Monday, April 29, 2013

America crossing the Rubicon: The Boston Marathon terrorists succeed far beyond their wildest dreams...

As is often the case with terrorist events, the Boston Marathon bombings had an impact far beyond the bodies of the people harmed by the delivery vehicle itself. Of course that is the very nature of terrorism, where the goal is to use the media to leverage shockingly violent attacks – but usually limited in scope – into events that shock and scare a far larger population than they could every impact directly. Whether the motivation comes from inside the head of a single person or the machinations of a disparate international movement, the goal is always the same: drive a change in behavior that they could not otherwise accomplish through peaceful, lawful means.
One of the challenges faced by President Bush after September 11th was in suggesting how Americans should react. He was pilloried by many people for suggesting that Americans “Get down to Disney World in Florida…” and that we should “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” That may have sounded frivolous, but the reality is, he was right in suggesting that Americans not let the cowardly terrorists cow them into hiding in their homes. Their goal was to negatively impact the United States and the American way of life. President Bush suggested Americans not allow the terrorists to make such an impact.
That doesn’t mean that there should not have been a reaction to the attacks. On the contrary. Security lapses, which would be comical if they were not so deadly, had to be addressed. From plane boarding to procedures governing the communication between government agencies, many things had to be changed and improved. While the TSA may be an utterly dysfunctional agency with inept procedures where inefficiency seems to reign supreme, it’s at least an attempt to address the procedures that allowed September 11 to occur. Other changes were put in place as well, from the creation of the Department of Homeland Security to the greater sharing of information among government agencies, both between different agencies of the federal government as well as between local, state and federal agencies.  Again, no perfect solutions – not the least of which is the excessive militarization of local police forces – but at least they attempt to address obvious problems.
There also remains much to do to improve security, particularly as it relates to borders, visa control and ports, but the reality is, and the Boston Marathon bombings demonstrated this clearly: there is simply no way to be 100% secure from terrorism. In a real life game of cat and mouse, each time government ups the ante on one aspect of security, the terrorists try and find another softer target and when something occurs the process starts all over again.
While a dozen years on the United States as a whole seems to have gone on relatively unscathed from September 11 – not to discount the life altering sacrifices made by the brave military and intelligence personnel – with Boston America may have crossed the Rubicon, and indeed, just as in Rome, the citizens of the Republic should be concerned.

On Friday April 19th America awoke to the warnings that the city of Boston was in virtual lockdown. Government organizations of every kind, from elementary schools to universities to every form of public transportation were closed. In Boston and its western suburbs citizens were “advised” to “shelter in place”. The 10th largest metropolitan area in the United States, the home of 4 million Americans was brought to a standstill by two misfits - one of whom was already dead - who had killed 4 people. In addition, remember, although these two men were indeed dangerous, this was almost a week after the bombings, the remaining suspect was on the run and there was little belief that he was in any position to inflict mass casualties on the citizenry of the Boston metro area.

So what we had were local and federal authorities searching for one man, and they essentially imposed martial law on an entire American city in order to find him. Indeed, men, women and children in Watertown were forced out of their homes at the point of a gun, simply because of where they lived. Millions of Americans were literally prisoners in their own homes in the pursuit of one man – albeit a dangerous one – but one man nonetheless, and one who was by all accounts on the run and likely wounded.

In this case the “shelter in place” orders lasted only one night because Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding in a boat. (The order was lifted an hour before he was found.) But what if he had not been found on Friday and the search stretched into Saturday and Sunday and the Governor decided not to lift the order? Would people have been forced to stay home for two or three days? What if Tsarnaev had instead hidden and died in a storm drain and was never found. How long would the lockdown have remained in place?

Today a Mirandized Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can sit back and see that with two pressure cookers, he and his brother were able to effect an impact far beyond anything they might have imagined in their wildest dreams. Which brings us back full circle to the goal of terrorism in the first place: Have an outsized impact by the strategic use of violence. What kind of a message does it send to Al Quaeda affiliates around the world or terrorist wannabes across the country? Had the brothers Tsarnaev had similarly inclined friends in Washington, New York and LA would 10% of the American population have been locked in their homes, bringing the financial and government sections of the United States to their knees? What if there was one bomb followed by coordinated bomb threats in 50 cities across the country. How many of those cities would have ended up in lockdown? 2? 10? 25? How many is OK? How long might those situations last?

A few notes to remember: The Tsarnaev brothers were first identified because of images captured by the Lord & Taylor department store security cameras – not by a government asset. Although authorities quickly distributed their photographs, it took the duo carjacking someone and robbing a convenience store before they popped up on the radar. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found by a civilian who noticed a loose tarp and blood on his boat rather than by any government agents or assets. The point is, the Boston Marathon terrorists were found because of good old fashioned detective work and the empowerment of the citizenry, not because of the imposition of a city wide lockdown and SWAT teams pulling families out of their homes at the point of a gun.

Unfortunately, humans being what they are, terrorism will likely not be going away anytime soon. Relatively free nations like the United States will always make appealing targets for cowards who cannot win their battles in the realm of ideas. The Boston Marathon terrorist attack was indeed a tragedy, and for thousands of people their lives will feel the shockwaves for years to come. It should not however be the catalyst that sets Americans cowering in corners and letting themselves be locked inside their homes. It’s bad enough that the round the clock hysteria & error filled media coverage communicates to the terrorists a fiction that they have destroyed the American way of life and have the American people shaking in their boots. We should not allow “shelter in place” and military styled assaults on innocent civilians to become the standard by which we deal with such events, lest America become a police state and that fiction becomes our reality.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

In defense of the slippery slope argument...

Liberals constantly decry conservatives’ slippery slope arguments against their progressive legislation as simply red herrings. Their refrain is usually “Don’t be absurd, no one’s trying to do _____ (insert the relevant slippery slope argument here).” They suggest that such an argument is mere hyperbole and conservatives are introducing ideas no one wants.

As usual, the liberals are wrong on both scores. History provides a rich trove of liberal camel noses leading to a tents full of camels.

The most famous of course is the income tax. In 1913 when the income tax was established, the top rates began at 1% on income over $20,000 ($450,000 in today’s dollars) and topped out at 6% for income over $500,000 ($11,430,000 today). Today, 100 years later, the income tax applies to virtually everyone earning more than $11,000 per year and tops out at 39.6% for incomes above $400,000. Think about that… the highest rate today applies to an income that would not even have qualified for the lowest tax bracket in 1913. And a tax code that started out four pages long is today four times as long as the Bible!

Then there is Roe v. Wade. In the run up to Roe v. Wade, liberals claimed women simply deserved the right to choose for themselves. How different would the arguments have been in the statehouses and courthouses if opponents could see that in 40 years the government would require abortifacients be available to underage girls without their parents’ consent or that government would be funding hundreds of thousands of abortions a year?

How about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was intended to prohibit discrimination against the handicapped? What started out seeking sidewalk ramps, wider doors and job security for the handicapped has morphed into the government demanding companies allow alcoholics to drive trucks, forcing cities, towns and businesses to spend thousands of dollars or shut down swimming pools, and requiring companies to offer separate bathroom facilities to those too shy to pee in public bathrooms. Today the Americans with Disabilities Act has become a tort tool for lawyers and leaches to extort millions of dollars out of the pockets of small businesses.

Liberals may not like it, but the slippery slope is indeed a reality. What is outlandish hyperbole today is tomorrow’s reality. That is the fundamental nature of government. History clearly demonstrates the avaricious nature of government and its intent to expand its power in myriad ways once it gets a toehold in virtually any arena.

Unfortunately, the slippery slope is not just a parlor game. It has real consequences in the real world. Today there are two issues where the slippery slope argument is particularly relevant: gay marriage and guns.

Gay marriage: Liberals suggest the issue is simply one of equal rights for gays. All they want is for gay people to be able to marry like anyone else. Not surprisingly, conservatives see it as something quite different, and the slippery slope provides a compelling illustration. Conservatives say that if the definition of marriage is changed from one man to one woman, then on what grounds would the momentum for redefinition stop there, and would chaos not ensue? Two men and one woman? Three woman and four men? A village? A man and his son? (Jeremy Irons makes a valid point in asking why that shouldn’t be allowed as there is no chance of procreation.) And once gay marriage is legal, how long until gays demand to be married in the Catholic church or any other Christian church where the teachings are explicitly against homosexual marriage? (Ask the Boy Scouts about that.) Liberals of course say, that’s just and example of hyperbolic scare mongering or homophobia. Luckily we don’t have wait for history to see the chaos that lies around the corner. A Kansas town passed a resolution that would force churches to rent facilities for gay weddings. (This measure later lost at the ballot box.) A Florida judge has already allowed the listing of three people as parents of a child while a Kansas man is being sued for child support for acting as a sperm donor for a lesbian couple. Then of course there is the federal judge in Utah who is considering reversing the ban on polygamy. Liberals can call this slippery slope argument hollow, but the reality is that history is on the side of just such as slope.

Then there is gun regulation. In the wake of events like Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Columbine Americans are understandably concerned about gun violence. Unfortunately however the liberal solution is to seek to take the guns away from law abiding citizens, which seems particularly ludicrous as gun violence in the US has been declining dramatically for 20 years. While many Democrats are talking about “enhanced” background checks and bans on “assault style” rifles, make no mistake their goals are far more sinister and go much deeper.

Despite the 2nd Amendment’s explicit protection of the right to bear arms, liberals seek to ignore that right. Not sure? This too we don’t have to wait for history to demonstrate. The proof is already here. A Democratic proposal in Washington State would allow sheriffs the right to enter and inspect the homes of semi-automatic firearms owners annually. A new New York law allows police to track ammunition purchases and the state is already confiscating guns from people who were once on anti-anxiety medicine. Under a new Maryland law, gun buyers will have to be fingerprinted and licensed. The new Connecticut law now bans magazines over 10 rounds and outlaws the ownership of a variety of semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15. The argument is that government simply wants to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Of course that all hinges on who gets to decide who is “dangerous”… Remember, it wasn’t very long ago when Homeland Security suggested that “disgruntled war veterans” or “those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority” might be terrorist threats. No doubt 2nd Amendment advocates and small government Tea Party types are not far behind in being added to that list…

Of course this slippery slope history is exactly why conservatives advocate small, limited government. Government power is rapacious, arbitrary and virtually unstoppable once it gets started. Both conservatives and liberals recognize this. The difference is conservatives fear it while liberals count on it. Think about that the next time a liberal seeks brush aside your concerns by claiming “Your slippery slope argument is fallacious”.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it... Barack Obama pushes sub-prime mortgages... again!

There’s something macabre about an imminent train wreck, you know exactly what is coming but you can’t help but watching. Now imagine that instead of watching that train wreck from atop a building a safe distance away, you’re standing right between the train and the tanker truck that has stalled on the tracks. That’s a different story all together. At that point, rather than being a mere fascination it’s a matter of life or death. You’ve seen the damage a train wreck can do. That’s why it was fascinating in the first place. The difference now of courses is that when that giant mushroom cloud of smoke goes up, you’re going to be part of it. So, just as instinct kept you looking at the train in the first scenario, in the second one it causes you to turn and run as fast as you possibly can. If you can only get far enough away, you can avoid both the explosion and the crushing impact of one of the derailed cars rolling over you.

Well, you might want to think about running in real life, but it has nothing to do with train tracks or tanker trucks. It has everything to do with Barack Obama and the left’s train wreck of economic policy.

As virtually every conscious American knows, the United States economy took a body blow in 2008 with the financial collapse. Despite what anyone tells you, the collapse was 100% the product of government policies stretching back to Jimmy Carter and doubled down by Bill Clinton. That policy, in a nutshell, was called the Community Reinvestment Act. The act “encouraged” banks and mortgage lenders "to help meet the credit needs of the local communities in which they are chartered consistent with the safe and sound operation of such institutions." Essentially, banks were being forced to make loans in the communities in which their depositors lived.

Now, think about that. People put their money in banks in order to save it and maybe grow it a little bit. They want more security than what they might get by putting the money under their mattresses. Now, the government comes along and says that banks, rather than lending money in the safest and most profitable manner possible, must lend in particular neighborhoods, regardless of the opportunity to do so profitably.

But of course the government didn’t stop there. They then decided that banks were not making enough home loans to minorities and decided to force them to do so. So now, banks, not only have to lend in certain neighborhoods, but they have to make loans to certain people, regardless of their creditworthiness. By 2005 fully 22% of new mortgages had to be “special affordable” loans targeted at low income buyers.

Banks of course complied, with a wide variety of special loan products from zero money down to ARMs and no income verification. And just to make sure that banks were making the loans, the government, in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were assuming the risk by buying the mortgages. If that sounds like a disaster in the making… it was. The resulting financial collapse saw the evaporation of trillions of dollars of citizens’ savings and investments, not to mention sending the economy into a recession.

The government essentially manipulated lending data and created a financial train wreck and we were all forced to stand by and watch the whole thing. Thankfully most people avoided getting immolated in the flames, even if their hair and clothes got a little singed along the way.

In a rational world, having survived the meltdown and struggling to get the economy back on its feet the government would have learned its lesson and gotten out of the financial manipulation business. Not so much.

The Obama administration believes the “recovery” is leaving too many people behind. As such, it has decided that banks once again need to be “encouraged” to make more loans to low income, high risk borrowers. But it’s not just encouraging banks to do so, it’s facilitating their doing so, in the exact same manner Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did before the collapse. Only now, instead of those two failed institutions playing the heavy it’s the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that is putting taxpayer’s money behind the risky loans.

This policy shows everything one would ever need to know about liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular. In the face of crystal clear evidence that such a policy is a recipe for a financial disaster with seismic repercussions, they don’t care. Their ideology trumps reality. They are willing, even in a time of dire straits, to put the economy in peril simply to support their fiction that the rich are discriminating against the poor and minorities.

At the end of the day one has to wonder what is going through the heads of the people running Washington. This is the logical outcome of their willing ignorance in relation to the causes of the financial collapse. Their “greedy banks” screeds may have had a sliver of truth to them, but banks were in no way the proximate cause of the meltdown. There were indeed greedy bankers who made lots of money, sometimes off of poor people, but they were enabled and incentivized by government policy.

One would think with the economy still limping along with the injuries suffered in the derailment of a mere four years ago, that reality would replace ideology. Apparently not so much. This of course is a dance we’ve seen played out many times before. From Athens to Paris to Caracas, populist messages may bring electoral victory, but they rarely deliver economic victory. As Washington embarks on this suicidal populist train wreck, you may want to consider averting your eyes and figure out how to avoid getting crushed when the predictable damage begins…