Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Gun Ban? A Background Check

Gun control advocates, like Michael Moore and Piers Morgan on his CNN show tonight, are charging Democrats in the U.S. Senate with cowardice. That's in response to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's very blunt announcement today that the assault weapons ban introduced by California Senator Dianne Feinstein will be relegated to an amendment to be voted on separately and fail:
"Dianne has worked so hard on this. She understands going back to the day she found the mayor dead in his office. Right now her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60. I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues that I’ve talked about. And that’s what I’m going to try to do."
Michael Moore called Harry Reid a "little weenie," a follow-up on what he called Reid a month ago, "the biggest weenie leading a party of wimps." Is it better to be a little weenie or a big weenie?

Interestingly, Michael Moore does not accuse Republicans of cowardice on this issue. Instead he professes to admire them and the NRA for standing firm on their position. Democrats, however, must believe what Michael Moore and Piers Morgan believe, or they are cowards.

There are 53 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, and we don't know for certain yet which 13 or more are unwilling to vote for the assault weapons ban, but we do know the names of the 22 Democrats who signed on as cosponsors. It's not that hard to figure out who the 31 were that would not sign on, and that of course must necessarily be the list of cowards.

U.S. Senator State Relection President
"Hero" Democratic Senators who cosponsored assault weapons ban
Barbara Boxer California 2016 Obama
Dianne Feinstein California 2018 Obama
Richard Blumenthal Connecticut 2016 Obama
Chris Murphy Connecticut 2018 Obama
Tom Carper Delaware 2018 Obama
Brian Schatz Hawaii 2016 Obama
Mazie Hirono Hawaii 2018 Obama
Dick Durbin Illinois 2014 Obama
Barbara Mikulski Maryland 2016 Obama
Ben Cardin Maryland 2018 Obama
Mo Cowan Massachusetts 2013 Obama
Elizabeth Warren Massachusetts 2018 Obama
Carl Levin Michigan 2014 Obama
Al Franken Minnesota 2014 Obama
Amy Klobuchar Minnesota 2018 Obama
Frank Lautenberg New Jersey 2014 Obama
Robert Menendez New Jersey 2018 Obama
Charles Schumer New York 2016 Obama
Kirsten Gillibrand New York 2018 Obama
Jack Reed Rhode Island 2014 Obama
Sheldon Whitehouse Rhode Island 2018 Obama
John Rockefeller West Virginia 2014 Romney
"Coward" Democratic Senators who declined to stand with Feinstein
Mark Begich Alaska 2014 Romney
Mark Pryor Arkansas 2014 Romney
Mark Udall Colorado 2014 Obama
Michael Bennet Colorado 2016 Obama
Chris Coons Delaware 2014 Obama
Bill Nelson Florida 2018 Obama
Joe Donelly Indiana 2018 Romney
Tom Harkin Iowa 2014 Obama
Mary Landrieu Louisiana 2014 Romney
Debbie Stabenow Michigan 2018 Obama
Claire McCaskill Missouri 2018 Romney
Max Baucus Montana 2014 Romney
Jon Tester Montana 2018 Romney
Harry Reid Nevada 2016 Obama
Jeanne Shaheen New Hampshire 2014 Obama
Tom Udall New Mexico 2014 Obama
Martin Heinrich New Mexico 2018 Obama
Kay Hagan North Carolina 2014 Romney
Heidi Heitkamp North Dakota 2018 Romney
Sherrod Brown Ohio 2018 Obama
Jeff Merkley Oregon 2014 Obama
Ron Wyden Oregon 2016 Obama
Bob Casey, Jr. Pennsylvania 2018 Obama
Tim Johnson South Dakota 2014 Romney
Patrick Leahy Vermont 2016 Obama
Mark Warner Virginia 2014 Obama
Tim Kaine Virginia 2018 Obama
Patty Murray Washington 2016 Obama
Maria Cantwell Washington 2018 Obama
Joe Manchin West Virginia 2018 Romney
Tammy Baldwin Wisconsin 2018 Obama

But are all those Democrats who declined to stand with Feinstein cowards? Yes, 13 of 31 are up for reelection in 2014, but that's not the whole story - 11 are from states that Mitt Romney carried in the 2012 election and 9 are women. Cowardly women, in the eyes of Michael Moore and Piers Morgan.

The real issue is geography. Most people from cities don't see much use to owning a semi-automatic rifle. You can't carry it around the neighborhood. You can't take it down to the nearest city park for a little target practice. Sure, you can go to an indoor shooting range, but that's so claustrophobic. On the other hand, if you live in the country or know someone who has land you can use, then owning a semi-automatic rifle can be a great way to pass a pleasant afternoon.

So, when you look at the coward's list and see progressive western states like Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and Colorado with plenty of wide open spaces, that's the real story. It's not cowardice at all. A great many of these 31 Democratic Senators just don't believe in the assault weapons ban or know the constituents at home they are elected to represent don't support it.

Dianne Feinstein is from San Francisco, and the mayor she found dead in his office was George Moscone, who along with supervisor Harvey Milk was killed by former supervisor Dan White. Here's how Senator Feinstein described that in a recent Senate committee hearing exchange with Texas Senator Ted Cruz:
"I walked in, I saw people shot. I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I’ve seen the bullets that implode."
Dianne found Ted's remarks in that exchange to be patronizing, and said so. She probably found Harry's "Dianne has worked so hard on this" tone patronizing too, although she hasn't said so yet.

But it should be pointed out that the phrase "shot with these weapons" implies that Moscone and Milk were killed with an assault weapon of the type that Senator Feinstein had proposed to ban. They were not, Dan White used a revolver.

Dan White, however, like the other high-profile killers that prompted Feinstein's call for the ban, was mentally unbalanced. One purpose of a good background check system would be to identify people like that, and prevent them from buying weapons, whether they are trying to buy semi-automatic rifles or revolvers.

We're not going to stop them all. In Dan White's case, he had been a policeman before becoming a San Francisco supervisor, and he used his old service revolver, not a newly-purchased gun. That's why it makes sense to limit magazine size. So that the ones that get through the system have some limit on the damage they can do. The 100-round drum magazine that the shooter used in Aurora last summer is too much firepower in the hands of a criminal or deranged individual. Fortunately, it jammed, or the carnage might have been much worse than 12 dead and 58 injured, horrible enough.

And what about your Constitutional Second Amendment right to a 100-round drum magazine? The Supreme Court has ruled there is no right to unusually dangerous weapons. You can have just as much fun on a Saturday afternoon in the country with a 10 to 20 round clip, and save money on bullets.

Dan White served five years, as he was convicted only of manslaughter having escaped the murder rap with his famous twinkie defense. This is why many gun owners complain that the laws we have are not being enforced. A couple of years after being released, Dan White killed himself. Fortunately, he did not take anyone else with him. If he'd been given life in prison, he might be still alive today.

Another outrage is that very few people who fail the current background check are prosecuted. According to The New York Times, only 44 of nearly 80,000 who failed in 2010 were prosecuted even though 47% of that 80,000 had felony arrests and 19% were fugitives.

Update 3/20/2013: The news today is that those cowardly Colorado Democrats put in place a new state law requiring background checks for online and private gun sales and banning magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. I suggested that back on January 18. It only took two months for Colorado to catch on. How long will it take Congress?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stock Market Pushes through the Great Recession

The federal budget sequester has taken effect, Detroit has been declared insolvent, Dennis Rodman has returned from his friend for life tour of North Korea, Venezuelan President and no friend of America Hugo Chavez has died, a baby has been cured of AIDS, and the Dow Jones average has just recovered to the level of its October 2007 high.

It took 5.4 years to erase the precipitous stock market slide that started slowly in 2007, picked up speed in September 2008, and finally hit bottom in March 2009. That doesn't seem long compared to the 25 years it took to erase the stock market crash of 1929, or the 17 years of stock market misery from 1966 to 1983.

If you count from January 2000, when the stock market peaked before the dot-com bust, it's been 13 years of economic misery. And we can't say there won't be more. Both the stock and bond markets are still propped up by historically low interest rates, so we won't know what we really have until those props have been knocked out.

Still, we may be ready to have an economic spring. I suspect that it will be a New England spring, overcast and chilly, with a $16.6 trillion cloud hanging over our heads. Just a couple of warm, sunny days here and there would be great.

I've been looking at a retirement plan calculator this evening. It tells me that if the market performs poorly I still have quite a number of years to work. I don't mind working, it's the having to work that I mind. On the other hand, things don't look so bleak if the market performs on average. But what if the market performs above average? My retirement plan administrator won't tell me that.

I suppose I could retire now if I move to Detroit, where the median listing price of a house is $21,000. Detroit has some beautiful two-story brick homes built back in the heyday between 1910 and 1940. My mother's family is from Detroit and I still have cousins in the area, who've moved to the suburbs, California, or Florida. My cousin Tom was the last out. He joined the Detroit police force in the late 1960s and was required as a condition of employment to live in the city.

The city of Detroit peaked in 1950 with a population of 1,849,568. It's now down to a population of 713,777 as of the 2010 census, a loss of 61%. It's wrong to think that is only white flight. The whites were gone by 1970. The city lost 25% between 2000 and 2010. There's a lot of black flight too.

It's easy to look at Detroit as a harbinger for what could happen to America if we run up our debts too high and succumb to drugs, crime, and poverty. But there is more to Detroit than the city. I've spent a number of very pleasant afternoons boating on the Detroit River. The Detroit metro region has had some setbacks but has held steady over the last 40 years. The outdoor culture is still very strong. The husband of another of my cousins, who took early retirement from the auto industry in 2006, just passed away after spending much of the last 7 years at his hunting lodge in mid-state near Mount Pleasant. As the Michigan saying goes, "if you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

The new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was only partly right when in January 2007 he called the Iraq troop surge "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." The surge strategy was ultimately bipartisan, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is no question in my mind but that the cost of the two surges brought down the domestic economy. I remember the debates of fall 2002, and the Bush/Clinton/Kerry idea was to make quick work of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and then turn to Iran and North Korea. You can't say that worked when all we have to show for the grand strategy is Dennis Rodman. I'm not asking whether it was worth it, just when it will finally be over.

My grandparents made it through the Great Depression of the 1930s. My parents got displaced in the recession of 1969-1970 and made it through the 1980s farm crisis. What does it matter, so long as you can remain productively employed and maintain a few harmless pursuits? That said, I should put aside this harmless pursuit and get back to my productive employment, in case the stock market does continue to perform worse than average.