’s “compromise” – an accounting trick to hide the payments for contraceptives – was soundly rejected by the US Catholic Bishops. And rightfully so – claiming that religious providers would not have to pay for contraceptives, but that all insurance providers would have to cover them is an insultingly thin smokescreen. Nothing has changed. The Catholic leadership clearly recognizes this and is rallying. Many conservative Catholics have happily and publicly opposed this latest overreach of the administration, and even some stalwart Catholic supporters of Obama have decided that this is too much – Chris Matthews among them. Protestants, too, have closed ranks with the Catholic Faithful in opposition to this grievous crime. Sadly enough, these Protestants show a greater grasp of the issue at hand than some of our own.

In defense of the contraception mandate in health care, a misguided young Catholic wrote this response. The author is a student at the Catholic University of America, was baptized and confirmed in the Church, and “attended weekly catechism classes and received a Jesuit education.” And yet she says “[n]ever once did the opinion of the church on a person’s use of contraceptives surface.” The only conclusion I can draw is that the weekly catechism classes never made it to CCC2360-2400, and that Jesuit education never even gave a summary of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. My much-less-impressive education in Catholic teaching was no better – none of my confirmation classes touched on the subject, and the fundamentalist Protestant Christian school I attended certainly had no use for Paul VI or the rest of the Catholic magisterium. My mother was Catholic and my father Protestant, so the compromise on theology at home seemed to be “lay out basic Christianity, and let him figure out the rest” – which actually strikes me as the best possible under the circumstances. In fact, my years-long adventures in Protestantism (fundamentalist/pseudo-Catholic->confused->Calvinist) laid a better foundation for me than any previous teaching. It was more through the questions of close Protestant friends (and my ensuing research) than the teaching of Catholics that I came by my own scant knowledge of Catholic teaching, and eventually reverted to Catholicism.

Pia de Solenni has it exactly right: we have a failure of Catholic eduction. The author of the article shows deep ignorance of Catholic teaching – as well as the contraceptive mandate issue at hand – in nearly every sentence of the article. And I fear this sort of shortcoming is endemic. Political correctness should never keep the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church from teaching the full and authentic truth at any level, no matter how low. It doesn’t matter if the uncomfortable topic is Hell or sex: teachers, parents, and priests need to inculcate their charges with the full truth of Catholic teaching. It’s an evil and nasty world, a world at war, and we send in young Catholics (myself included) who don’t know which end of the Sword of the Spirit to hold (not the pointy end). Needlessly sending untrained men to battle is akin to murder; tossing untrained souls into spiritual war is far worse.

One Forgotten Doctrine, One Forgotten Threat

According to Thomas Peter’s list the number of American Bishops who have publicly stated their opposition to the HHS mandate is now at least ninety. The current administration has ordered that “non-religious” employers offer “free” (nothing is free, gentlemen) contraception with any health insurance plan. The Catholic leadership is calling the laity to political arms because the definition of the exempted religious employers is sufficiently narrow as to exclude Catholic schools, hospitals, and many other institutions – although monasteries manage to make the cut. Catholic doctrine teaches that contraception denies the procreative half of the unitive and procreative purpose of sex, and is thus wrong. In fact, since no circumstance can justify it (unlike killing in self-defense, you always have the moral option to just not have sex), contraception is consider evil by its object. Enabling or supporting such an act must also be impermissible, so many Catholic institutions find themselves in the unenviable but clear choice to obey God or to obey man. The law is directly opposed to religion.

But how did we get here? We rally to defend the line of religious freedom, of freedom of conscience, because religion and conscious are viewed as core, essential freedoms. The witness of the martyrs show them to be held even dearer than life, in some cases. But how did it come to this, with the battalions of Leviathan drawn up at the gates of our keep, demanding the submission of Church to State? Were there no other lines to defend?

We are forced to hold our line at the desperate ditch of religious liberty because we have abandoned the defense of liberty through subsidiarity, and with it, our fear of Leviathan. Though our written doctrine may accord this federalist idea a lofty seat, our historical behavior as a denomination relegated subsidiarity to the intellectual dungeons of practical Catholic political theory. The command of Christ was to care for the poor. He commanded us to do it, yet we delegated that role to the government. It is hard to give to charity, but easy to ask the government to force everyone to do so. Now, when the government controls funding for Catholic adoption agencies in Illinois, it wields that money like a cudgel to attempt to coerce the aforementioned agencies to place children with same-sex couples – an environment neither ordered nor evolved for child care. We granted the government power to collect funds to help adopted children, and now the government encroaches upon the practice of our charities. We grant the government increasing authority to regulate and direct economic activity, well outside it’s natural role to guarantee “individual freedom, private property, sound money, and efficient public services (CCC 2431),” and now we are faced with an economic mandate by the government to enable and cooperate in evil. The government has expanded time and time again, and always at the expense of the Church.

Should we prevail, and throw back the ever-usurping monster, we would do well to reclaim our old walls. Education is properly the responsibility of the parents and the Church. Charity is the responsibility of the Church – especially when the government claims to be secular and separate. Planning for one’s financial future is the domain of the individual, not the Senator or Treasury officer. Cage Leviathan in his proper domain of restraining the evil of man, and the next time he seeks conquest, the struggle need not be so desperate. We need to remember that while government has a good and proper domain, it cannot expand but by trampling on and usurping the proper spheres of Church and man alike.

In the mean time, we have a war to fight, and a line to defend. Please write your representatives, or sign this petition.

On the President’s Speech

A friend of mine wrote a response to the President’s State of the Union address, so I decided I should probably read the text of it and write my own response.

After a nod to the troops and expressing the standard progressive sentiment that people should behave more like soldier marching as to war (as conservative writer George Will points out), the President dives into an account of how we got here. He points to the displacement of jobs by outsourcing and technology, and repeats the stagnant-median-wage line. While it does seem to be true that median real wages are stagnant, median real compensation has continued to rise.  Costs have definitely risen, it is true. The 1970s “stagflation” comes to mind – when America’s FDR-era spending was paid for in the debasement of the currency, as well as the easy-money pre-housing-bust Federal Reserve policies under Greenspan. The President is willing to put the blame for the bust on banks and regulators, but not on the people. He correctly points to rising personal debt as part of the crisis, but neglects to point out that this personal debt is partly the leveraged over-consumption of the American people. We’ve had a period of personal as well as federal fiscal irresponsibility, and the housing bubble collapse is the harbinger of the correction. Student loan debt is likely the next bubble to burst, but I digress. Some significant blame does rest on regulators, but the President gets it wrong “We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them…Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior.” The reason mortgages were sold to those who could not afford them was because government regulations forced them to. You may recall that the repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act in 1999 is often credited with the mortgage crisis, but that’s only half the story. Glass-Steagall’s repeal was part of a compromise that also strengthened Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act – an act which prohibited banks from a variety of practices which made it difficult for the poor to take out mortgages. While the repeal of Glass-Steagall created the moral hazard of investment bets with federally-insured money, the strengthened CRA forced bad mortgages to be signed off on. Arguably, the strengthening of CRA regulation did more to cause the crisis than the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and hence it was likely government regulation, rather than a lack thereof, which was the cause of the crisis for which the Federal Government bears blame.

Obama smoothly transitions from the economy to jobs – following the fallacy in modern politics that jobs should be an end in themselves. He touts the auto company bailout as a victory that saved American jobs. However, jobs are not an end in themselves, they are the means to an end: greater wealth. The two automotive industries that were bailed out would have gone bankrupt had the government acted. When a company goes bankrupt, it is because the aggregate value of what it produces is less than the aggregate value of what it consumes – in labor, raw materials, and capital goods. In short, failing companies destroy wealth. Greater wealth means greater capital, which means expanded production (not necessarily in the automotive industry) and the creation of more jobs. The proposition that a massive transfer payment was necessary to save jobs at those two companies is true. The proposition that such a course of action was a net job creator is dubious at best. Undaunted by little things like opportunity cost, the President forged ahead, praising employment gains and laying out his plan for continued recovery.

Predictably, the administration’s plan isn’t one of free enterprise, low taxes, and free trade (though Obama has opened free trade with a few countries, and for that I applaud him). Instead, the proposal before us is one of more government interventionism and economic protectionism. One example was when American jobs were saved when “we stopped a surge in Chinese tires.” Doubtless the American tire-making industry welcomed this news, but the American consumers were denied cheaper tires. While protectionist tariffs and trade policies can occasionally protect individual industries, on the whole they hurt American consumers and hamper economic growth. Furthermore, the President espouses a tax policy of transfer payments from multinational corporations to American-based corporations to promote job growth in America. The frustrating trend of tax-policy manipulation and coercive regulation to “engineer” the economy into the state politicians want continues.

Education and energy are next, a never-ending stream of bigger government solutions – interspersed with the occasional ray of sense. We should get rid of the oil company subsidies (sense) – but subsidize solar and wind, with no mention of maybe easing nuclear power regulations (nonsense). The Senate should enact a rule guaranteeing Presidential appointments an up-or-down vote within 90 days (sense), but we should further expand the power of the executive branch to reshuffle agencies (Constitutional nonsense). Here and there are some noble intentions, but always outside the powers in Article I Section VIII – much less the domain of the executive. We’ve got too much student loan debt, brought on by increased demand for education (via the subsidy of federal student loans) and hence increased price of education – so Congress should take further action to make college affordable. Every time the government steps in to make education cheaper, the quality goes down and the price goes up. The one ray of light here seemed to be the possibility that some really expensive schools might lose funding – hopefully prompting reforms of the administration-heavy and inefficient ways in which many schools are run.

While it was a politically brilliant speech – with implicit support for unions, recently hurt by the Keystone pipeline cancelation – it was incredibly frustrating. The President seemed determined to pound the inequality drum as often as possible, and talk a lot about “fair share.” While I agree that capital gains tax rates often allow the very rich to pay lower rates than other people, it is disingenuous to talk about “fair share” when supporting a progressive tax system – by its very nature unfair. If you want a really fair tax plan, eliminate all deductions and loopholes, eliminate corporate taxes to end double-taxation complications, and add wages to compensation to capital gains to get one aggregate income value to be taxed at a flat rate. Instead, we’re offered tweaks to a tax code of ever-increasing complexity, one which only the rich can exploit well. It is neither fair nor sensible, but does allow politicians to fiddle and meddle to make Americans spend money in patterns they deem acceptable. It was a long speech, so I only covered random things here – I really don’t want to treat it in detail. Notably absent from the speech was much discussion of the President’s expensive, Constitutionally dubious, and morally questionable health care program. If you’ll excuse me, I should probably get ready for a debate with my friend.