Monday, August 31, 2009

Congress, The RIAA and Your Rights

I despise the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and their paid whores in Congress. I despise them because of what they’ve done to our judicial system.

The Music Industry Acted Stupidly

As you know, the music industry was caught flatfooted by the invention of the internet. As people learned to upload their music onto their computers, it was obvious to everyone that they would soon be passing those files around. This was the moment of opportunity for the music industry. If they embraced the new technology, by creating websites like iTunes, most people would have happily begun legally downloading music one song or album at a time.

But the music industry, like most oligopolies, didn’t want their profit model to change. They liked charging people almost $20 for cds that contained one worthwhile song and a whole bunch of crap. They didn’t want people picking and choosing which songs they wanted: “Heaven forbid that Britney Spears fans begin paying only for two songs, we might have to improve our product or lower our prices!”

So they fought the technology. And as they pushed against the waves of progress, they learned what all stagnant oligopolies learn, if you don’t change with the times, you die. Soon millions of people were illegally downloading music. Then it was tens of millions. Then hundreds of millions. Then disaster struck: so many people had gotten so used to downloading music for free that it became culturally acceptable, world-wide, to download music for free. The music industry had blown it. They had ignored consumer desires for so long that consumers moved on to something else.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending downloading. This is stealing. Absolutely. People who download copyrighted music are violating the copyright holder’s rights. There is no disputing that. But what happened next was despicable.

The Music Industry Visits A Prostitute

When the music industry lost its war against downloading technology, it decided to try to stop people from downloading files. But that’s a difficult prospect under the state of modern copyright law. So the music industry struck upon a bright idea. If they could buy enough Congressmen, they could change the law. And so they did. Before contribution laws were changed, the television/music industry contributed $18.7 million dollars in “soft money” to political candidates in 2000 and $27.7 million in 2002. They also gave (and continue to give) “hard money” to Republicans and Democrats alike.

And Congress delivered. First, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998, which gave the RIAA the power to file subpoenas to seek the identity of downloaders without notifying the downloaders, without needing to go through a court, and without presenting any proof -- the mere allegation of infringement was enough. This is a serious break from 1000 years of Western jurisprudence, which has always required that anyone be notified before they can be sued, so that they have a chance to defend their rights. This also violates the fundamental principles that plaintiffs must provide some proof to a court before the plaintiff can avail themselves of judicial powers. But what’s a 1000 years of law when compared to a lobby with a lot of money that wants a little something special put into the law for them?

Yet, even this was not enough for RIAA. All this let RIAA do was spy on you. When it came to suing you, RIAA still could only do what you and I can do now, that is to sue the infringer to get a court order enjoying them from further infringement and collecting damages. RIAA wanted more. So they went back to Congress.

Once again, Congress delivered. This time they passed the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 (“Digital Theft Act”). This act set statutory levels of damages for downloading in the amount of $750 to $150,000 per song. This is rotten, and again is largely unprecedented under the law.

Now, many of you are no doubt saying, “well, these people shouldn’t be stealing.” And I agree with that. But think about this.

You all know the stories of people who go into grocery stores, pretend to fall down, and then threaten to sue. This works because it is cheaper and safer to pay these people a small sum rather than defend the suit (which can cost tens of thousands of dollars) and run the risk of a huge verdict. “Frivolous suits” against doctors or manufacturers work the same way. These are called “strike suits,” where the plaintiff threatens to sue or actually sues, with the intent of being bought off. Again, these plaintiffs know that it is simply too expensive and too risky to defend against these suits, even when they clearly have no merit. Thus, they sue for a large sum, but offer a small settlement that makes it cheaper to buy the plaintiff off rather than defend the suits.

The Digital Theft Act Leads To Insane Verdicts

What Congress did with the Digital Theft Act was to give the RIAA the right to file such strike suits against individual Americans. Consider this. If you are sued by the RIAA, you no longer face the chance of being enjoined from downloading music and having to pay some level of compensation commensurate with what it would have cost to buy the music you downloaded (and possibly attorneys fees). Instead, you now face the prospect of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And that’s how this law has worked out. In RIAA v. Tenenbaum, the jury awarded $675,000 for 30 songs being downloaded. In RIAA v. Thomas-Rasset, the jury awarded $1.92 million for 24 tracks. There are many more. Since the law passed, RIAA has brought more than 30,000 suits. The exact number is not known because the bad publicity from these suits made the RIAA reconsider announcing their numbers.

This situation is so out of control that one judge, who awarded the RIAA $220,000 against a single mother of two who was found liable for downloading 24 songs, implored Congress to revise the Digital Theft Act to lower the statutory penalties. In 2006, the Eastern District of New York, a Federal District Court, found the statutory damages to be unconstitutional because the actual harm to the RIAA was only $0.70 per song. However, this suit was dropped before it could proceed, which coincidentally keeps that decision from having any real precedential power.

The Real Problem Is The Potential For Extortion

But the problem goes much deeper than the suits. Because people face these potentially huge verdicts, and because most people can’t afford what it costs to defend these suits -- and they can’t find lawyers who are as knowledgeable of the law as the RIAA’s lawyers who wrote the thing, people tend to settle rather than fight. To encourage settlement, RIAA sent each person they targeted a letter noting the potential damages and then proposing to settle the matter for around $11,000. Naturally, this has been effective. In 2003, when the RIAA had only brought 231 suits, it had already settled with 28,000 people. Most of these settled for around $3,000, with RIAA apparently accepting payments by credit card.

This is exactly how strike suits work. Even the numbers are similar. “I’m going to sue you for a million dollars, but I’ll settle right now, quietly, for $11,000. It will cost that much just to get a lawyer.” This is no different that the slip and fall plaintiff who pretends to fall down in your store.

There Are No Safeguard To Prevent Abuse

And lest you think there are safeguards to make sure that only people who actually download are being sued, the RIAA’s poorly targeted approach has been quite well documented. They have sued dead people, and demanded settlements from families. They have sued little old ladies for downloading gangster rap. They have sued people who don’t even own computers, and who didn’t have internet service.

The RIAA knows that some of the people they target are innocent, and they don’t care. Said one RIAA spokesperson, “when you go fishing with a driftnet, sometimes you catch a dolphin.”

What’s even worse, they have used abusive tactics and they have rarely backed off, even when presented with proof that the person they targeted was innocent. Take the case of Mrs. Sarah Ward, a 66 year old sculptor accused by the RIAA of sharing gangsta rap. Even though the RIAA learned that this woman did not listen to gangsta rap and cannot even run the service on which they claim she was file sharing, because it was not compatible with Macs at the time, the RIAA dragged their feet about dismissing the suit (which should not even have been filed), and then issued the statement that they would “reserve the right to refile the complaint against Mrs. Ward if and when circumstances warrant.”

Or consider the case of John Paladuk, who was accused of downloading files in Michigan, even though he lived in Florida at the time and had suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and disabled. Despite this knowledge, the RIAA sued him. Or the case of the college student who was sued because of downloads that occurred two to three years prior to her moving into that room; again, the RIAA demanded a settlement under threat of suit.

Now new groups are starting to use the Digital Theft Act. Recently, it was learned that a vendor of hard-core gay pornographic videos, Titan Media, was using the same process employed by the RIAA. Titan contacted their targets and offered the choice of either being named in a lawsuit or of purchasing the Titan videos in exchange for “amnesty.”

Conclusion

All of this is obscene. The Congress has given these industries powers to extort money from any American they choose to pick. This not only tosses aside 1000 years of carefully developed legal principles, but it flies in the face of everything Americans believe about justice and law. Congress has allowed the RIAA to make a mockery of the court system. Congress should repeal this law immediately.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Meaning of Life

Over the past year, Commentarama’s Philosophical Thought Unit has queried various experts regarding the meaning of life. Today, we reveal our findings. . .

But first, we need to talk about your Commentarama Membership. Commentarama is free to the public, because we are part of the Public Blogging Service (PBS). And that means we rely on you for support.

It’s not cheap to keep providing you with the kinds of free, high quality programming that Commentarama provides every single day: like our expose on South-Western North Dakota Jazz, or our fifteen part series on why blog series become boring, or our award winning docu-drama “All Sharks Go To Heaven.”

People, we don’t like interrupting these blog entries, nobody likes interrupting blog entries. But unlike commercial blogs, we can’t accept commercial sponsors. That’s right. That’s why we can’t take money from people like the Happy Bunny Munitions Company, maker of the world’s first anti-personnel exfoliator. If it says Happy Bunny, you know it’s quality with extreme prejudice.

So here’s what we need. We need five people to hit that “follow” button during this break, and we can’t go back to solving the meaning of life until you do. Come on, everyone hit the follow button. We have volunteers standing by right now, ready to process your button push.

If you act in the next five minutes, we might send you one of our PBS Commentarama Totes. It’s made from high quality hemp, by the children of hippies who live on a commune in Oregon. It’s perfect for carrying an organic potato or a bio-degradable bamboo cup of soy milk.

And for those of you pledging at the two minute level, we have an old Yawny CD, signed by Michael Bolton’s chauffeur. Who doesn’t love Yawny?

Come on people, our board shows that no one has clicked follow yet. Is it really so much to ask for all this high quality programming that you just can’t find on commercial blogs?

Hit the button. . . come on, just hit the button.

Ok, fine. . . that’s it. If five people don’t hit the follow button in the next five minutes, I’m going to get very upset. I might just start a letter writing campaign or organize a boycott. You’ve been warned. . .

Oh, and the meaning of life? People aren’t wearing enough hats.


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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Americans Are Conservatives, Not Republicans

If there was ever a time to call yourself a liberal, this should be it. The Republicans made a mess of the last eight years and now find themselves leaderless and seemingly without hope. Supposed titans of capitalism declared that capitalism "fell off the rails." The free market is said to have failed and the era of Reagan was declared over. The Democrats hold the White House, most governor’s mansions, the House of Representatives, and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

But something has gone wrong. Even with the penchant of so many people to jump on any bandwagon they can find, the country is shedding liberals like a bear sheds in the woods.

Conservative America

Now, it should come as no surprise to anyone who has read our prior discussion on how conservative Americans really are that many Americans identify themselves as "conservatives." But what is surprising in the following data (from Gallop), is just how large that group has become:

In all 50 states, more people describe themselves as “conservative” than describe themselves as “liberal.” Only the District of Columbia has more liberals than conservatives.

And this difference is not just a matter of a couple points. The conservative advantage ranges from +1 to +34 percentage points, with conservatives holding a statistically significant lead in 47 of the 50 states, leaving only Hawaii, Vermont and Massachusetts as possibly even. Click on the chart to the left to see the numbers broken down by state.

Or take a look at the following map. This map demonstrates just how dramatic the conservative advantage is. In the darkest green states (“most conservative”), the conservative advantage is 25% points or more. In the medium green states (“more conservative”), the conservative advantage ranges from 20% to 25% points. The conservative advantage in the light green states (“somewhat conservative”) ranges from 10% to 19% points. Finally, the conservative advantage in the pale green states (“less conservative”) ranges from 1% to 9% points.



When you look at the number of electoral votes represented by these groupings, the hurdle a liberal faces is staggering. A party needs 270 electoral votes to win the Presidency.

Below are the number of electoral votes held by each grouping of states:
Most Conservative = 108
More Conservative = 116
Somewhat Conservative = 162
Less Conservative = 149
Liberal = 3
Thus, if we exclude moderates for the moment, the conservative candidate will win a landslide election by an electoral count of 535 to 3. If we exclude the states within the statistical margin of error, the conservative candidate still wins by the electoral count of 516 to 3, with 19 votes undecided.

Even if the country suddenly experiences a 10% shift to the left, the conservative candidate still wins by the electoral count of 386 to 152.

Now let’s factor in the moderates:
• If the conservative can attract half the moderates, the conservative will win 50 states, totaling 535 electoral votes.

• If the conservative attracts only 40% of moderates, the conservative candidate will win 39 states, totaling 376 electoral votes. New Hampshire ends in a tie.
It is not until you fall close to the level of 35% support among the moderates that the conservative candidate loses the election. Thus, all the conservative candidate must do to prevail is to pull in the conservative support plus 40% or more of the moderate voters.

Is such a thing likely? Absolutely. As we’ve noted before, unaffiliated voters tend to hold opinions that are much closer to the Republican position than the Democratic position. On most issues, around 60% of these unaffiliated voters state a preference for the conservative position (click to see our chart). That is fertile ground for a conservative candidate.

In any event, combining this polling data with the prior findings that Americans overwhelmingly continue to express conservative opinions on all major issues -- and that the Democrats are the outliers -- finds that liberals are indeed a rare breed in America. And given all of the advantages liberals should have at the moment, this finding is all the more interesting and all the more damning.

The Republican Problem

However, there is a big caveat to this data. If the Republicans are unable to attract these conservatives, then their electoral success in 2010 or 2012 is far from assured.

The reason this becomes an issue is that Republican affiliation trails conservative identification by wide margins. In other words, more people describe themselves as conservative than Republican. Indeed, Republicans only hold a registration advantage over Democrats in six states, as compared to the forty-three states where the Democrats hold the advantage (twenty-nine of which are sizable). Compare that to the advantage conservatives hold in all 50 states. (Click on the chart to the left to see the comparison broken down by state.)

The Democratic advantage is clear in the chart below. The red states are those where Republicans hold the advantage (dark red = 10 point or greater advantage; bright red = 5-9 point advantage), the grey states are about even, and the blue states are those where the Democrats hold the advantage (dark blue = 10 point or greater advantage; bright blue = 5-9 point advantage).



Compare the Republican misery in this chart against the conservative sweep in the green map above. Unlike the conservative who wins by 500+ electoral votes, the Republican loses to the Democrat 24 to 259, with 75 votes remaining undecided.

So what does this mean? It means that liberalism has not caught on with the public. It means that Americans remain a deeply conservative people. It also means that Republicans have done a poor job of attracting self-described conservatives. Maybe they should ask themselves why that is?

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

No Vacation Goes Unpunished. . .

It’s been a difficult vacation for Obama. His worshipers won’t leave him alone: CNN, ABC News, CBS, they’ve all followed him, fighting for just a glimpse. They gushed over his reading list -- all white male authors, by the way. They’ve gushed over Michelle’s shorts. And they’ve sung his praises for choosing a vacation spot like Martha’s Vineyard, where the ultra rich mingle freely with the moderately ultra rich. . . it’s true Americana. But while he’s basking in the glory, things haven’t been going so well at the office.

On Tuesday, Obama’s economic team finally conceded what the rest of us already knew: he understated the deficit. Rather than being a trifling $1 trillion next year, the deficit will in fact be $1.5 trillion. Wow, $500 billion off! That’s nine times what they claim health care reform will cost each year.

Team Obama also admitted that they’d under-estimated unemployment. . . again. Unemployment will now hit 10% instead of the 9% estimated in July, which was itself an increase from Team Obama’s original maximum estimate of 8% for unemployment. No word this time if nobody could have seen this coming.

These direr numbers caused members of Team Obama to suggest that a second stimulus could be needed -- a “ministimulus” of only $250 billion. But Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) shot that idea down quickly.

Feingold, apparently taking out some frustration on Obama’s agenda, also stated that Team Obama’s proposal to revive the assault weapons ban “would die a quick death in the Senate.” Feingold also will oppose legislation to require gun registration.

And the bad news didn’t stop there. Feingold stated that there would be no health care bill in the Senate until Christmas. . . so much for the August deadline. He also rejected an effort to use federal funds to pay for abortions: “There’s no way we’re changing this to offer public funding of abortions. Nobody wants to open up that issue in the middle of this. That’s one thing you won’t have to worry about.” Truly, he has become a right-wing extremist. Welcome Senator.

Then the thinkable happened: Ted Kennedy (D-Masshole) died. So what you ask? Well, suddenly the Democrats lack a supermajority in the Senate. And because of some nasty legal maneuvering by Kennedy a few years back to try to deprive Romney of the chance of appointing a Republican until a special election could be held, no one can be appointed to replace Kennedy until a special election is held early next year.

However, the real ObamaCare-killer is not the actual lack of the supermajority. We all know that when ask comes to nudge, certain Republicans can be counted on to support whatever bill the Democrats want. Thus, the supermajority is safe. But the Democrats are nervous beyond the extreme about ObamaCare. They blew it, they lost the people’s trust on this issue through a series of missteps. Now they don't want to touch this bill for fear that it will terminate their careers with extreme prejudice. But not ramming through socialism will anger their base.

So whatever will they do? They will claim that without the sixty seat majority, it would be hopeless to bring this bill to a vote. . . pay no attention to the two Democratic-groupies from Maine. Thus, tragically, they will claim, this issue must be put off until 2010. . . er, 2011, after the election. Team Obama and their friend The Pelosi will use the corpse of Ted Kennedy to pressure these Democrats, but fear of the dead is not as strong as fear of a lively electorate. And this may be the final nail in the coffin for ObamaCare.

Finally, as if all of this wasn't enough to ruin his vacation, we now hear that Afghanistan is falling apart. It’s been a summer of rising casualties, divisive elections, and falling support. This week, even Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the Afghan situation as “serious and deteriorating.”

What else can go wrong for Obama? Wait a minute, has anybody seen his dog lately? Wasn't he tied to the back of Air Force One. . . never mind.

Maybe Obama shouldn’t have gone on vacation. . .

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Great Gun Shouting Match. . . er, Debate

Readers ask, Commentarama delivers: today, we talk about guns. The problem with the gun debate is that it is dominated by misinformation and myth, and is fought on emotion and false reasoning. Let’s cut through it all and talk about the facts.

The Anti-Gun Arguments

At first glance, the pro-gun people seem paranoid. Every time someone suggests some reasonable restriction to make guns safer, they start screaming about this being the proverbial nose under the tent for the eventual banning of guns. But there is a very rational basis for their fear. Many on the left are seeking to ban guns. Indeed, it doesn’t take long to run an internet search to find groups dedicated to banning guns. Or take, for example, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), who stated:
“If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them, Mr. and Mrs. America turn them all in, I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren’t there.”
Many of the anti-gun groups talk openly about incrementalism, eliminating guns one step at a time. Other groups, like the Brady Campaign, are dishonest about their motives. They specifically state that they are not opposed to gun ownership, but then advocate the banning of almost every type of gun and the enforcing of such restrictions that gun use would be virtually unattainable by average citizens.

And why do they want to ban guns? In many ways, guns, like cars, represent a boogey man for the left. A gun is power. Leftists do not believe that individuals should be trusted to exercise power. They believe that only the state and its panels of experts should be allowed to exercise power. Thus, allowing individuals to retain such power is anathema to leftists, particularly because the power afforded by guns is the power to hold off or to make timid the state, which the left thinks should be free to call the shots.

But leftists rarely frame the debate in this manner because that’s a losing proposition in America. Thus, they argue instead that guns are dangerous. They note particularly that “automatic weapons” and “assault weapons” are menaces to society and particularly the police. They argue that guns cause crime -- particularly mass killings, and that gun ownership is unsafe because it leads to accidental death and suicide. Most of these arguments are myth.

Debunking The Myths

Sadly, what most people know about guns comes from Hollywood, and Hollywood is about as inaccurate as you can get when it comes to guns. And these inaccuracies are mindlessly repeated by reporters, who get much of their information from anti-gun groups. The myth of the automatic weapon and the assault weapon are the two largest of these inaccuracies.
The “Automatic” Weapon Myth
One of the biggest myths regarding guns is the myth of the “automatic weapon.” An automatic weapon is a firearm that discharges multiple bullets when you pull the trigger. If you accept the image offered by Hollywood or the media, everyone has an automatic weapon and they are using them in street fights every day. Nothing about that image is true.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 placed restriction on the ownership of automatic weapons. These included background checks and registration of owners. In 1968, it became illegal to import automatic weapons. In 1986, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 made it illegal to manufacture automatic weapons. Since the passage of the 1934 Act, only a handful of people have been killed with automatic weapons.

What the media is really talking about are “semi-automatic” weapons. A semi-automatic weapon discharges only one bullet per pull of the trigger, just like a revolver. It does not “spray” bullets.

Nevertheless, anti-gun groups routinely describe semi-automatic weapons as “spraying” bullets. For example, the Brady Campaign states in their FAQs that “semi-automatic assault weapons are designed to be spray-fired from the hip.” Similarly, every Hollywood criminal or villain uses automatic weapons to randomly spray bullets everywhere. Watch any news report and you will hear about the latest criminal to use or carry an “automatic” weapon. These reports often end with pleas from the reporter to ban such evil weapons because cops just can’t compete with the guys who can “spray” hundreds of bullets per second. This is all false.
The “Assault” Weapon Myth
The second biggest myth regarding guns is the myth of the “assault weapon.” The anti-gun groups and the media love to attack “assault weapons,” which are typically described as identical or nearly identical to military weapons. And if you listen to the media, these are the weapons of choice for criminals. But again, this is all myth.

First, the idea of the “assault weapon” is actually a nonsensical concept. Under Federal law, what distinguishes an assault weapon from a regular weapon is largely cosmetic. For example, does it have a bayonet mount (I dare anyone to find the last causality from a bayonet charge in the United States), does a rifle have a pistol grip, or is the gun a copy of another weapon that is fully automatic. In other words, does it look like (not function like) something that the military would use. Of all the items listed, the one that does actually increase the performance of the gun is the inclusion of a “high capacity” magazine. This would presumably give the gun an advantage over other guns that need to be reloaded more often. But that advantage is slight when you consider how long it takes to reload a gun (even revolvers have autoloaders that allow all six/eight chambers to be reloaded simultaneously).

Secondly, and more importantly, the idea that these are the weapon of choice for criminals is simply wrong. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives (ATF), prior to the “assault weapons ban”, assault weapons were used in only 4.8% of gun crimes. After the ban went into effect, this percentage fell to 1.6% of gun crimes.

Similar percentages were found by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. For example, Connecticut found that only 198 of 11,002 firearms confiscated were “assault weapons.” Florida found that only 17 of 7,500 firearms used in crimes were “assault weapons.”

Despite this verifiable fact, various newspapers across the country reported that “assault weapons” were used in 10% of all gun crimes.

Moreover, gun-control advocates, such as Denver Police Chief Ari Zavaras, continued to state: “assault weapons are becoming the weapons of choice for drug traffickers and other criminals,” even though only 14 of the 1,248 weapons then in the custody of the Denver police were assault weapons. That’s 0.6%. And of those 14, only one had been used in a crime of violence.

Anti-gun groups also claim that police officers are being gunned down by assault weapons. This too is a myth. Between 1975 and 1992, of the 1,534 police officers murdered in the line of duty in the United States, only 16 were killed by assault weapons. Of this, the Journal of California Law Enforcement noted:
“It is interesting to note, in the current hysteria over semi-automatic and military look-alike weapons, that the most commons weapon used in the decade to murder peace officers was that of the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum revolver.”
Prevalence of Gun Crime

The anti-gun groups also would have you believe that guns are the tool that allow people to commit guns (some actually think they cause the temptation). But these claims are illogical, are not supported by the statistics, and ignore the benefits that guns provide.
Guns Are Not “The” Cause Of Crime
What percentage of crimes involve guns? If we are to believe the media or Hollywood, all criminals are armed and most use their guns. But a Department of Justice study found that only 36% of criminals convicted of homicide, robbery or assault were armed with a firearm. That’s right, only 36%.

According to DOJ, in 2007, there were 445,000 robberies in the United States, but only 154,000 of those involved a firearm. There were 157,000 aggravated assaults involving a firearm, and another 574,000 that involved some other weapon or no weapon at all. Clearly, crimes occur without the temptation of guns.

Even for murders, where guns were more prevalent, only 10,123 of the 16,929 murders that took place in 2007 involved a firearm of any sort (including shotguns).

And while that may sound like a lot, consider this: First, because of the size of our population, this means that only 1 in every 29,635 Americans will be murdered with a gun. Moreover, to put this into perspective, there are 2.5 million deaths in the United States annually. The 10,123 gun deaths represent 0.4% of the total deaths in the United States. This would place gun murders 43rd on the list of causes of death in the United States behind such other causes of death as diarrheal diseases, maternal conditions, malaria, measles, falls, drownings, and poisonings.
Defensive Use
Further, you need to weigh these deaths against the defensive benefits of gun ownership. Anti-gun groups routinely omit these benefits from their discussions, or try to claim that there are no such benefits. Yet, that is another myth.

Criminologist Gary Kleck co-authored a comprehensive study of defensive gun use. Examining FBI and DOJ data, he concluded that “defensive gun uses by crime victims are three to four times more common that crimes committed with guns.” Another study for the Justice Department found that 34% of felons had “been scared off, shot at, wounded or captured by an armed victim” and that 40% of felons had “decided not to do a crime because they knew or believed that the victim was carrying a gun.”

Indeed, the banning of guns has been shown to increase crime, including murder. When England banned private gun ownership in 1996, crime rates skyrocketed. According to American Enterprise Institute economist John Lott, an examination of information released by the British Home Office showed that the violent crime rate rose 69% following the gun ban (with murders increasing 54%). Interestingly, in the five years prior to the ban, such crimes had been falling consistently.

A county by county examination by Lott of crime rates in the United States, found that right-to-carry states experienced (on average) lower rates of violent crime (27% lower), murder (32% lower), robbery (45% lower) and aggravated assault (20% lower) than states with more restrictive gun laws. Other studies conducted at Vanderbilt University, SUNY Binghamton, Claremont-McKenna College, George Mason University, and the College of William and Mary, have supported Lott’s findings.
Mass Shootings
Anti-gun groups also point to mass shootings, particularly at schools, as evidence that guns are dangerous. But here’s what they don’t tell you. First, many of these shooting sprees could have been stopped if any of the victims had been armed. Secondly, these shooting sprees are very rare. Indeed, while these are highly emotional events, they are statistically insignificant. In the last 10 years in the United States, there have been seven shooting sprees at schools that resulted in three or more deaths. Interestingly, there were only five such shooting in the 23 years before that. This indicates some change in society that should be addressed. But before you blame guns for that change, consider that in the same ten year period that saw seven such shooting in the United States, there were six such shooting sprees in gun-banned Europe, with generally higher body counts.
Accidental Discharge
Anti-gun groups also like to point to “accidental discharges.” They will throw out statistics like the one that firearm related deaths for children in the United States are nine times higher than in the 25 other industrialize countries. Yet, they don’t tell you that almost all of those 25 countries ban gun ownership. And the number of accidental gun deaths pales in comparison to other accidental deaths. Each year, around 1,500 people die from gun accidents. This doesn’t even rate in the top 100 causes of death in the United States. And if guns were as dangerous as claimed, you would think that with 300 million of them floating around the US, these numbers would be much, much higher.
Suicides
Anti-gun groups also like to point to gun suicides. Yet, many of the same people who point so accusingly to gun suicides, also support euthanasia. Blaming the gun for something they think is already acceptable is at best disingenuous.

Moreover, their statistics are garbage. There are around 30,000 suicides each year in the United States. Of those, approximately 12,000 (40%) involved firearms. However, the anti-gun groups claim, only 30% of Americans own guns. Thus, gun suicides are over-represented. Ergo, guns cause suicides. However, this assertion wrongly assumes a causal link that cannot be shown. Indeed, one would assume that there would be a preference for guns as a suicide method because they are 90% effective when used for suicide, as compared to other methods like jumping from high places which is only 34% effective. Ergo, guns do not make people suicidal, suicidal people prefer guns. Further, ownership does not mean access, unless you assume that gun owners all live alone. Thus, the entire basis for this claim is bogus at the outset.

The Philosophical Case For Guns

So what is the pro-gun case? Pro-gun groups make three arguments (excluding the Constitutional issue discussed below). The first is that guns are merely tools, like hammers, knives or a box of dynamite. Blaming guns for gun crime is as intellectually wrong as blaming money for theft or fertilizer for the Oklahoma City bombing. It is the human actor who is at fault, not the product. Further, arguments that guns are inherently unsafe are also irrational as all products are inherently unsafe to one degree or another. Intellectually, this argument is correct. Though, it must be noted that such an argument does not justify the continued existence of guns, if their dangers are outweighed by their benefits.

The second argument is that guns are “the great equalizer.” They protect the weak from the strong. Many years ago, in discussing the issue of women in combat, the Commandant of the Marine Corp told a very annoyed Patsy Schroeder (D-Mars), that “the average American male can kill the average American female with his bare hands in under a minute.” With a gun, those odds are evened. This argument goes hand in hand with the idea that individuals have a natural right to defend themselves.

The counter argument to this claim is that people with guns are more likely to be the victims of gun death. But such claims are false (and irrelevant). First, these claims typically include suicides. Secondly, they fail to account for the adverse selection problem, where people who live in dangerous locations are more likely to buy guns to protect themselves -- thus, it is not the gun causing the crime. And third, they never factor in the defensive benefits of guns.

The final argument is that guns protect the people from their government. When a government knows that it could meet armed opposition if it tries something truly evil, like rounding up certain citizens, governments are reluctant to engage in such activities. It is no coincidence that one of the first things totalitarian regimes do is to round up firearms. Indeed, this was the primary reason the Founders included the Second Amendment: their belief that a disarmed populous is helpless to resist a government and to prevent it from turning tyrannical.

The counter arguments to this typically point out the level of gun crime and/or demonize people who make this argument as militia nuts. But as seen above, the crime statistics are vastly overstated, the image the anti-gun groups try to promote of guns is false, and demonization is the lowest form of argument and should be dismissed out of hand.

The Constitution

Finally, we come to the question of the law. This is really the only theory that matters.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. For years, the left argued that this right extends only to state sponsored militia. Yet, only 20% of the population accepted that view. Seventy-three percent believe this Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to own guns.

More importantly, however, the Supreme Court now agrees with the people. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for private use.

However, contrary to what many pro-gun groups claim, this right is not absolute. Indeed, the absolute position asserted by many pro-gun groups does not make sense when examined closely. For example, if no government regulation were allowed with respect to guns, then wardens could not keep prisoners from own guns, and the police could not legally disarm suspects.

And, in any event, the Supreme Court has rejected this argument in Heller:
“like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. . . [This decision] should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
This is indeed typical of all rights. Even the most fundamental rights are subject to regulation. The question is the level of scrutiny that will be applied to the regulation. Some regulations are reviewed only on a “rational basis” test. Under this standard, if the government can come up with a rational reason for the regulation, the Court will uphold it. But more fundamental rights are typically examined under a “strict scrutiny” or “compelling interest” test, where the state must show that it has a compelling interest in the regulation and that it could not have achieved those results by imposing some lesser restriction (the regulation must be narrowly tailored).

At this point, the Supreme Court has not chosen the level of scrutiny that will apply to gun regulation. Instead, the Court found that the District of Columbia’s regulations in Heller were illegal under any of the possible levels of scrutiny. So this issue remains to be addressed in the future, although the court made it clear that such regulations could not interfere with the right of self-defense (the reason it rejected the District’s requirement for trigger locks). Thus, I suspect that the Court will eventually need to adopt the stricter standard.

Thoughts?

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oh You Dirty Liberal Racists. . .

The New York Democratic Party and its allies in the media are dirty racists who can’t stomach the idea of a black man sitting in the Governor’s chair, or so says New York Democratic Governor David Paterson. No so, respond his liberal critics: the problem is you’re blind. So much for the usual political correctness.

For those who don’t know, David Paterson, who is both black and blind, has been dubbed the “Accidental Governor.” He took over the post when crusading “white-knight” Governor Eliot Spitzer flamed out after consorting with a hooker named Ashley Dupre. (The term “white-knight” was not mine, by the way, it came from the racist New York media.)

And the liberals did cheer when Paterson took over. According to one liberal columnist, “People wanted Paterson to succeed, people wanted to get behind . . . a black, sight-challenged New Yorker.” Because that’s how we move beyond race, by supporting a candidate because of his race.

But since those heady days, the cheering has stopped. Paterson’s approval ratings have fallen as low as 18%, and Democrats have begun to call for him to declare that he will not run for re-election, lest the seat fall into Republican hands. And this doesn’t sit well with the good Governor. Why? Because his critics are racists. That’s right, the New York Democratic Party and their media allies are racists.

Last Friday, Paterson told Daily News columnist (and African American) Errol Louis in a radio interview that a “racist media” is trying to kill his chances of running for a full term next year. According to Paterson, the campaign against him is being “orchestrated” by reporters who would rather make the news than report it: “The whole idea is to get me not to run in the primary. We’re not in a post-racial period.”

Apparently, some people are uncomfortable with too many black politicians in power, Paterson warns us. Said Paterson, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick also is under fire in racist Massachusetts because of his race. Moreover, “the reality is the next victim on the list -- and you can see it coming -- is President Barack Obama, who did nothing more than trying to reform a health care system.”

Yes, we can see it coming David. And all because Obama tried to reform health care. . . and the $9 trillion debt, the $1 trillion deficit, the seizure of GM and the political closing of Republican dealerships, the insulting of America and Americans to Muslims on foreign shores, the commission of the same “war crimes” Dick Cheney used to whip out for fun, the demonization of average Americans, the fishy snitch, calling cops stupid, and a whole host of other non-things.

Paterson’s warning did not sit too well with Team Obama. White House political director Patrick Gaspard called Paterson aide Larry Schwartz to tell him that Obama wants no part of this mess (whew, I almost used the word "tar baby" but then I remember that's now racist). Said Obama spokesman Bill Burton:
“In terms of media coverage of the President, he thinks that there are a lot of people who agree with him in the media, there are a lot people who disagree with him in the media, and there are a lot of folks who play it straight. . . Whether or not race plays into that. . . the President doesn't think it is the case. What he thinks is that there area lot of people with different opinions, and one of the great parts about the American tradition is that people are able to do that freely.”
Obama then “wee wee’d” himself.

With the left wing media going insane, not being as accustomed to false allegations of racism as the right is, and with Team Obama trying to unload this albatross, Paterson tried to downplay his comments.

“I don't think the media has acted in a racist way, but I have felt stereotyped at times. . . At no point did I claim that this media piling-on effect was due to race,” he said, before adding, “What I did point out was that certain media outlets have engaged in coverage that exploits racial stereotypes. The media is trying to control the politics, not reporting it. They're trying to control it. There are some folks in the media who think that it's all right to racially stereotype.” Thus, they aren’t racist, they just make racist attacks.

Surprisingly, this didn’t stem the criticism, particularly as the allegation of racism did not sit well with a Democratic Party that believes that it cannot, by definition, be racist.

Said state Senator Kevin Parker: “He’s given the media more than enough to feed on with the incompetence shown in his administration. To quote Michael Jackson, he should start with the man in the mirror.” Michael Jackson? Some Republican will have to try that line on Obama and see how much blood flows at Huffpo.

Paterson was quick to respond by doubling down on stupid. Indeed, noting that despite New York’s financial crisis, he had not had to write IOUs like liberal California, and the state was not nearly as bad off as Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Massachusetts. Strangely, no comparison was made to Republican run states. He also complained that he was held to a higher standard. “I played by the rules. It was a very difficult position to find myself in and I've given it my best. I've done the best I can under the very trying circumstances the state is facing. It seems I have to work twice as hard as others.”

Then he added the coup de grace: “I have been quiet for 17 months on this issue. . . . Part of what I feel is that one very successful minority is permissible, but when you see too many success stories, then some people get nervous.

He also pointed out that it bothers him that people refer to him as the “accidental governor.” Whines Paterson: “It was not an accident. It is a constitutional mandate. I became governor by a constitutional mandate.” He then noted that the honkus maximus successors to disgraced governors Jim McGreevy of New Jersey and John Rowland of Connecticut were not dubbed “accidental governors.”

The racists in the media haven’t take this too well. After comparing Paterson to black athletes and suggesting that he should raise the “white flag”, they described his complaints as “self-pitying,” even though we know that allegations of racism cannot be self-pity.

But don’t worry, it may turn out that this isn’t about racism at all. . . it’s about disablism. At least, that’s what Democratic state Senator Diane Savino claimed, when she said:
“We live in a digital age now, with e-mailing and BlackBerrying. He is not able to do that because of his visual impairment. David cannot do those things. Also, he does not read Braille. He has people reading newspapers to him. He listens to tapes of staffers briefing him. All that takes an enormous amount of time. . . In some ways I think that has hindered him, in spite of everything he has accomplished in life. David is one of those people who tends to rely on the staff around him to set policy and make decisions, and then he turns around and undoes things. The messaging and the policy development comes out in various conflicting forms.”
Paterson aide, Larry Schwartz called those comments “insensitive and totally inappropriate.” He then stated that “Diane Savino owes a public apology to Governor Paterson and every visually impaired New Yorker.” He then insulted the non-blind by claiming that Paterson functions “as well, if not better than people without a handicap.”

Thus, we are left with a riddle. Is the New York liberal media and the New York Democratic Party (and their Massachusetts equivalents) a bunch of racists who can’t handle seeing too many black men in power? Are they just biased against blind people? Or has a black governor made false claims of racism to cover his own incompetence?

The ironies here are rich. New York should impose an “irony tax.”

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Commentarama, Advice for the Forlorn

We like to think of ourselves as well rounded at Commentarama, but lately we’ve gotten a lot of flack for our failure to dispense romance advice. So here it is. Just remember, you asked for it.

................................................................

Dear Commentarama,

I go on a lot of blind dates, but none of them ever work out because I’m just not good at the whole dating thing. Can you tell me five things that I can say on a first date to make a woman fall madly in love with me?

Signed,
Clueless Loan Officer

Dear Clueless Loaner,

If you want a woman to fall in love with you, whip out these babies:
(1) Oh, I thought you were thinner. (Shows that you have thought about her.)

(2) You’re wearing that? (Shows that you notice details.)

(3) Did you know that blind dates are more economical than paying for hookers? (Shows that you are financially responsible.)

(4) What happened to your hair? (Shows that you care.)

(5) I have the same dress at home. (Shows that you share her interests.)
These are guaranteed to put the “madly” smack-dab into the heart of your relationship.

Management


................................................................

Dear Commentarama,

I’m in love with my boss, but he barely notices me. Sometimes I think he hates me. He has appointed other people to take over all of the most interesting parts of my job, and he ignores me. Still, I love him so. How do I get his attention?

SOS

Dear Hillary,

Please stop writing us. As for your question, try bringing a gun to the next cabinet meeting.

Management


................................................................

Dear Commentarama,

I love little baby ducks, old pickup trucks, slow moving trains and rain. But I have leprosy, and that just breaks me up inside. On what date should I tell the person I’m dating about the leprosy?

Stew

Dear Stew,

No need to go to pieces over this issue, leprosy isn’t that relevant in the modern era. But if it bothers you, try finding dates on eLeper.com. They also have good counselors who are always willing to lend an ear.

Management


................................................................

Dear Commentarama,

I really want to date “Michelle,” who is a wonderful woman, but is also married, as indeed am I. What makes this worse, she’s married to my boss. He’s a jealous man who never dug coal or visited a Homes Depot Bar like I have. He’s so jealous that he has “Michelle” watched day and night by what I swear is like a private security force. Also, I am the first member of my family to go to college and I fear that she is a snob. Hopeless right? Well, get this. The other day I came across a little document from, let’s say “Kenya,” that my boss wouldn’t want people knowing about. Should I use this to blackmail him into letting me go on a date with “Michelle.” I would love to take his plane for a little ride. Maybe to New York. Any advice would be appreciated.

“Neil Kinnock”

Dear Slow Joe,

Despite the propaganda put out by Hallmark, blackmail remains the surest method for obtaining dates. Go where your heart takes you.

Management


................................................................

Dear Commentarama,

I want to be loved. Nay, I need to be loved. I need to be loved just about as much as I hate earmarks. But no one ever wants to give me the love I need, no matter how hard I try. I told my respected friends, who work just across the aisle from me, that I’ll do anything they want for love, but they still won’t love me. What can I do to win their love?

Maverick

Dear Maverick,

Buy a dog.

Management


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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Polling: Why ObamaCare Is Failing

By now you’ve all seen the chart showing Obama’s approval rating rolling down the hill like Sisyphus’s rock. If not, look to the right. You’ve probably also heard that Republicans lead Democrats by 5% in the generic ballot. A big part of this seems to be that ObamaCare has become political poison. Taking a look at some of the polling data tells us why. . .

For starters, few Americans think the plan will work. Sixty-one percent of Americas state that the goal of health care reform should be to control health care costs. But only 23% of Americans think ObamaCare will control health care costs. Indeed, 53% of Americans expect that it will lead to higher costs (18% think it will have no effect at all).

Americans also aren’t happy with paying for this reform. Fifty-four percent of Americans say that they would rather see tax cuts for the middle class than new spending on health care. BUT, despite promises that the middle class would not be taxed to make this happen, 78% of Americans believe that taxes will be raised on the middle class to cover the costs of health care reform.

Further, Nancy Pelosi’s attempts to demonize insurance companies have fallen on deaf ears: Americans “fear” the government more than they fear private insurance companies by a margin of 51% to 41%.

In fact, now that Americans have been asked to compare the quality of the care they receive against the alternatives being offered, 74% of Americans now rate the quality of the care they receive as good or excellent. Only 7% rate their own care as poor. And this good will has carried over to the entire system, with 48% of Americans now rating the U.S. health care system as good or excellent, up 13 points from two months ago and 19 points from last year. And this number is even higher when you exclude Democrats (see the chart below for party affiliation break downs).

So how is all of this translating into support (or lack thereof) for ObamaCare? Only 35% of Americans say that it would be better to pass the current version of ObamaCare than it would be to do nothing.

Finally, click on the chart below, which shows that these numbers are much more dramatic when you separate out the Democrats. Interestingly, Republicans and unaffiliated voters seem rather like minded on these issues, and once again, the Democrats are the outliers.



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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Liberal “Thinking”: Changing Human Nature

Driving across the country, you hear a lot of stupidity poured out over the airwaves. You hear so much, in fact, that it hardly rates mentioning. But near the end of my recent trip, one woman gave us a little gem that’s worth discussing. This woman encapsulated the fundamental flaw with liberal thinking when she claimed that eliminating guns would stop human violence. The flaw she so eloquentlessly displayed, is that liberals constantly try to change human nature rather than change human behavior.

Here’s the set up. The talk show host asked his audience “what do you wish had never been invented?” After a succession of callers suggested de-inventing their pet peeves (like bass on car stereos or video games), one brave caller gave us the liberal home run: guns.

But she didn’t just say that she wished guns had never been invented, she explained why. And that’s where this gets interesting. After she whined, “if we could just get rid of guns, people wouldn’t use them,” the host asked, “wouldn’t that just mean that the strong could do what they wanted to the weak?” No, she responded, “because if we get rid of guns, the urge to commit violence will go away.”

Un. . .believably. . . stupid!

Consider for a moment that most violent crime today is not committed with guns, even in countries like the United States where guns are available to all. Consider also that for a millennia, mankind has been killing each other with whatever weapon they can find. Guns are merely the latest in a long line of tools that began with the bare hand. Consider also that a gun, just like a knife, a club, a lampshade, a car or a rubber duck, has no morality of its own. It is only when the gun is put into the wrong hands that the gun will be put to an immoral use. Thus, attacking the gun fails to address the real problem, which is the person bent on harming another.

But this post isn’t about guns (the gun post is coming next week). This post is about the problem with this woman’s “thought”-process, and what this tells us about liberal thinking. And in that regard, she’s given us a great window in the flaw the underlies the liberal mindset: rather than accepting human nature as a fact, and proposing rules to control human behavior, she is hoping to change human nature itself.

Indeed, she’s not saying, if we eliminate guns, there will be no opportunity for violence -- because that’s obviously false. Instead, she’s assuming that human nature is violent because of the temptation of guns. If we can only eliminate this temptation, human nature will readjust and violence will vanish.

But this wishful thinking is irrational to the nth degree. The gun did not create the instinct for violence, nor does it maintain that instinct. Nor is it at all clear that human nature can be changed. In fact, attempt after attempt by the left to change human nature has failed miserably, dashed against the rocks of reality. We can control our natures, but we can’t change them. Conservatives understand this. That why our policies are about changing incentives. That's why we believe in strong institutions like marriage and church to reign in our worst impulses by making misbehavior more expense, i.e. giving us more to lose if we act out, and by increasing the level of reward if we act properly.

Liberals don’t understand this, and that’s the problem with so many of their policies. They are constantly trying to change human nature. They dream about eliminating money because that will cause people to stop being greedy. They dream about teaching kids to cooperate and not keeping score in sports or giving out grades because they hope this will stop people from being competitive. They try to stop people from using racist or sexist or whatever words because that will stop us having those beliefs.

The insanely stupid idea of unilateral disarmament was about changing the way man viewed violence. Liberals unilateralists argued that violence arises solely because of fear. Thus, if we showed that we would never attack anyone, they would not attack us -- a policy that has failed every time it's been tried, like in 1938. Liberals likewise argue that crime is about poverty. If we could just lifted everyone from poverty, we could end the desire of people to take things from others (envy). (Though, as an aside, it is important to note that this “crime” does not include white collar crime, which liberals see as being caused by greed).

Communism was about changing the way man worked in the community. By banning private ownership, people would stop being greedy, i.e. seeking to satisfy their wants. Instead, they would work according to their abilities and would take only according to their needs. Socialists from the 1930s spoke of the “new man” or the “socialist man”, who was supposed to be a creature created by these new societies without all of the negative human nature that besets us now.

None of this worked. None of this could work, because we are hardwired to want, to need, and to feel the whole gambit of emotions. You simply can’t change man. You can control him with incentives, and by punishing him for misdeeds and rewarding him for good, but you just can’t change human nature.

So when you hear that next liberal plan, ask yourself, are they offering a solution to a problem or are they trying to change human nature. If it’s the latter, sit back and enjoy the spectacle of failure.


(FYI, if you haven’t already, go back and read my article about conservative v. liberal thinking. You might find that article explains a lot about the how liberals and conservatives view the world differently and why they propose different kinds of solutions for the same problem.)


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Thursday, August 20, 2009

All Fun And Games Until Somebody Gets Hurt. . .

Let’s talk sports. Well, you talk sports, I need to pay attention to the road, as I’m flying down I-70, trying to evade the cops, while you read this.

Sports are great. Sports give you comedy, tragedy, triumph. . . the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat! But sports is a business and much of the business model is rotten, particularly in the NFL (the “No Fun League”) and the semi-pro, pre-trial diversionary program known as the NCAA.

• The Stadium Shake-Down: The NFL extorts news stadiums from cities. Each year, a dozen NFL owners declare their existing stadiums, most of which are barely half way through their useful lives, “uncompetitive” and they threaten to abandon the city if the taxpayers don’t fork over a new palace with all the latest amenities -- with the profits going to the NFL owner, of course. This dance continues year in and year out until the cities caves, fearful of losing “their” team. Indeed, many believe the reason Los Angeles doesn’t have a team is because the NFL uses the possibility of moving to L.A. as a threat against other cities.

Cities need to wise up. Whenever the issue of a new stadium comes up, pro-stadium groups put together “impact statements” purporting to show all of the benefits the city will accrue from handing over its treasury. But, as noted by an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, no independent study has ever found that the benefits of building a stadium outweighed the costs. Indeed, studies have found the economic benefit of building a stadium (direct jobs, indirect jobs, increased economic activity and additional tax revenue) to be only $2.9 million per year, on average. Comparing that to the $400+ million dollars it takes to build a stadium, even an athlete can see that is a bad deal.

So now the latest claim is that having a professional sports team adds to the “quality of life” in a city and makes it a more desirable place to live. . . like Cleveland, or Buffalo, or Detroit, or Pittsburgh. If this argument were at all credible, you would expect these cities to grow at least as fast as the rest of the country, if not faster. But they aren’t. In the past fifty years, Pittsburgh lost more than half its population, falling from being one of the top ten largest cities in the country to 54th. The same is true with the others.

Save your money folks, make the owners buy their own stadiums, because this is almost criminal. And speaking of criminal . . .

• NFL Correctional Facility: The NFL has a crime problem. There is a website which runs a “days without arrest” counter for NFL players. In the past several years, that counter has only hit double digits on a handful of occasions, and only twice reached the “20 day” mark. I would say that typically, an NFL player gets arrested once every ten days. Recent charges have ranged from drug dealing, to beating up pregnant women (two separate incidents), to vehicular manslaughter. Simply put, the league is awash with criminals. And this is so because the NFL has set up a culture that allows it. Players with talent will get a slap on the wrist until the public pressure becomes too much for a franchise to bear.

An athlete commits a crime. The community is outraged. The NFL immediately goes into cover-up mode. Coaches and league officials proclaim that the player is a good guy who just made a mistake, oh and ignore all his criminal activity in college. The outrage grows, so the NFL asks you to wait as they decide on a fair punishment -- usually a minor suspension. The outrage continues to grow. Thus, finally, forced into a corner, the franchise must fire the player. But that’s not the end. Instead, the player is immediately picked up by another team that is willing to provide him with “a second chance” -- provided he does not commit more crimes. When he does, we repeat the process. And how many second chances does the NFL give? As many as needed until the player’s talent fades. The next person to be injured by an NFL players should sue the league under RICO because it’s enabling is getting dangerously close to making it into a criminal enterprise. And that brings us to. . .

• Michael Vick And Phony Indignation: Michael Vick spent last year in prison after pleading guilty to running a dog fighting ring out of his house. He served his time, and thus, he is legally forgiven. But that doesn’t mean that we must forgive him personally, and I don’t. I think the NFL should never have taken him back, or its other criminals. This is an organization, after all, that actively promotes the concept of athletes being role models.

At this point, Vick has yet to show contrition, except for being caught. The NFL assures us that he has, but NFL contrition isn’t like regular contrition. NFL contrition is written by lawyers and PR guys and it uses words that the players not only have never spoken, but couldn’t find in the dictionary with a four letter head start.

And the sports media, a truly slavish group, plays along. When Vick was caught, every single columnist wrote how Vick’s conduct was contrary to everything the NFL stands for, and they assured us that he would never rejoin the NFL: trust the NFL! These writers didn’t believe Vick should ever be let back in, and neither did the NFL, they assured us. But now, with the NFL having let Vick back in, these same people who yelled “never again” are singing “Welcome Back Cotter” and they are assuring us that the NFL knows how to handle and rehabilitate guys like Vick. . . ignore the NFL crime wave.

• The War On English: And speaking of crime waves, what the NFL is doing to our language is a crime. NFL game announcers are usually ex-players, and these guys are idiots. They know nothing except football, and they don’t even seem to understand that “good.” They certainly don’t understand the rules, and they’re not very good at telling you what is happening on the field. But what bothers me more about these idiots is their truly stunning misuse of the English language. Not one of them knows that adverbs end in “ly,” fewer still know the difference between words like “good” and “well” or “fewer” and “less.” Many can’t conjugate verbs. This grates on my nerves. It, also, in my opinion sends the wrong message to people who are watching, particularly children, who learn to speak from what they hear. English skills are bad enough without 12 hours of poor English brought into the home every weekend. And these guys are college grads? What does that say about college. . .

• College “Athletes” My Foot: What this says about college is that college athletics is a sham. These guys aren’t students, at least I hope they’re not. If they are, then we should burn our colleges to the ground because they’re a total disaster. How in the world can someone graduate from an institution of higher learning who cannot read or write. . . or speak. If these are students, then heads should roll.

Colleges need to either be honest that these players are nothing more than hired mercenaries who play for their semi-pro farm teams, or they need to seriously reconsider what the mission of student athletics is? Isn’t the point to learn good sportsmanship, to learn teamwork, and to give students an opportunity for a little exercise? If that’s the case, why are the athletic facilities off limits to regular students, why did I never see some of the football players who graduated with me in the classes we supposedly took together, and why were the hockey players across the hall in my dorm given the answers to the tests the night before?

Aren’t we told that the reason football is so valuable is because it gives these hard luck kids a chance to go to college, which they otherwise could not do? What good is that, it they learn nothing except how to drop into zone coverage? And considering that so few will make it to the NFL, shouldn’t education be the actual focus of college?

(FYI, I’m opposed to the idea of a college playoff system, but that’s for another article.)


As I said at the beginning, I’m traveling today and tomorrow (never fear, there will be a Film Friday article tomorrow), so I can’t respond to comments until later. But please do leave comments. I will respond when I get the chance. Also, please feel free to use the comments to discuss any sports issues that you’d like to discuss, and let us know your favorite team(s). . . so that we can laugh at you. ;-)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Conservatives: Beware The Crazies

I want to take a moment to discuss a danger to the conservative cause: the integration of the insane into the conservative community. During times of great economic and political upheaval, like the present, people will crawl out of the woodwork to take advantage of your heightened emotional state. They play to your fears. They spout false facts and use false logic. They make emotional appeals and demonize all who disagree. They are cultists without the god, and too many normal conservatives are being pulled in. This is a real danger to conservatism.

Yesterday, as I visited one of the websites that I often visit (I won’t name the site), I came across an article in which the author promoted a particular book. Despite recommending that people read this book, the web-author failed to mention that the book spins a vast, ignorant, misleading, paranoid and oft-discredited conspiracy. Indeed, the book is almost a model for how such false conspiracy theories are cobbled together:
1. Begin with an author who does not understand the subject matter about which they are writing, but is willing to claim unique, almost-clairvoyant insight;

2. Mix in cherry-picked data by including only facts that can be spun to further the theory and ignoring all contrary data or evidence;

3. String the data together in suggestive ways and allege that this is evidence of a vast conspiracy that threatens everything we hold dear -- or prevents us from achieving some better state of humanity;

4. Toss in a little false logic, usually centered around the "absence of disproof";

5. Allege a cover-up to explain the lack of data and the sketchiness of the theory -- though the author must simultaneously assure us that they have broken through the otherwise perfect cover-up; and

6. Demonize all potential critics of the theory and any expert who might provide a counter fact.
These are the same principles and mechanisms upon which the 911 truthers, the moon landing conspiracy theorists, and the great international Zionist conspiracy theorists build their mal-theories. They allege vast conspiracies based on irrelevant data and suggestions that the lack of disproof proves the theory -- a ridiculous bit of illogic that you could use to prove the existence of unicorns, leprechauns, or anything else. And when people try to challenge their "facts" or present "disproof", they accuse those people of being part of the conspiracy. Essentially, it's a self-proving delusion.

After reading the article, I pointed out that the web-author should not promote such a book, certainly not without warning about the nature of the book and the lack of credibility of the author -- a John Birch society member who has been vacillating between seeing the Supreme Court, the banks, the Federal Reserve, and a half dozen other institutions as either a communist or capitalist plot, and who claims that the AMA, the FDA and the American Cancer Society are “withholding the truth,” that vitamins cure cancer, because they have economic motives to keep you from curing your cancer.

The web-author responded that he had mentioned in some prior post that he does not condone the conspiratorial aspects of the book, but that he thought it would be a good primer for average people to get an understanding of monetary policy. But this is wrong. This is like recommending Chariots of the Gods, a book about aliens building the Great Pyramids, because the author presents a good primer on Egyptian construction methods. It’s like sending someone to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital because Marx does a good job of explaining the division between capital and labor. It is inappropriate to send people to advocacy books, particularly nutty ones, under the guise that the book provides a good basis for them to learn about an issue, especially without warning them about the degree to which they are being misled.

So why does this bother me? Because the adherents to these fantasy theories are learning to peddle their garbage to unsuspecting conservatives as just another reason for opposing Obama. They are trying to smuggle their agenda into the conservative movement disguised as legitimate concerns. And unfortunately, I am seeing more and more of it creep into the conservative community at large.

For example, every day I receive unsolicited faxes from a group that wants to scare me into opposing Obama. As you know, I do not support Obama. To the contrary, I oppose everything he's proposed. Yet, I am offended by these faxes. Their tone is hyperbolic and they are cholk-full of lies: ObamaCare makes private health insurance illegal and includes forced euthanasia, people older then fifty will be denied surgeries, ObamaCare social workers can seize your children and raise them, Obama is training a group to go house to house seizing guns, the FDA is making it illegal to grow your own food, and Obama has cut a secret deal to give Jerusalem to the Muslims. All lies. In fact, these are the same lies, slightly rephrased, that the wing nuts on the left used to scare their voters about Bush: Dick Cheney is hiding under your bed. But if you only give this patriotic, anonymous group twenty dollars, they can save you!

Now, on their own, these faxes mean nothing. I throw them away. But then I visit websites full of normal conservatives and I see these allegations repeated. That's right, these same insane theories are starting to appear on conservative websites, often promoted by normally intelligent conservatives who know better (or should know better).

This is highly destructive of our movement. Not only is it destructive of the intellectual core of our movement, because it replaces rational thought with illogic, it replaces fact with fiction, and it replaces reason with emotion and demonization, but it also distracts people from the real issues, and it scares off the people who might want to join us. Nobody wants to walk into a room full of terrified, angry people huddle in the corner shouting about burning a wizard.

It is time to stop listening to these flakes, and to tell them to go back to crazyland without us.

Further, conservatives need to repudiate the “idiot movement” that seems to be taking hold. For the same reasons that conspiracy theories are taking root, there seems to be a new strain of thinking that education is bad (often promoted by the same people who espouse the conspiracies). At website after website, I’m seeing more and more rants about “them educated” people and “them college types.” At one site, I saw the ridiculous rant: “we should make it so that you can’t serve in Congress if you went to college.” Yet, far from repudiating this fool, many of the normally reasonable conservatives at the site agreed.

Do you really think being uneducated is a good idea? Who do you think built the car your drive? Who designed the road or the bridge you crossed, the computer you’re using to read this, and the systems that bring you your food every day? Did a high school drop out invent your cell phone? What about that vaccine that kept you alive? Do you look for the stupidest doctor you can find? How about a dumb lawyer? Do you want your kids to have stupid teachers or are you taking them out of education because it's a waste of time?

And let me ask this, does anyone believe that the Founding Fathers were uneducated or that they would support a movement that views the educated with suspicion? Do not confuse those who misuse their education with education itself. To attack education is to attack everything that made this country what it is today.

Education is the pathway to the future. It always has been. It is about opportunity. Education is the key to your success. These days, having only a high school degree is the surest indicator of poverty. And it’s only going to get worse as the world becomes more advanced. If you don’t get an education, in fifty years, you’ll be doing the jobs illegal aliens won’t do.

Moreover, conservatism is an intellectual philosophy. It takes brains to be a conservative -- it takes only emotion to be a liberal. Conservatism, unlike liberalism, understands cause and effect and the fact that people react and adjust. It is often a difficult philosophy because you need to understand the future, you need to see how the world will change when people respond to your policy. It is about thinking ahead. Liberalism is about being swayed by emotion, about hero worship and trusting that a great leader, who knows more than you, will figure it out. This anti-intellectualism that is spreading in conservative ranks runs the danger of destroying conservatism and replacing it with a form of anti-liberal liberalism, and that’s not a governing philosophy, that's a cult of personality.

We need to stop being enticed by false, emotional appeals and crazy conspiracy theories, and start thinking reasonably: question authority, don’t join a cult.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Musical Stimulus: Cash-for-Clunker

The “cash-for-clunkers” program was such a stunning success that it proved the wisdom of stimulus spending, right? Indeed, it was the perfect plan. By offering Americans $4,500 to trade in their “worthless” clunkers on brand new cars, the cash-for-clunkers program could stimulate demand, increasing the numbers of cars sold, stave off recession, save Detroit, and protect the environment all in one swoop. And according to the media, it was a stunning success. . . except that it wasn’t.

The Stimulus That Wasn't

Many argued that the cash-for-clunkers program would not actually stimulate consumer demand. They argued that this program would only cause consumers to hold off buying new cars, or would convince consumers to move forward purchases that were already planned to take advantage of the program. Never fear, a succession of experts assured us on CNBC and the other networks, such fears are unfounded.

And when the program quickly blew through the billion dollars allocated to the program, the experts were even more adamant that this was new demand. “We are seeing people come into our store who never would have bought a new car,” said dealer after dealer on CNBC, as they demanded another two billion dollars to keep the program running. Ford Motor Co. was so optimistic about these “eye-poppingly high” sales (compared to the year before -- the worst in company history), that they announced plans to increase third-quarter production by 18%! Indeed, Ford estimates that 700,000 cars will be purchased under the program (though only 157,000 have been purchased so far).

So Congress dutifully added another two billion dollars to the program and a funny thing happened. Sales started fading, fast. According to Joshua Shapiro, chief US Economist at MFR, this meant that the sales in July had been borrowed from the future. In other words, this program did not stimulate demand, so much as it shifted demand from 2010 to July 2009. “Anyone thinking about buying cars in the next several months might as well do it now when the government is giving away $4,500.” Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs likewise notes that “we see that interest dying down.”

It remains to be seen how these numbers turn out, but right now it appears that the program has only given some benefit to July at the expense of 2010.

Collateral Damage On Consumer Spending

But robbing 2010 to pay July is not the only harm this program has done. Several economists have warned that the cash-for-clunkers program would draw money from other consumer purchases. This complaint seems to have been confirmed, when retail sales fell unexpectedly in July. Many now attribute this drop to the increase in car sales. Observed economist Shapiro of MFR, “with income flows very constrained and household balance sheets over-leveraged, any incremental increase is likely to weigh on non-automotive sales.” In English, that means with consumers being so strapped, they had to stop spending on other items so they could afford these new cars.

Ford, of course, rejected this suggestion, saying that the cash-for-clunkers scheme was “a drop in the bucket compared to overall purchases of goods and services.” But that doesn’t explain where consumers got the money to purchase the cars. That also makes one wonder how this could have stimulated the economy if it was a drop in the bucket?

Collateral Damage On Charities

The cash-for-clunkers program had another victim that has only recently been identified: charities. Under the program, these “worthless” clunkers must be scrapped. But in the past, these cars would have been donated to charities. Not coincidentally, donations of vehicles to charity have fallen 12 percent already and may fall as much as 25 percent -- which could cost charities well over $100 million this year.

One car donation program director, who states that the types of cars being turned in under the program “are absolutely the typical donation to us,” estimates that this will cost charities approximately 175,000 cars, if the program’s estimates prove true. He notes that the result will be “devastating.”

I Shoot A Stimulus In The Air, It Fell To Earth. . . In Japan

Finally, while the program was implemented with the idea of helping Detroit automakers, the top beneficiaries of the program have been Japanese. Indeed, while the Ford Focus is the most purchased car under the program, the other four top cars are all Japanese. Moreover, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler accounted for only 47% of the 157,000 new vehicles sold under the clunkers program so far. Fortunately, many of the Japanese models acquired are made in the United States, just not in places like Michigan.

Interestingly, the Detroit automakers did dominate the list of the clunkers that were turned in, securing all ten of the top ten spots.

A Mitigated Success

So this program that we are told was an unmitigated success, finds it's success quite mitigated. It appears that the program simply convinced people to move forward already-planned purchases, which will harm the economy in the future. It harmed retail sales, which harms the economy in the present. It harms charities, who are most needed in bad economic times. And it seems to have wildly missed its target, despite all the talk about being so well targeted.

Let us hope that Detroit saves their pennies from these sales, because they may need them in 2010.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Boiler Room Elves On States' Rights

By the Boiler Room Elves
(edited by AndrewPrice)

To keep our internet connection working, Commentarama employs a team of unionized elves to stoke the boiler. These elves are an opinionated (and militant) group, and they constantly send us expletive-laced diatribes about various political topics. But sometimes, these diatribes are kind of interesting. So we’ve decided to share some of them with you. Without further ado, I give you the most recent rant from our Boiler Room Elves. . .


To: Management
Re: States' Rights MEANS States' Rights

If states' rights mean something to conservatives, then we must stand up for states rights. We cannot pick and choose when we want states rights to apply and when we don’t. If one is in favor of smaller government and states' rights as the best way to govern, and we are, then that belief should not stop once one's favorite pet issue comes up for debate.

I'm thinking of the recent attempt by Republicans (and joined by a surprising number of Democrats) to add an amendment to a military defense bill that would have required states to recognize concealed carry permits granted by other states. The amendment fell just short of the 60 votes needed to pass.

This amendment bothers me. I have nothing against concealed weapon permits. I would like to see all states make them available. But this isn’t the way to go about it. All over talk radio, I heard pundits arguing: “hey, if the liberals want to insist that Tennessee must recognize a gay marriage performed in Massachusetts, then they should be willing to give the same privilege to concealed gun permits.” But that is precisely backward!

If conservatives DON'T want to force Tennessee to recognize a marriage performed in Massachusetts, then conservatives cannot turn around and insist that gun permits should be recognized nation-wide. States' rights must mean something always, not only when the other guy raises an issue. If we pick and choose when the concept applies, then all we do is weaken the concept.

There are plenty of permits and licenses granted in every state that don't cross borders. If you are licensed to teach or practice law or medicine in one state, you have to apply and go through hoops when you move. Even your drivers' license, while recognized in other states if you pass through, must be replaced by a proper license from the new state if you move to that state. And this often requires retesting, and exposes you to the risk that the new state won’t issue the new license. Concealed weapons permits should be no different.

Nor does it matter that gun ownership is a constitutional right. First, it’s not obvious to me that ownership also means that you have a constitutional right to carry the weapon concealed. The Second Amendment does not say “right to bear concealed arms.” Secondly, we have historically decided that states CAN impose regulations within states, even on supposedly absolute constitutional rights, for reasons like health, safety and the public welfare. For example, we let states and cities restrict free speech by requiring permits before groups can assemble or march, and by punishing people for yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

If we are to respect states’ rights, we should let them put in place whatever restrictions they think are appropriate, provided they don’t violate the Constitution. To do otherwise and to attempt to impose one rule on the states runs counter to the arguments conservatives routinely make about the left attempting to foist leftish ideas on the states in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

That’s why we oppose the idea of this amendment.

Signed,
Boiler Room Elves

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interviewing For Dummies. . .

Whenever the economy turns south, business websites start posting interview tips. Wear a suit, don’t pick your nose, don’t pick the other guy’s nose. Sometimes they even post questions that might be asked, just to “prepare” you. But what good are questions without answers? And these other websites never give you the answers. Commentarama doesn’t play that game! So without further ado, we give unto you, the Commentarama Interview Guide.

Tips and Tipp-offs

Often, the decision to hire an applicant will come down to some subtle mistake the applicant makes, like missing the spittoon or insulting the interviewer’s mother. Sometimes, it’s a grooming failure or inappropriate body language. Sometimes, there’s just something about you that screams “untrustworthy,” “lazy,” or “stopid.” Fortunately, these kinds of mistakes are easy to avoid. Try to remember the following common sense guidelines:
• Wear clothing. The age of interviewing au naturel passed in 1976 with the advent of disco. Interviewers now expect you to come fully clothed.

• Check your resume for typos AND fix any typos you find. Sure, this sounds like nitpicking, but employers dig that kind of stuff. . . nitpicking, not natpicking.

• Don’t hurt anybody. . . don’t even threaten to hurt anybody. Save that until they try to fire you.

• Avoid common swear words whenever possible during the interview. Try using uncommon swear words instead. Swearing in a foreign language also can be seen as a sign of sophistication.

• Do not finish every statement with the words “as foretold by prophecy.” Once or twice is fine, but more than that seems a little emphatic.

• Do not bring a chunk of blue cheese with you, and if you do, share. We generally recommend pre-sliced provolone or a Vienna sausage.

• Don’t mention the six months you worked as a pimp. You paid good money to have that expunged, don’t waste the investment.

• Use the word "playa-hater" liberally.
Beyond that, pretty much anything goes.

The Interrogation

At some point, most interviews end up in a question and answer phase. This is where interviews get tricky. Contrary to what other “experts” may tell you, it is not a good idea to refuse to answer these questions. Indeed, you should never (1) greet a question with stony silence, (2) ask to “pass” on the question, (3) respond “what do you think [expletive]” to the [expletive]’s stupid question, or (4) plead the fifth. With that in mind, here are some common questions you might encounter, and some answers with a proven track record of success.
Q. What do you know about our company?
A. Apparently more than you, if you are asking me. They have a website if you want to bone up on it before we continue?

Q. What can you do for us that someone else can't?
A. I am willing to go that extra mile, and I’m not saddled with qualms about morality.

Q. What do you believe is the most difficult part of being a supervisor of people?
A. Dealing with the jerks that companies hire.

Q. How would your colleagues describe you?
A. Why? What have you heard?

Q. How would your boss describe you?
A. Obsessed with quality, paranoid about mistakes, maniacal about customer satisfaction, and down right crazy when it comes to company loyalty.

Q. Why do you want to work for us?
A. My cult leader told me to work here. He said further instructions would follow.

Q. What are your strong points?
A. I’ve won national awards for both the decibel level and the duration of my flatulence.

Q. What are your weak points?
A. My tendency to take revenge against people who don’t hire me.

Q. What was wrong with your current or last position?
A. The legal fees were killing me.

Q. What position do you expect to have in 2 to 5 years?
A. I plan to be your boss.

Q. Tell me about your hobbies?
A. I sell office supplies at flea markets.

Q. If you could be any type of tree, what kind of tree would you be?
A. The kind that gets hired.
If you practice these questions and memorize these answers before an interview, nothing can go wrong!

Turn The Tables On Your Opponent

Finally, there will come a point in the interview when the hunter becomes the huntee, and you get to grill the bastard. Many people are afraid to take advantage of this opportunity to land a few devastating blows. This is a mistake. Try the following questions, which will make you sound like an ideal candidate:
• You’ve never interviewed anyone before, have you?

• Why do the secretaries call you “stinky”?

• You’re not going to verify anything on my resume are you?

• Why is this position open?

• Did you know that aliens built my house?

• I heard the word "bathroom cam" when I passed the mailroom, what are the limits on that policy?

There you have it, advice that is all but guaranteed to get you noticed! Trust me, you’ll thank us later. . .

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