Monthly Archives: December 2012
So, it is official. With the one of the largest political and financial crises of our lifetimes set to hit every American in just over a week, the people you and I elected to solve problems are MIA. At the first opportunity Congress bailed faster than a Kardashian in a marriage. We assume they will be back sometime toward the end of next week, just in time to have a good two or three days of work before the fiscal cliff actually sets in. This is the pessimists ultimate “I told you so” moment; the “throw ’em all out and get new blood” caucus is having holiday; Christmas will come twice for them. So the question is, would you rather make Congress actually do their job, or let them spend Christmas with their families? There probably is not a right answer here, but the fact that they are getting out of dodge just before the shootout once again shows why we as a nation do not trust them or approve of their performance.
So with the probability of driving off the fiscal cliff edging closer to a sure thing, maybe it is time to ask the bug question; would going off the fiscal cliff really be that bad? If a simple yes or no answer would do, I would have to look into writing sports articles or screen plays. Before you call me crazy, hear me out; the media and government are telling you it is the end of the world, but is it? By now everyone in the most remote parts of the world is aware that going off the fiscal cliff means an end to the Bush era tax cuts, the long term unemployment benefits, the payroll tax holiday, and the alternative minimum tax alongside the “sequester” spending cuts; across the board spending cuts of 9.4% for all Pentagon departments, and 8.2% for nondefense discretionary spending totaling $1.2 trillion. So what would your post-cliff world look like?
The question on everyone’s mind is, how will this affect me? What does this mean for the economy? Those on long-term unemployment will be hit the hardest. Typically unemployment benefits run for 26 weeks, or six months. However, during the brunt of the recession they were extended to 73 weeks, or just under a year and a half. This means people that might lose their jobs after the fiscal cliff will be in trouble if they cannot find a job. To gauge that we need to figure out how far the fiscal cliff freefall will be. The answer, according to most economists, is between 3-5% next year. To most normal people that number means nothing, so to interpret, that is about a little less than the 2008 recession; meaning this would not be an end of the world scenario like cable propaganda channels might tell you.
Even if you look at layoff estimates, digging into the numbers makes the fiscal cliff seem more like a fiscal diving board–maybe not even the high dive at that. Estimates are that we may lose in the neighborhood of 1.5-2 million jobs if we go off the fiscal cliff. That seems like a huge number, but we have to remember that when President Obama took office, as he so readily reminded us during the campaign, we were losing 800,000 jobs per month. So the total job losses from the fiscal cliff might be about as bad as two or three months of losses at the beginning of 2008; maybe even less. I know that is a tough pill to swallow, but we know from 2008 it is not impossible to overcome. Moreover, business experts have been saying the reason businesses and banks are sitting on their hands is the uncertainty of the future. We now know Obamacare will stand, we now know who the President is, and after Jan. 1, whether a deal is struck or we go off the cliff, we will know exactly what the taxing and spending picture looks like as well–no matter what happens we will have certainty. With certainty businesses will know what to expect and what they can do. We may recover faster from a fiscal cliff dive than from the recession.
So the bad news might not end up being as bad as many expect it to be, but is there good news? Yes, the good news is that going off the fiscal cliff will make a significant dent in our federal spending, and with the increased revenue, our deficit as well. Going off the fiscal cliff will mean we have a solvent, respectable nation to hand over to our children. Going over the fiscal cliff means we will return to the tax rates that we had under Clinton, and similar to those under Reagan–the two highest growth periods in our lifetimes. The first rule of philosophy is that just because something happened after does not mean it happened because of. Yes there were other factors in those growth years, Republicans love to point out the internet boom under Clinton, but we cannot let them forget Reagan got us out of a recession at the same time he raised taxes.
Unfortunately that was a different era. An era of moderate Democrats in the south and progressive Republicans in New England; an era without cable and talk radio propaganda; an era where doing what the nation needed was applauded by your party, even if you had to go against your party to do it. Congress is far too polarized now for Speaker Boehner and President Obama to strike a Reagan—O’Neal type deal; the two party system has made it that way.
Yes, going off the fiscal cliff will hurt, but it might just be a sprained ankle or broken arm; it will not be suicide. We have had a 5% GDP drop at least 8 times since WWII, and we always came out stronger. Unless we get a real deal, a real grand bargain that raises significant revenue and makes major spending cuts we will stay on the path we are on. Congressman are more worried about their own re-election than they are their own children’s future. The path we are on is the same path as Greece; another decade one this path and we may have to face austerity as well–that would hurt much, much more then the fiscal cliff, and our children would be paying for that for generations.
Going off the fiscal cliff, or any other big deal for that matter, will be bad in the short run, but it is manageable. And in the long run we will be the better for it! It will put us on a fiscally responsible path, and be I first step to the major spending cuts we need to make sure we have programs for the future. Going on a diet always sucks, but after you have trimmed down your fat it is worth it.
We can and we will recover from the fiscal cliff, should we take the dive, and we need a painful solution to our problem. Nobody wants higher taxes, but we cannot have low taxes and big government programs without becoming Greece. This is the corner we have painted ourselves in; if you do not like it, vote for someone else in two and four years. A small deal will not help, and a big deal seems unlikely. Unfortunately the most likely scenario is more of the same–extending everything at its current state, kicking the can down the road, as they say. Unfortunately we are close to kicking the can down our children’s’ throats. The fiscal cliff is our CPR. If we do not get a major deal, it might even be our best option.
26 December 2012
George Stephanopoulos said it best; Adam Lanza was driven by demons when he shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered 20 innocent children, and 6 heroic adults who attempted to stop him. When the tragedy in Aurora Colorado happened I wrote that gun control would not stop this violence. Now I have to second guess myself. These were 20 pure souls lost to the rage of a mad man; I thought of my own young child and how the innocence of children—unconditionally loving, trusting, giving, and altruistic—might forever be shattered by this. But children are resilient; children have a way of moving on us adults often lack. Regardless, there cannot be enough prayers said for the children and their families.
Friday I found myself wanting gun control, wanting to get rid of the weapons that can end so much life so quickly. I found myself agreeing with those on the left wing who ask, “Hasn’t enough life been lost?” “When is enough, enough?” and “What will it take to fix this?” I have asked myself that question more times than I can count over the last 3 days; what will it take to fix this? To find out, I had to research the data.
I cannot hide my anger, my agony, my confusion, or my lost conviction that have resulted from Friday’s tragedy. Even as I write this I still feel so conflicted by what I want, and what the data portrays. As badly as I feel like we should restrict guns, the data still tells me that we should not. Even as I write this I question the data, and lose confidence in my own research, but I cannot deny facts. Facts, above all else, need to be told in this now raging gun control debate.
The theory that eliminating guns—even if entirely—will eliminate violence has one glaring flaw. Guns do not kill people; they never have and they never will. People kill people, whether they have a gun or not. I would recommend everyone read the book “More Guns, Less Crime” by Sociologist John R. Lott Jr. He breaks down in painstaking detail the data on firearms in society. His conclusion is simple, and it is backed up by data; the more firearms that are possessed by responsible citizens, the less violent crime results. Our problem does not lie with guns, our problem lies with people. No amount of gun control could have stopped this tragedy because Adam Lanza did not buy his guns; he stole them. Even if we were to take away all guns, it would not stop this. Crazed radicals committed to suicide, as Adam Lanza was, would simply do what others have done when they had no gun available; us bombs. The deadliest school killing in history did not come from guns; it was in 1927, and the perpetrator used explosives.
Still, that does not change what happened Friday. That does not change that in school shootings since Columbine there have been an average of about 7 students (8 if we include Columbine, which we should) killed every year. Those numbers do not even include the shootings in places such as the Aurora movie theatre, the Sikh Temple in WI, or the Tucson, AZ shooting. The fact that, according to John Lott’s research, deaths from mass shootings in areas that allow guns are down 78% does not change what happened Friday. The fact that the violent crime rate in America is half that of Canada and far lower than other developed nations, where there are stricter gun control laws, does not change what happened Friday. None of this will bring a single life back. The fact that violent crime has dropped significantly in Chicago since the Supreme Court overturned a ban on guns does not change the fact that a child who may have cured cancer, who may have been President, who may have brought peace to warring nations, or who may have ended poverty is now gone forever.
My heart is harrowed because I wish it was as simple as passing gun control laws to stop this; but it is not. In nations, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Jamaica, and others the violent crime rate has risen since gun control laws were passed. Japan seems to be the lone exception to this pattern. When gun control laws were passed in D.C. the crime rate stayed equal at the same time it fell in neighboring Baltimore, where gun control laws were not passed. When the Brady Bill was passed, banning assault weapons, it had no effect on violent crime, and when it expired experts predicted crime would soar overnight; instead, it continued its downward trend with no change. Gun control advocates will point to Australia for support. After a school shooting on the island state of Tasmania Australia imposed very strict gun control laws, but this actually lessened the downward trend of violent crime. It continued to fall, but it fell slower than before the ban. Personally, I have lived in Australia, and have never seen any place more violent. That includes the west Louisville suburb of Portland, KY which is not far from where I grew up, and has been one of the more violent places in the nation in recent years.
It is very telling that most of these shootings take place in gun free zones. In Aurora for instance, James Holmes chose the only movie theatre within a 20 minute drive that did not allow patrons to carry firearms inside. He did not choose the theatre closest to him, he did not choose the theatre with the largest screen or seating capacity, he chose the one that banned guns. I am not trying to say, as callous Second Amendment advocates have, that the blood of these children is on the hands of gun control advocates; that is as ridiculous as gun control advocates insisting that Second Amendment advocates do not want to stop these shootings because of their support for guns. But to my knowledge, there is only one time that additional bystanders were hurt because people stepped in to stop violence, and that was the shootings outside the Empire State Building in NY in which law enforcement shot the additional victims. I could not find a single instance in which a citizen shot another citizen while stopping a mass shooting. If you know of one, please email me, because I could not find one.
Some of the gun reform being proposed now seems to come from people who know little about guns. The propose a ban to “assault weapons” because they are semi-automatic weapons used to kill; but many, if not most hunting rifles are now semi-automatic as well and could cause the same loss of life. Moreover, the assault weapons ban under Clinton had no effect on crime. Others propose limiting the size of magazines to 10 rounds of ammunition because the standard 30 round magazine is too dangerous, but in most guns it takes mere seconds to reload a clip, and that process can be sped up by taping two clips together. What surprises me is that nobody is talking about body armor. In at least two cases this year shooters donned body armor, making them much more difficult to stop and apprehend even if there had been someone with a gun who could have done so. I cannot think of any reason why any person in the United States would need body armor unless they are law enforcement or military. Yet national law is very lax on its purchase, and local law is also very unfettering in most places. Why is this? Body armor should not be available to average citizens because more often than not it is used for crime. Moreover, why do we have to have every single vehicle licensed and registered but not every single gun? If you buy a car at an auto show or from someone in your neighborhood you still have to register it; why, if you buy a gun from a gun show or from a neighbor do you not have to undergo a background check or register it? This makes as much sense as requiring a photo ID to drive, go on a plan, drink, buy cigarettes, buy prescriptions, or go to college, but not to vote. Every gun needs to be registered, and every purchase subject to background checks. Estimates are that as much as 40% of firearm purchases escape these precautions.
Even still, those reforms may not have saved a single life on Friday. Banning guns may save students’ lives and end violence in schools, but they will result in on overall increase in violence throughout the rest of the nation. Is that worth it? How do you tell mothers that their children are now subject to a less safe society so other children can have a more safe school house? How do justify saving 8 lives of students per year for the cost of more than that outside of school? I cannot, can you? Gun control laws will not stop the violence in this nation. We have seen from other nations that it may increase it. This is clear evidence that responsible gun ownership makes us safer; I have yet to hear anything but anecdotes from gun control advocates supporting their case. Again, if you have evidence, please email me. As far as the data is concerned, gun control seems like a bad idea.
I want the easiest answer, as you do, but there is no easy answer. There is no law that will stop this. There is no law that can bring these lives back. Guns do not kill people; people kill people, whether they have a gun or not. No law, no regulation, no punishment will change that. We can make some changes, and we need to; but we cannot ban guns and make our nation more dangerous. I want to be wrong, I want to second guess myself, I want there to be an answer for this violence; but the data we have does not provide one. It is not a gun problem, it is a people problem. And people are much harder to change than guns; I suppose that is why I feel so conflicted.
16 December, 2012