Thursday, January 31, 2008

John McCain: The New Robespierre

Senator John McCain apparently thinks the government should be the guardian of virtue. He thinks it’s a good idea to have the government punish greedy people on Wall Street. No one will complain of course because everyone knows that it’s those Wall Street people that are the real source of all evil in our society. They have a lot of nerve working their 80 hour weeks, and managing investment risk. I even hear some of them have the nerve to only pay a 50% cumulative income tax rate and give the rest to, get this, their families. Oh the horror.

I’d rather have Hillary as president than John McCain because the Republican in congress will fight her tooth and nail. We recovered from the last Clinton Presidency, and we can recover from the next. But with John McCain acting as the new Robespierre, god knows what will happen to this country. My bet is it will be similar to what happened under the last one. We already know that he doesn’t feel at all limited by that pesky constitution, so that surely increases the odds that the “Committee for Public Safety will follow close behind.

First they came for the greedy folks on Wall Street…

Monday, January 28, 2008

Essex County Allows Deer Cull

My wife had a pretty good chuckle over her coffee this morning. She stumbled upon a FoxNews story about the supplementary deer hunt that’s being held in Essex County New Jersey over the next few weeks. Somewhere in the story was the required “animal rights” quote explaining how all hunters are evil for wanting a managed and balanced eco-system. But the best argument the sandal wearing nimrod could manage was the emotion appeal of shouting “We call them Bambi”! “Oh yeah?” said my wife, “Well we call them dinner!” …there goes our invitation to the next P.E.T.A. fundraiser.

Because Essex County (the area around the city of Newark which so famously gives New Jersey its broader reputation) is highly developed, there is little opportunity for deer hunting, and the deer have made the most of the lack of predation. They’ve managed to wedge themselves into even the tiniest spaces left in the eco-system, and in the process are decimating expensive landscaping all over the county. Over the years, their safety from predators expanded their range into the surrounding suburban areas, creating expensive and unsightly problems for homeowners, and wreaking havoc on auto traffic.

Essex County responded with an all too rare moment of government lucidity. They are dealing with the problem by holding a special deer hunt. Volunteer hunters were recruited and given a special safety course to prepare them to deal with the highly crowded terrain. Then over a period of weeks, in a carefully managed and supervised hunt, they will trim the deer population back to manageable levels. The county and municipalities involved will get some small benefit from the special permits bought by the hunters, and the hunters will make full use of the animals harvested. I’m as astounded as anyone to be writing this, but in this case, the government acted wisely.

This is unlike places like Princeton NJ whose emotional antipathy to hunting is so great that it doesn’t allow it under any circumstances. But because they don’t allow hunting, their deer have overfed and over bred as well. And even though allowing hunting would solve the problem in a safe, humane and ecologically responsible way, and would even make a few bucks for the government through the sale of licenses and permits, they still stand firm.

Instead, they hire a company of “sharpshooters” to kill its deer and the township pays them by the head. I don’t know what happens to the deer they kill, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that they’re simply dumped out and wasted. This is a much more typical example of government action in New Jersey. But the problem in Princeton comes from the fact that they subscribe to all the popular culture biases about hunters. They don’t know any hunters themselves and because that’s so, they assume that all hunters are stupid, gap toothed, drunken inbred losers, armed with machine guns, and are as likely to shoot each other (or the local residents) as they are a deer.

This ignores all data on the safety of hunting in the US, but after nearly two decades of analyzing economic data for a living, I’ve found that there is no data so compelling that a liberal isn’t willing to ignore it if it conflicts with their emotional agenda. As a rule, they simply aren’t interested with little details like “facts” and “evidence” when there is such a compelling emotional story to focus on.

Besides, I’ve found that it can be a lot more fun just shattering their preconceptions by failing to live up to them. You see, I personally contradict the stereotype of the hunter in virtually every way, which is to say, I’m actually about average with regard to actual hunters. I’m not married to my own cousin. I do not have a still in the backyard, or a car up on blocks in the front yard. I’m an educated professional who knows enough about literature, science and current events to make any liberal feel like a dimwit. (Actually… it’s one of my other hobbies)

Not all hunters are exactly like me, but that’s the point. They come from all walks of life, all kinds of backgrounds, and all kinds of professions. The richest man I know is a devout hunter and he’s also the second largest landowner in the state of Colorado; specifically to manage his elk herd. I know doctors and lawyers who hunt, and I can stuff a union hall with all the straight-shooter blue collar hunters I’ve known over the years. And they all have a few things in common, but I don’t imagine it’s what most liberals expect. As a rule I think hunters tend to be more courteous than average, and are certainly more respectful of tradition. They usually know a little more about the outdoors and spend more time there than your average citizen, even in the off hunting seasons. And all of them, men and women alike, are more concerned with self reliance than your average New Jersey socialist.

I’ve spent a lot of time with hunters, mainly because I usually like their company. And I’ve never met one who matched that liberal stereotype. I’d like to congratulate Essex County for recognizing that even when other jurisdictions refuse to. I guess some places are more blatantly driven by prejudice than others. Biases can be hard to put behind you when you have such a closed mind. Maybe one day the people of Princeton will be as open minded as the people of Essex County.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

If McCain wins it ....

... then in all likelyhood I'm going to write in Ron Paul for the general election. A McCain administration would be an economic disaster for the US... at least as bad as another Clinton, or Obama presidency. If he wins the Republican nod, then we had all better start thinking about 2012 right now.

And in 2012 I'd rather face the challenge of teaching Ron Paul something about Monetarist Economics, than try to to teach whatever other Republican hack du jour, something about minimalist government. You see, at the very least Congressman Paul has the right goal in mind, even if he might be a little shortsighted on how to get there. And that's apparently more than the the rest of the Republican party can muster. When there truly isn't a difference between the Democrats and the Republican, you might as well use your vote to send a message.

If McCain is the candidate and my symbolic vote costs him the election, so what? At least the invertebrate Republicans in congress will work against a Democrat president out of spite instead of "going along" with the same idiotic policy when proposed by McCain. And if Ron Paul gets a big chunk of the vote, maybe we can get the rest of the Republicans to pander to us a little more aggressively in the future, instead of trying to out liberal the liberals.

Friday, January 25, 2008

- The Threat of Efficient Government

When a liberal stands there with their fist in the air demanding that we buy more butter instead of guns I think they usually look juvenile and foolish. But I also think that it’s a legitimate political question to raise and a legitimate way to raise it. Choosing one benefit over another is a valid question because it’s looks for a realistic outcome. But when liberals run for office and promise that once they are elected we will have both more guns and more butter, they are simply ignoring the facts of life. No government plan can eliminate scarcity, but still they go on promising it, as if good intentions could cure the common cold.

The fact is, we live in a world with scarce resources. There are not enough Ferrari’s for everyone in America to own one at any price. And in spite of what Paul Krugman and the New York Times editorial board will tell you, it’s not even George Bush’s fault. There is no way for the president of the United States to turn every hamburger into filet mignon no matter who he (or she) is. No government policy will change it; no new tax on the rich will improve it. No matter what we do, someone somewhere is going to have to settle for something less than someone else. This isn’t politics, its math, and all but the most delusional will simply recognize that this is simply an unchangeable fact.

And yet, our politicians can still make their way in the world by promising to end this immutable law of reality, and we still believe them when they do. Well some of us do, but not all of us. Some of us know better, but we get it in our heads that while they may not be able to end scarcity for everyone, they will at least end it for us. And they’ll do this by giving us the goods and then presenting the bill for it to someone else. “There might still be poor people out there” we say, “but at least I can have my Ferrari, because the government will have a new ‘Middle class Ferrari subsidy’ tax that they slap on ‘the rich’”.

Well I’ve got a little surprise for you Ringo, that “tax on the rich” scheme will inevitably include everyone who makes more than $28,000 per year ... you know … “the rich”. And even then, you’ll only get your Ferrari by applying to the government for it. So when you do, there will be tens of thousands of political contributors, union officials, cousins of congressmen, PAC officers, party hacks, industry heads, ward heelers, media mavens, crooks, cheats and influential Ivy League academics in line ahead of you. You’ll get your Ferrari all right… in 2077.

The government can’t solve a problem like this; it simply can’t. It’s like asking them to solve the problem of water running down hill. It’s not a question of leadership, or intent. It won’t be made better if we have “good people” in office instead of “bad people”. It can’t be fixed by penalizing the people who have a lot of stuff or rewarding people who don’t have any. You can play Robin Hood all you like but it still won’t change it. No matter how you slice it, or who does the slicing, there is going to be scarcity of things that people like. That’s it. The discussion is over.

And just like there are some problems that simply can’t be solved by government, there are others that can only be solved in certain ways. For instance, right now there is every reason to believe that we’re seeing an economic slowdown, and it might even turn out to be a recession. The Federal Reserve can effectively address an economic slowdown by lowering interest rates and when they do, it becomes easier and cheaper for companies to borrow money. Those companies then risk less by taking out a loan and can do things which they might not otherwise do like expand their business and hire more people etc.

This is a thing done by a branch of the government that actually helps the economy. And the reason this helps, is because the Federal Reserve doesn’t really do things the way the government usually does. The Federal Reserve is designed to be independent, and to act as if it were completely private. And because of that, it can do things immediately, without months or weeks of deliberation that usually comes with any government decision. It can act very quickly and in that way address the problem before the problem ends naturally on its own.

Some people might think that it should then be a goal to make the rest of the government more efficient too, but I’m highly skeptical of that. The only reason the Federal Reserve can work in that way is because it has such a limited charter. All they are responsible for is the stability of the banking system…. that’s it. A .25% change in the discount rate isn’t going to deny anyone their rights. But if they were also in charge of taxation, or the police, then we’d really be in trouble. Because for the most part the only thing a more efficient government will do is make the government more efficient at stripping away our liberties.

Our system of checks and balances is designed to be inefficient. It’s designed so that really dramatic things can’t usually be done at all. And that’s a good thing. Hitler was very decisive and did dramatic things, but I don’t know anyone who wants them done here. Mao also did dramatic things and 40 million people died from them. In terms of decision making, the most efficient form of government is a totalitarian dictatorship, but pretty much eveyone except the dictator would prefer the inefficiency of democracy all the same.

We should all hope that it’s difficult for government to do much of anything to us. That inefficiency is our friend. We would all probably be better off if our representatives asked us personally about every little thing. We might not get our way, but we’d be happier with what got done all the same. Or more to the point, we’d be happier that nothing much could get done at all without us. And if that meant that nothing got done, then so be it. We want it to be hard for government to get things done, because only tyranny will follow if it ever gets too easy.

Right now we hear all politicians of all stripes complaining that something must be done immediately for “economic stimulus”. But what they actually see is an opportunity to use our money to buy themselves more votes. They want to take money from everyone and give it back to various well positioned sub-groups that will then be more likely to support them in the next election. Well the problem with that is that the kind of economic stimulus they’re proposing isn't a "stimulus" at all. It doesn’t actually help anything. It takes too long and comes too late. And even when it does, robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t actually help the economy.

The 100 million people who starved to death under communism made it clear that “controlling the economy” is not something that any government knows how to do. And since that’s so, we should all discourage them from trying. They are just using the latest “crisis” to change the rules and allow themselves more control over our lives. Democracy is slow and sloppy and noisy and messy and it’s to “the people’s” benefit to keep it that way. That slowness and messiness isn’t the problem, it’s the solution. And if turns out that “nothing is getting done”, we should really be thankful.

The more they do the better for them, the less they do the better for us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Corzine and Ceaucescu: Two Peas in a Pod

My wife and her parents are Hungarian immigrants to America, and naturalized citizens. When they escaped from Romania in the 70’s, the guy in charge was Nikolai Ceaucescu. A communist era strong man, he was as famous for his brutality, as he was for his absolute and utterly totalitarian arrogance. He truly believed that he knew better than anyone how to make all the decisions of the people of Romania. Under communism, guys like that seemed to pop up like weeds in eastern Europe. Here’s a picture for the curious, of what absolute hubris looks like. And as a coincidence, that’s also Ceaucescu he’s standing next to.

As appealing as he was to like minded foreign leaders, Ceaucescu couldn’t keep up the charade of totalitarian communism for very long. In fact, in the 80’s when food and material shortages began to take their most serious toll, it’s widely believed that he simply began denying the existence of reality. He would often be shown on State TV praising “record harvests” and citing the Romanian “high living standard” even when it was clear that the country was quickly becoming a wasteland of mismanagement, and that the people were suffering from widespread hunger and malnutrition.

But even then, there was such a cult of personality around him that true believers still clung to the hope that he was simply unaware of the issues and that if he only knew what the real problems were, he would solve them. People began trying to hand him letters and pamphlets during his public appearances that explained the plight of the people, but the security police soon put a stop to that. And after a time, common people were discouraged from interacting directly with him at all, and anyone attempting to hand out pamphlets, either to the president himself or to the crowds at his appearances, was simply arrested.

And so we come to the point of this little history lesson, because we have ignored past lessons about hubris and dictatorial arrogance among our elected officials, we are therefore apparently doomed to repeat them.

A little before 2PM this past Saturday afternoon at a public High School in Cape May County, Governor John Corzine allegedly had one of his political opponents arrested for trying to distribute a pamphlet critical of his tax and immigration policies. Steve Lonegan, the former Republican Mayor of Bogota NJ, was handing out pamphlets outside the event, when he was handcuffed and led away by Middle Township policemen. According to Lonegan, the arresting officer told him “The governor doesn't want you handing out literature," just before he was cuffed and led away.

When asked for comment, Lilo Stainton one of the minions who insulates the governor from we commoners said "The governor's office had nothing to do with this.” But that statement directly contradicts Lonegan’s allegations. I suppose it’s possible that this is all some big misunderstanding. But to be frank, it sounds much more like those incidents in the 80’s where Ceaucescu simply began denying reality. True believers say that its ignorance of the facts, but it sounds like communist era BS to me. After all we know from past incidents, that Corzine has no intention of following the rules that apply to other “common” citizens of New Jersey. So I don’t see any reason why he should feel particularly restrained by that whole “first amendment” thing either.

As it stands, the governor’s plan for eliminated state debt is going to raise tolls by 50% in 2010, then another 50% from that higher level in 2014, and another 50% from the even higher level in 2018 and then a final 50% on the top in 2022. Then the toll prices will begin being adjusted upward for inflation (call it a minimum of 4% per year) in 2025, 2029, 2033, 2037, 2041, 2045, 2049, 2053, 2057, 2061, 2065, 2069, 2073, 2077, 2081 and 2085. That math means that a 35 cent parkway toll will become $1.77, a $6 bridge toll will be roughly $30 bucks, and they will then rise with inflation until my daughter the second grader has become a great-grandma. Now who wouldn’t think well of a coughing up the extra dough for a plan like that? After all, we’ve got to pay for those lifetime pensions and free medical insurance for all the civil servants somehow don’t we? I hear it's gotten so bad, that some public servants now have to award themselves two or three pensions just to afford a boat. Beachfront property just ain't as cheap as it used to be.

And of course, the only talk of cutting spending or limited government giveaways and benefit increases is currently coming from the minority opposition. They aren’t in power right now, but there are still some people out there who are claiming that the right message is to quit letting the government spend and tax like crazy people. But since they’re apparently now being arrested for trying to deliver that message, we’ve probably heard the last of that for a while too. Still... Lonegan claims otherwise.

"I am proud of getting arrested for standing up for the taxpayers in New Jersey," said Lonegan. "I will do it at every other meeting he has because nobody is going to stop me from handing out literature and nobody's going to take away my first amendment rights." As executive director of an anti-tax advocacy group called “Americans for Prosperity: New Jersey”, his heart certainly seems to be in the right place. Of course dictatorial regimes know how to deal with upstarts like him.

So is there anything else we can learn from examining history? Can the people’s revolution in Romania teach us anything else about the future of New Jersey? Well in 1989, conspirators from Ceaucescu’s security police overthrew him, held a 2 hour “show trial” and then executed both he and his wife Elena for various crimes. I don’t know… it’s tough for me to see that sort of thing occurring in New Jersey. It’s not that I think Corzine won’t do all he can to deserve that kind of ending; it certainly seems like he's trying so far. It’s just that you need to be pretty desperate to kill someone, and I think it's tough to come up with that kind of passion here.

After all, we can all just move to Pennsylvania or Delaware long before we get to that level of desperation. Thankfully, it’s still a free country… at least, until we get enough guys like Corzine running things. What I think is far more likely is that he and his kind will simply kill the goose. Those that can afford it are leaving New Jersey as fast as they can, and that will probably continue to occur at a deeply accelerated rate....I'll bet it will almost keep pace with how fast our taxes will rise or our civil liberties are eliminated.

So I guess a more important question to take away from all this is, how far will you let it go? What are you willing to let them take from you, before you’ll bite the bullet and leave? They'll take an increasingly large portion of your labor every year in the form of taxes. They'll legislate away your right to defend yourself and your property. You don't dare buy any real estate because they'll take it away with an abusive form of eminent domain, and give it to a developer who promises them higher taxes. So what else are you willing to give up to be 1.5 hours from New York City? Is it really worth it when they start taking away your right to disagree with the ruling elite?

My in-laws knew the time had come when they fled Romania, and if I have to, I’ll do the same from New Jersey. Thank god it’s still looking like it will be easier for me than it was for them. At least, Corzine hasn’t come up with a plan for that yet.

Thompson’s out, Now What?

If I’m going to be realistic, I have to start admitting that after a disappointing 3rd place finish in South Carolina, Thompson is not likely to be a contender for President. He certainly had the best policy positions, but being president involves more than just having the right policies. It’s also about being an executive and manager. It’s about knowing how to deal with the very limited information you get when you’re in charge, and still being able to delegate responsibility effectively. It’s not just about what you do it’s also about how you do it.

There is so much bad policy around that I tend to focus on “what” instead of “how”. For example, Obama may seem very presidential but if he gets a chance to do even a tiny fraction of the things he say’s he’s going to do, it will be an unparalleled disaster for this country. We’ll have skyrocketing unemployment, an end to decent medical care at any price, and an economy which will rival most of Sub-Saharan Africa for stability and growth. When someone promises and end to the status quo, remember that it may be people just like you that he wants on the bottom of the new social order.

But anyway, Thompson had great things to say, but he said them in such a half hearted manner that the people responded “no thanks”. So what do we do now? Well let’s take an honest look at our choices:

Giuliani: No thanks. His pro-abortion and pro gay marriage stance will mean that he can’t possibly win in the general election. The Democrats will always be able to out “liberal” him, and they will do just that. And even if he were able to get past his positions on policy, his second ex-wife is a New York media maven who’s been dying get the chance to roast his chestnuts over an open fire, and you can bet she wait till the moment when it can do the most damage. Besides, after that ridiculous super-jurisdictional anti-gun lawsuit, he shouldn’t be allowed to serve office anywhere.

McCain: Also No thanks. He’s an honorable guy who spent some time in the Hanoi Hilton enduring some of the worst torture in living memory. There is simply no doubt about it, he has served his country honorably which is a little more than you can say about the last two presidents we’ve had. But he’s also got a great many bad ideas, and ideas do still count. He was anti-tax cut, pro-illegal immigration amnesty, and has sponsored the campaign reform bill which is widely considered unconstitutional. He’s also considered the Democrats favorite Republican, and that alone should be enough to disqualify him.

Huckabee: No F’ing Way. Mike is the outsider in the race, and if you ask me, he’s the reason the Thompson campaign never took off. He gave social conservatives another person to vote for who had a better presentation than Thompson, but shared his ideas on abortion and guns. Evangelicals love the guy, but voting for him is a mistake. Thompson had good ideas about everything but after you get past pheasant hunting, Huckabee is a shipwreck waiting to happen. His policies on taxes, on immigration, and everything else all spell disaster for the Republican Party and the country. If by some miracle he wins the primary then we’re all but guaranteed a Democratic president next term.

Romney: I’m afraid so. He seems to me to be the least bad choice. And just like when the Clinton’s ran the show, we’ll all need to count on our system of checks and balances to keep him from doing anything too stupid to the country. He may not have strong motivating principles, but he has at least a passing acquaintance with sound economic and tax policy, and unlike many of the Democrats, he doesn’t believe that a social conservative is simply someone who needs to be put in a camp for reeducation. If he’s elected we’ll just need to keep the grassroots pressure on him, just like we’ve done with George Bush.

Of course, the Obama fans aren’t ready to concede defeat yet. In fact, I don’t think they’ll ever be prepared to concede defeat at all. You think Al Gore was bad? Just wait till you see what happens when we all look at Obama’s big dream and we decide that we’d all rather remain awake for a few more years. I’m betting that his supporters want us to embrace it so badly that they don’t care if they have to knock us unconscious to do it. They say that there is a shortage of hope in America. Well I have a hope, I hope to god someone other than Obama is elected president.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Daily Show's John Stewart mislabel's Liberals

I was watching the daily show the other day when Jonah Goldberg was on talking about his new book Liberal Fascism. (I’ve written a mini-review of the book which can be found on Amazon, and I plan on writing a longer piece on it very soon.) The interview was edited terribly, and Stewart admitted as much, but I had another issue with it.

It seemed to me that John Stewart’s arguments hinged on two issues. The first is that “while he’s not judging the book by its cover” he’s unable to address the meat of Jonah’s arguments because he’s too hung up on the cover art and the title. This is the point where I would make one of those sarcastic sideways glances at the camera much like Stewart does when someone’s actions completely contradict the point they’re trying to make.

Secondly, I think he tries to steal an important base and the catastrophe of editing they did doesn’t show if Jonah calls him on it or not. “Liberals” Stewart says “are all about the individual (sic) over the government”.

Personally I find this to be directly contradictory to the modern American liberal as demonstrated in New Jersey. Rather, a liberal in New Jersey is a person who believes that “the people” aren’t enlightened enough to understand what changes need to be made in their lives for their own good, and that someone (usually the liberal themselves) needs to be able to use the power of government to force them to do the “right thing”. Ignoring the issue of sex, a liberal is absolutely in support of doing everything they can to prevent the individual from exercising any liberty whatsoever.

Evidence of this abounds. Liberals and liberal institutions lobby energetically against individual liberty in raising children and school choice on the part of individual parents. They are against individual accountability with regard to medical care and believe that some people should be compelled to carry insurance they will be unlikely to need just to lower costs to others. They are against individual responsibility for using arms for self protection even though it’s specifically protected in the constitution.

The green movement is based around the idea that a small minority of people can use government to force individuals not to act in any way that the minority group feels is “immoral”. The animal rights movement operates the same way only at a more hyperbolic level. In fact, if you look at any political organization that is in any way fashionable, it’s almost certainly a group dedicated to using government to prevent someone somewhere from acting the way they choose. That is a direct contradiction to Stewart’s statements.

Liberalism is certainly a socialist sentiment. Even in those areas where they have very limited economic ambitions, liberal institutions are all about preventing individual liberty not empowering it. They are social engineers who believe that only they know “the right way” for people to behave and that the world must be re-invented to match their view. This is true of our governor, it’s true of the Democrats in our legislature and it’s even true of most of the Republicans in our legislature, who would all fall to the left on a political spectrum when compared to the rest of the country. They all operate on that overwhelming desire to be the people who exercise decision making control over others. And only liberal institutions and liberal policies support that view, so they will have bilateral support in New Jersey.

In their own defense, liberals would raise the issue of abortion and issues surrounding homosexuality. It’s true that regarding issues surrounding the act of sex, a modern American liberal is more likely to take the view which supports a minimum of government intrusion. But their worship of individual rights apparently stops at the actual act. The entire movement to adopt “gay and lesbian” rights has really been an attempt for a minority of people to reengineer society to treat as normal something which society traditionally has not. It’s yet another case of using the government to force someone to feel a certain way about an act, even over their own objections. The same is true of all hate-crime law, and laws pertaining to “speech codes”. All of it, every last bit, is adamantly anti-liberty.

American liberals don’t raise the individual over the state, the demand the individual be subjugated to it. His labor belongs to them, his words, and even his thoughts, in their minds are the property of the state, and if they aren’t yet they ought to be. The trend is obvious to anyone who is even partially honest intellectually. John Stewart is generally a funny guy, but not funny enough to make up for such a blatant error.

Monday, January 14, 2008

From Behind The Lines:

A NJ Gun Show Without The Guns

For the average reader of the New York Times, a “gun show” is a collection of gang-bangers, career criminals, and disgruntled teen would-be mass murderers all getting together to sell machine guns to one another. They do this using the dreaded “gun show loophole” which lets them buy and sell guns with impugnity while evading the reasonable and well intentioned eyes of the government. With such a concentration of the dregs of society all gathered together in one place, it must be awfully dangerous. You know… sort of like a crack house without the militant looking enforcer at the door to keep the peace. To an erudite upper west side Democrat it probably seems a miracle that anyone ever survives the things. But as I’m sure you can imagine, the reality of gun shows is not the same as the yarn that the New York Times is spinning.

The biggest way that gun show reality diverges from the liberal fantasy is that there is that there is no such thing as a gun show loophole. Anti-gun lobbying groups have invented that phrase from whole cloth. All firearm sales are subject to the same federal restrictions at all times whether that sale is made in a shop, at a gun show booth, or anywhere else. Everyone engaged in the business of selling firearms has been required to obtain a federal license since 1938. The buyer must submit to a federal NICS check, (the National Instant Criminal Search system run by the FBI) which is used to determine whether the buyer is a felon or has been judged mentally ill. And they must be in compliance with all state laws before they can buy that gun; even those silly “one gun a month” and “5 day waiting period” laws that some states have. All of this is true at a gun show or anywhere else.

That the anti-gun political groups use such an out and out falsehood so prominently in their ad campaign should tell you something about the reliability of them.

I absolutely love gun shows; the real ones, not the things imagined in the liberal editorial pages. They are a flea market for fans of firearms, and they carry the same wild variety and low prices that other flea market’s do. I went to one a few weeks back in Valley Forge Pennsylvania that was just great. There were 12 people selling eclectic military surplus gear alone. You could buy surplus South African Army ammunition, gunsmith tools (Hungarian or Chinese, you’re choice), and an East German motorcycle helmet within ten feet of each other, and for no more money than you paid in gas to get there. There was a guy who could sell you every military patch and medal from every major army of the 20th century. Another could sell you spare parts kits for the Japanese “Arisaka” rifle that you grandfather snuck back from Guam, and the official Red Army manual for an AK47, in the original Cyrillic.

Oh yeah, there were also some guys there who sold guns.

Most of them are local dealers, but the guys who pay particular attention to the “gun show circuit” are the guys who specialize in used equipment. You see, a gun isn’t worth zero just because it’s had a bullet go down the barrel. Guns that have been well cared for hold their value extremely well, and many appreciate rapidly. So gun shows often turn out to be a way to get a really great deal on something unusual. For instance, At the Valley forge gun show I was inches away from buying an old Parker Bothers side by side 12 gauge shotgun with Damascus barrels, that a guy was selling without even having cleaned it. It had maybe 50 years of dust and grime on it, but it might have been a treasure underneath (If it were a 20 gauge I wouldn’t have left without it)

Most of the other gun dealers all had specialties as well. One area which is really hot right now is Red Army surplus, and there were four or five tables full of model 91/30 and M44 bolt action rifles which could be bought in boxes of six or twelve on the cheap. There were nearly as many dealers of British Enfield and German Mauser equipment, but both were overshadowed by the interest in the US made M1 Garand. The M1 was the standard issue service rifle of US forces in WW2, and was the only semi-automatic rifle in the game. As such, it represented a big advantage to the US foot soldier during the war, and it has since occupied a place in the heart of firearms buffs like few other rifles. Fans of the thing are everywhere at gun shows, and you can get everything from Korean Army surplus for a few hundred dollars, to unfired low serial number originals which can sell for the price of a new car. There is something for everyone at a gun show.

And that’s the thing I really love about them; their egalitarian nature. They are a free market more or less; at least once you get past all the federal and state licensing restrictions for sellers, the record keeping requirements (both state and federal), buyers pre-purchased firearms Id’s (which require a six month wait), pistol purchase permits (another six month wait), and the federal instant criminal background checks, which in reality are not always instant and sometimes take days. Like I said, a free market. Well… at least they aren’t totally illegal. Well, not everywhere.

This past weekend I attended the 25th anniversary “NJ Outdoor Sportsmen’s Show”, which was held within sight of the Atlantic ocean, just a few minutes from my house. Those of you who have been following along at home know that New Jersey has a unique antipathy to all things gun related, so the “NJ Outdoor Sportsmen’s Show” is a little unusual; like a fair for an activity that most “civilized” people in the state would disapprove of. But it’s still about as close to the teeming mass of consumers in New York City that many of these vendors will ever have a chance to get, so there were quite a few booths. There were dozens of hunting guides and taxidermists. Fishing is really big in New Jersey so there were some small boat sales, and people selling gear. There was a tank full of bass at the far end of the show, and a kiddie pool full of trout where the kids could try to hook one. There were people selling jerky, and candy, and there was even a discreet and hilariously concealed booth from Skoal tobacco selling their (apparently very evil) wares.

And there were two other booths that frankly, seemed very out of place. They were both “shooting gallery’s” one virtual, and the other a bb pistol range. But it was a hunting show with all kinds of references to shooting, so why did they seem so out of place? They were the only place where I could actually see even a fake gun. In New Jersey, even many toy guns are illegal and Airsoft guns are considered firearms, so this “Outdoors” show, was literally a NJ version of a gun show, but naturally, without the guns. In truth, I came away feeling really depressed about the whole thing. I mean, where were the guys selling all the useless junk that I loved to rummage through when I travel out of state to an actual gun show? Where were all the bargains, and experts and minutiae and fun?

To me it felt a lot like a like a trip to an east German department store before the wall came down. They’re prohibited by the all-powerful state from selling the stuff that everyone wants, and the stuff they can sell, no one can afford. I mean, who buys a $20,000 Alaskan hunting trip at a booth at a trade show? Sure you may buy a bass boat one day, but you aren’t going to buy it there. And even the local sporting goods store that had a booth presence turned out to be the most overpriced store in the area. You can get the same stuff they sell for a fraction of the price at Dicks or Walmart.

Maybe the hunting focus would keep away some of the military surplus guys, but in a free society there would have certainly been someone there from Glock and Remington. And I’m sure all of the local gun dealers would have liked to be there as well; this is their client base after all. There could be people selling shotguns for bird hunting, rifles for elk, and cannons for Alaskan bear. Beretta could have been there, and maybe Holland and Holland with some of their uber-beautiful engraved rifles on display. But that won’t happen in New Jersey, because the central committee (otherwise known as the legislature) has spoken, and we can’t have gun shows there. It’s simply too dangerous for us, and they’ve banned them for our own good whether we like it or not.

New Jersey is a small state, so I can still go to gun shows an hour or so to the west in Pennsylvania. And those dealers all know how ridiculous New Jersey’s laws are so they make sure there’s someone at the show who can legally transfer a firearm to a New Jersey resident. New Jersey makes it really tough, but thankfully, they can’t make it impossible. There is still a free state just on the other side of the Delaware River. And in the meantime, the rest of us will either go through the motions here, or leave like roughly 250,000 other people have done since 2002. (The guy doing one-way U-haul rentals must be cleaning up)

And that reminds me of an East German joke. One morning in 1986 the party chairman goes to his office, looks out the window and says “Good morning Sun” the sun replies “good morning comrade chairman”. At 1PM, the chairman looks up and says “Good afternoon Sun” and the sun Replies “good afternoon comrade chairman”. At sunset, the chairman looks up and says “Good evening sun”, but gets no response. Then he says again “Good evening sun” but still nothing. Then he says “Sun, why don’t you respond to me” and the sun says “I’m in the west now so you can go screw yourself”.

I live in the people’s republic of New Jersey, but just off to the west, is the freedom of Pennsylvania. And if I had any sense, I’d probably tell the New Jersey legislature to go screw itself too. Just like more and more of my neighbors do every year.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Crime victims (Gun Owners) mistaken for Criminals: An Update

It turns out that our new friends in Trenton aren’t that friendly after all!

When I was writing the piece on the bill to make gun owners into criminals if they are robbed, I called my Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck (R – Monmouth) to find out if she had voted for it. Well her office just got back to me and it turns out that the new “friend of the sportsmen” voted FOR the bill to charge them with a crime if their property is stolen, so long as that property is a gun. She’s currently in the state assembly, but she’s soon to be sworn in as my state Senator (the term is longer and the pay is better). She beat animal rights nut Ellen Karcher in the last election, in no small part thanks to the NJOA and the hunters and fishermen who supported her. So regrettably, this is when I get to prove my point about being non partisan.

When I saw her at the NJOA rally in October, I said that she seemed very dishonest, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from NJ politicians so I figured I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. She was there soliciting our support after all, and she must have seen how many people there were at the rally and how committed they were to not being shoved around by our rulers in Trenton anymore. Well I guess I should trust my instincts because even though she was there prepared to go slumming with the rednecks before Election Day to get a few more votes, once she had them, she was fully prepared to put us back in our place. Our new friend in Trenton just voted to make every one of us a criminal if the wrong item is taken from us when our house is robbed.

And if you think I’m mad about it you should see my wife. She’s stomping around the house right now saying that “charging the victim of a theft with a crime is the same as blaming the rape victim for the rape because she was asking for it”. But I know that if she were to repeat that phrase to Jennifer Beck, Ms. Beck would probably say, “oh no… that’s completely different. The rape victim is a woman, and the gun owner is just some gap toothed redneck that probably shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun in the first place.”

It’s really a shame that in New Jersey, apparently even the Republicans are liberals. And Jennifer Beck seems to be no exception. We have apparently traded a crazy person who thinks animals are people too, for an elitist know it all who thinks the best way to prevent crime is to turn a bunch of law abiding citizens into criminals for getting robbed.

The worst part is, in another few years, she’ll be coming around again begging for our votes, and telling us that we are too stupid to understand the intricacies of the law she voted for. “It’s not like that …” she’ll say “It’s only about gang violence.” And she’ll be telling us that if we were just as sophisticated as her and understood it properly, then we’d see that. And that will be the proof that she really is a liberal and we would be idiots to offer her any more support. Because she obviously isn’t the least bit worried about the actual effect of the bill, she’s only thinking of the bills intent. And if we want that kind of foolish short sightedness, then we might as well vote for the animal rights kooks.

It's also important not to think that this is a black mark on the NJOA. The NJOA is an organization which lobbies for sportsmen’s rights with regard to hunting and fishing, not the rights of gun owners. There are other organizations for that like the NRA. I may be wrong, but it’s my understanding that the NJOA had no position on this bill since it didn’t directly affect sportsmen and I’m OK with that. They made it clear to me that they weren’t going to address issues like this so I bear them no grudge for not doing so.

But I do want to make it clear that while we may have purchased Jennifer Beck’s support with our votes on a few key issues, it doesn’t mean she’s our philosophical ally. This vote makes it clear that she is an opponent of gun ownership, even if she will lower herself to offering her grudging support where hunting is concerned. The NJOA may have her ear right now, but I think it’s important to remember where her heart is, and this vote demonstrates that it isn’t with us.

I had a friend in college who used to say “the most reliable woman in the world is a whore. You pay your money, and you know exactly what you’re going to get.” Well I disagree. I think a wife is much more reliable than that because you share a common goal and are motivated to protect and defend each other over the long term. You are like minded, and that commitment is carried with you everywhere you go.

Well Jennifer Beck may have said that we can rely on her, but it’s pretty clear that she didn’t see herself walking down the aisle with New Jersey’s sportsmen. And we should all remember that we’re going to get exactly what we paid for, and nothing more. And tomorrow, she’s going to be back out on the streets of Trenton giving it to someone else.

- Confusing Crime Victims with Criminals

You would think that as often as they get investigated and convicted of crimes themselves, the members of the New Jersey Legislature would be able to tell the difference between a crime victim and a crime perpetrator. But their recent legislative calendar tells us that it’s more than they can handle. In yet another of their countless efforts to undermine the concept of individual responsibility, a new law has made it a crime to have your perfectly legal firearm stolen, unless you report the theft within the first 36 hours.

So imagine this scenario: You go on vacation for a week, and on the day after you leave someone breaks into your house and steals your gun. If something like that happens, I hope your vacation is miraculously shortened to less than 36 hours, because under NJ law, you will now be the one committing the crime instead of having one committed upon you. Worse than that, if the criminal who stole your gun uses it to commit a murder, you can also be held criminally liable for that act. I’m not sure what the exact legal specifics of “held criminally liable” are, but to my ears it sounds like you’re going to be charged as an accessory.

Those of us, who support the right to keep and bear arms, in our desire to illuminate, often find ourselves making comparisons between guns and cars. Both are completely safe when used in a safe way by responsible people, but can do great harm otherwise. Also, both can be misused by good people who are acting irresponsibly, or by people acting with evil intent. If the New Jersey Legislature went to whatever backroom they use for their deal making, and produced a bill that would charge everyone who got in a car accident with attempted murder, the bill would be laughed out of the capital building … even in a surreal place like New Jersey. So why is it that it seems reasonable to these people, that someone who has their property stolen is in fact committing a crime?

The answer is, that’s not how they see it. What they imagine (and what they are trying to legislate), is some gang-banger who still has a clean arrest record buying a bunch of guns, selling them to his friends who are felons, and then telling the police that they were all stolen. I haven’t seen the statistics on this, (and I’ll bet that no one else has either) but I’m sure that it happens on TV a lot more than it happens in real life. There is no doubt that straw purchases occur, but it’s already so much harder to get a gun in NJ in the first place that I don’t believe it’s a common problem here.

They wrote a law to prevent something that they’ve seen on TV, but that doesn’t actually happen all that much in real life. And since they are a liberal legislature, deeply committed to the secular religion of the state, they have also failed to account for the cost this legislation imposes on honest citizens. They may not intend to use this law to punish honest citizens, but it still might turn out to be their effect. They are relying on the good intentions of the prosecutors of New Jersey, to not take these cases to court if it’s an otherwise honest person who legitimately had their gun stolen. They’ve written a law, which puts 1000 people under a threat of prosecutorial harm for every 1 person that might legitimately be prosecuted. And that seems just fine to them.

The last bunch of guys who relied on the good intentions of the prosecutors office were those guys on the Duke University Lacrosse team who were all charged with rape even though the evidence made it clear that no rape occurred. It’s a common thing these days. In fact, prosecutorial misconduct has become a staple of jurisprudence in the 21st century. Given the all the attention our legislators get from the federal prosecutors, you would think that they’d be easier to convince of that. But personally I don’t think it’s safe to place the rights of New Jersey law-abiding citizens into the hands of someone who is rewarded only for their percentage of convictions, vs. their percentage of acquittals. They might pass on prosecuting someone like me who has the money to hire a good lawyer and fight back, but if someone who is just as honest a citizen as me but is less well off gets his gun stolen, then it’s going to be open season him.

When I sat down to write this piece, the first thing I did was google the sponsors of the bill to see what they’re currently being investigated for. They are in the NJ legislature after all and that pretty much precludes them from being honest citizens in my book. But apart from one allegation of corruption for Gordon Johnson, and one Tony Soprano like moment for Louis Manzo, where his bother was arrested for using a tire iron to convince someone to display brother Louis’s campaign poster, I couldn’t find a thing. This doesn’t mean they are honest; again… they are in the NJ Legislature and federal prosecutions take time. But with regard to this particular legislation I don’t think they’re specifically trying to cover their own tracks. It’s most likely that they are just another pair of shortsighted liberals who watch to many crime shows on TV.

In a state where the legislators are so obviously for sale to the highest bidder, you would think the pro-gun lobbying groups could do better. I’m sure the NRA took a shot at it, but they pick their battles carefully and historically, that has meant that they fight them somewhere other than ludicrously anti-gun NJ. The up and coming PAC for sportsman’s rights, the NJOA, has decided not to fight “gun battles” in the legislature for fear of losing the support of their fishermen. OK fair enough. But just for fun, I called newly converted friend of the hunter Jennifer Beck’s (R - Monmouth) office to see how she voted on this issue, and her people were either unwilling or unable to tell me. In the past, she’s had an F rating from the NRA, but now claims to be a friend of sportsmen. I wonder how much she’s going to like them when they’ve all been charges as accessories to murder for being victims of previous crimes.

I hear a rumor that next week the legislature is going to finally do something about Newton’s third law of motion. I had a professor once that felt that the whole “equal and opposite reaction” thing was unfair because it failed to take into account the “social context”. But I’d think hard about that one if I were a legislator. For instance, I wonder what the equal and opposite reaction will be to telling all of new Jersey’s gun owners, that the laws of the state will only look at them as criminals from now on rather than victims of crime? It’s saying that they no longer have protection under the law but still might need top be protected from it. If I worked in the state house, I’d hope to god that it meant that they are all going to pay their “exit tax” and move away.

Monday, January 7, 2008

- The "Vision For A Democratic Change Of Hope"

Oh Man I would so hate to be Howard Dean right now! The guy must be having a tough couple of weeks in his job as head of the Democratic Party, because at this point it looks like the Democratic primary is being fought between just two people. On one side he has a big-eared ex-Muslim black guy who’s name rhymes with Osama, and on the other, the most hated woman in America. John Edwards is still officially in the race too, but at this point it seems to me that he’s just an afterthought. He’s the token slip and fall lawyer in a party that gets a huge paycheck from slip and fall lawyers. They might as well let Randi Weingarten into the race.

But clearly the real battle for standard-bearer of the left is being fought between the first two, and what a battle it’s turning out to be! Apparently it’s “Time for Change” in America. And while Hillary is just an “agent for change”, Obama is apparently calling for “A change we can all believe in”. Hillary only talks about “reuniting America” in a broad and non-specific sense, but Obama has much more firmly spoken of “uniting America in pursuit of change”. Even more striking, is while the Obama campaign makes it clear that he will “show us how to hope again in America as a force for peace”. Hillary’s campaign only says that “now is the time for peace”.

Ugh … what a hopeless collection of utterly empty platitudes. They should all be embarrassed, but by far the most shameless of the lot is Oprah Winfrey. She’s been very publicly campaigning for Obama and every time she opens her mouth it sounds like one of those online web pages which mixes up the words to produce political doublespeak. According to her, Obama “has a new vision for America!” and he “knows who we are, and who we can be!” She could just as well be saying that he has a "vision for a democratic change of hope" or a "hope for a democratic change of vision" or a "change of hope for a vision of Democracy". It's all thin air.

What does any of that mean exactly? I know stump speeches tend to be more sound bite than policy paper, but doesn’t anyone at the DNC know how to use a noun in a sentence? After all, just because someone has “ a new vision for America” doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Mao Tse-tung had a new vision for China and a few years later, 40 million people were dead. The bunnies of the world can democratically “work for peace” and can use their “new vision” to lead by example, but I don’t think it’s going to convince even a single mountain lion. And how precisely is it that the change that they all seem to be working for, apparently any change, is a change for the better?

Idi Amin was firmly committed to the idea of change. He wanted to change his political opponents into family sized entrees. Josef Stalin wanted to change the Jews of Europe into slave labor and Hitler wanted to make them into soap. Is this the kind of “movement for a change” that we’re seeing develop on the American left? “Oh no… they don’t mean it like that” the worker bees of the left proclaim, “they means a change for the better”. Well OK… how exactly do you know that? What specifics can they offer us on that front? And while we’re at it, doesn’t that “knows who we are, and who we can be” quote sound dangerously similar to that famous “To serve man” cookbook in that episode of the twilight zone? He is from Africa after all right?

OK … I’m just kidding. I don’t really believe that Barak Obama is going to promote cannibalism or anything like it, I’m just trying to make a point. My point is that the left relies exclusively on the good intentions of their politicians to justify whatever nonsense they promote. Wrap any idea in pretty sounding rhetoric about “supporting a Democratic change” and “working for unity” and they’ll run circles around each other at academic conferences trying to justify anything you can conceive, even if it’s silly or dangerous. Even worse, if the current polling is any judge the far left will eat it up and demand a big helping of seconds.

Right now Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barak Obama all have speech writers burning the midnight oil in an attempt to say as little as possible about what they will actually do as President. I guess they all like to keep their options open. And in this struggle, the struggle for the hearts and minds of the left, it’s the most vacuous, the least substantial and most disingenuous bidder who wins. In fact, everything you need to know right now about the state of the American left is that the “slip and fall” trial lawyer isn’t able to be insincere enough to keep up with the leaders.

As you can imagine, I’m not a great fan of any of them, but of all of them, the one I prefer is Hillary Clinton. Not for Machiavellian reason like “she’d be easiest to beat” or anything like that. I prefer her because unlike the other two, she seems to be at least minimally constrained by those things that are possible. She doesn’t talk about re-inventing the social dynamic between people or passing a law against gravity or anything like that. In fact that’s the main reason she’s doing so poorly with the far left. The thing they want to see in their primary is someone who “dares to dream the big dream” even if it means ignoring some of what the rest of us grudgingly refer to as “reality”. In fact they would prefer that someone not pay any attention to reality at all. And right now, that someone is Obama.

His policies are substantially to the left of Mrs. Clintons, but nothing we haven’t seen before. The things he likes he wants to make cheaper by passing laws making it illegal for them to be expensive, and the things he doesn’t like, he wants to pass laws that just plain make them illegal. Not once does he give the costs associated with those ideas even a passing glance. To him there is no cost that can’t be mitigated by passing a law against it. In his world oil, for instance, will be cheap, abundant, non-polluting and will promote our “energy independence”. It never occurs to him that in the real world choosing anyone one of these things prevents you from having any of the others.

Most of what he calls for is the same old warmed over state controlling 60’s rhetoric that gave us the glory of the Carter administration with it’s double digit inflation, resource shortages, and civil strife. But hey… just because it didn’t work the last 20 quadrillion times we tried it doesn’t mean it won’t work this time right? After all, he’s giving us “a change we can all believe in”.

The truth is, I don’t really believe he’s going to win. Maybe it’s just me but I can’t imagine that a northern socialist, with ears like prince Charles, a name that rhymes with Osama, and got his earliest education in a Madrass is ever going to be president of the United States. More people voted for George Bush in the last election than any other candidate in America history and that was in spite of the war, and in spite of his low approval ratings. And an awful lot of those people would have to have substantially more than a simple change of heart to buy into the current line of leftist palaver, no matter what they tell us to think on the evening news.

A lot of people, including all of the major media, are fawning over him because he’s a black man. A black man, says the traditional wisdom, will only get elected president when the fact that he’s a black man doesn’t matter. Obama, I’ll grant you, is a great deal closer to that than any of the race baiting scam artists and civil rights blackmailers that came before him. But in this case I don’t think it’s going to be enough. Contrary to what CBS news and CNN will tell you, affirmative action doesn’t apply to the office of the president. And candidates not only run against the strengths of their opponents, but they also run against the weaknesses of themselves. And although I think we could elect the right black man, I don’t think we’ll elect this one.

I think Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online was probably the first to mention the real concern we should be having. I can’t find the direct quote (sorry Jonah) but what he basically said was “what will happen to our society and the denizens of the left if their man with a mission is nominated and then loses?” What kind of verbal Jihad will the major media launch against the Republican who had the temerity to defeat the golden boy of the left? What will they say on CBS, CNN, and the today show? I can just imagine the political post mortem on the Oprah Winfrey show, and the other three shrews on “The View” burning poor Elizabeth Hasselbeck at the stake, to say nothing of what will happen on our college campuses. That’s the bigger concern.

The folks on the left like Obama because he’s young and he’s “working for a change”. So were the kids in “Lord of The Flies”. I’d love to write some more, but I have to go stock up on ammo.

Friday, January 4, 2008

- Iowa: The Media Inventing Candidates From Whole Cloth

Fred Thompson came in third in Iowa, and for a campaign that started so late, and has so much less funding than the others, finishing in the money isn’t so bad if you ask me. I still maintain that he’s got a good chance to take the nomination; and if he does, I think he’s a shoe in to win the general election. The political press might tell you different, but personally I’ve always thought that they were a little too close to the whole thing to be objective, and they tend to over-emphasize their own contribution to the process.

They tend to think your average voter has about as much on the ball as Britney Spears so it’s not only OK to tell them who to vote for, but also essential. In principle, those in the media tend to like their presidential candidates to be shallow, shiny and to have great hair. Jack Kennedy was the perfect model for the "media candidate" and nothing makes them happier than a candidate to emphasizes their importance even if they disagree with what they claim to stand for. But if you get them to speak off camera they’ll usually say that the candidates are all the same to them and it’s what the media players think that counts. “Just look what we did to Howard Dean”, they’ll say. The one thing that everyone in the media agrees on, for both the right and the left, is that no one can win without the mainstream media on their side.

The thing that they forget is, the people who make up the mainstream media are generally a fickle bunch and they travel as a herd. They aren’t all lazy and thoughtless, but it’s certainly fair to say that it's a common theme. So when one or two find a way to go off in a new direction, it can change the whole look of the landscape in a heartbeat when the rest of them follow along behind. And if just a few things happen in the next few weeks, then Fred will find himself as the boy holding the ball for the GOP, and the media will have to quit dismissing him. And the reason is that Fred seems to be everyone’s second choice. All of the candidates have strengths and weaknesses, and as the process continues it will become clear that those weaknesses will make one candidate or another totally unacceptable to someone.

Rudy Giuliani for example, is an anti-gun social liberal with a very sloppy personal life. They might take those things for granted on the upper west side, but those are big issues in the mid-west and south, and his total lack of performance in Iowa has made that abundantly clear. Mike Huckabee is a social conservative on things like guns and abortion, but is a big government populist when it comes to taxes, and that’s going to make it difficult for him to scale up from a regional player to the national stage. Ron Paul, is great on taxes, and guns, and his devoted following has been amazing at raising money. But his rigid libertarian stance continues to alienate pro-life conservatives and his view on the war on terror has been portrayed as loony, and has alienated almost everyone else. John McCain’s personal character seems to be beyond indictment, and his stance on defense is well received, but he’s also offended large swaths of the electorate with his stance on taxes, campaign finance, and immigration. (That last one will probably be the thing stamped on his political tombstone)

That leaves Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson as the “least bad choices”.

Mitt, the ex-Massachusetts governor has the polished and shrink-wrapped persona that the media tends to overemphasize in my opinion. “The people” say the media, “will vote for a pretty face and a slick presentation before they worry about substance”. And they feel that way primarily because it’s the thing that those in the media usually have going for them so why shouldn’t everyone else think those things are great too? To them, Mitt’s the bomb, not because he has good ideas, but because he has the most in common with the media talking heads. They’ve cultivated an image for him as a Republican version of Jack Kennedy. He’s handsome and well spoken, but he’s not without liabilities too. In spite of the R next to his name he’s still a recent convert to conservatism, and his “healthcare reform” plan in Tax-echusetts has been something less than a rousing success. He’s also a member of the “Church of the Latter Day Saints”, and for better or worse that alienates some people too.

But that notwithstanding, the folks that support Romney seem to do so because they believe he’ll be the political right’s version of Bill Clinton. They think that he’ll get elected because of his great personal style, and once he does, he’ll do whatever the polls tell him to do. And that’s also exactly how he’s campaigning. After a lifetime of placating northeaster liberals on social issues and guns, he’s now discovered that the opposite sides of those issues are just as important to him as any other. But it seems to me that if you support Romney, you do so because you don’t believe him, not because you do. You think he’s maybe fibbing just a little, but you think he can beat the Democrat and that’s enough.

Fred on the other hand seems to me to be the only candidate whose weaknesses have been almost entirely invented by the media. Just like with Romney, they’ve invented their own version of Fred Thompson and they simply ignore the ways that reality fails to match those preconceived notions. He finished third in Iowa, the same as Hillary Clinton by the way, and without the kind of saturating media campaign that his competitors used, and only a tiny fraction of the funding. Because his campaign is about real ideas (all of which have been made public and can be found at his website:, he’s the kind of candidate that implicitly marginalizes the contribution of the talking heads, and maximizes the importance of the actual voters. His campaign is saying that he believes Americans are smart enough to tell the difference between style and substance. He’s not going with the lowest common denominator… he’s giving us all more credit than that.

And that’s what this GOP primary seems to be coming down to for me. Romney will offer great style with a minimum of substance, and Thompson will offer great substance with a minimum of style; all the rest are unelectable nationally. In a Romney-Thompson fight I don’t know whom Britney Spears would support and frankly, I don’t care. Give me substance over style any day.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Inevitable NJ Black Bear Hunt: Part 2

There have been some comments on my Black Bear Hunt piece on several other forums that I think are worth commenting on. Someone on the website has said that Black Bears aren’t dangerous because you can simply chase them away. Another maintained that they think there is a big difference between normal bears and “nuisance bears”, and a third felt it was important to just “leave nature alone”. The anonymity of the Internet can be deceiving and all of these people might be 14 year olds. If that’s the case, then they can’t really be blamed for their stupefying and apparently willful blindness to the facts. But since it’s possible that they are really foolish adults, I thought it would serve us all to discuss some of the literal “facts of nature” surrounding the Black Bear in NJ.

Bears are like all other wild animals, they will sooner run than fight, because it involves less risk for them and costs them fewer calories. The only time they ever do any different is in when they are fighting for breeding rights, when they are defending their young, or when they think their own survival is on the line. At present, the black bears in New Jersey still have enough space to run so the number of moments when it thinks it needs to stand and fight are few. But according to the State DEP biologists, the population is growing rapidly. That means that very soon there will be many more bears. And a bear population that’s growing combined with a habitat that isn’t, means that there will be more direct contact between bears and humans. This isn’t my opinion or pro-hunting political posturing; this is simply mathematics.

For now, this is still probably fine. The animal rights crowd will continue to talk about how the bears need to be protected from people and CBS news will run occasional footage of some adorable bear cub splashing around in someone’s pool in Saddle Brook. But every autumn when their food starts to get scarce we’ll see a few more bears breaking into people’s kitchens, and hear about them being hit more often by cars. We’ll hear more stories from our friends and neighbors about how their garbage cans were destroyed or how their pets are disappearing.

And that will happen because out in nature, times will be getting tougher. More bears means more competition between them for food and space. And more competition will mean more desperation on the part of those bears whose survival used to be easy. It’s that desperation that’s going to make them more dangerous, and not just some ill mannered “nuisance bears” but all of them. With no checks on them, their population will expand to the size of their available habitat and then they will begin to encroach on “human territory” as well.

Bears don’t generally like to be around people because we too are large, potentially dangerous animals and just being near us increases their risk of survival. Most of us wouldn’t hurt them but when times are relatively easy for them the bears figure “why take that chance?” But if they are put under enough natural pressure where their survival now depends on getting just a few more calories of fat into them before winter sets in, more and more of them will think its a risk worth taking.

Did you know that your average suburban housing development has more calories per acre than a typical plot of New Jersey forestland? It’s true. This is why our Deer population is so unmanageably large in suburban areas, because the things we buy at Home Depot to make the front porch look better are the very things that deer like to eat. (Remind me to tell you the story of my post-partem wife and her reaction to the deer eating all her “just about to bloom” lilies; I’ve never been so scared in my life.) Bears are omnivores, and they will not leave those calories just lying around while they starve to death out in “nature”.

As far as they are concerned, human territory is a part of “nature” too. And a bear that has just been pushed out of its old territory by a bigger tougher bruin isn’t going to worry about whether it’s crossing some imaginary line between nature and civilization. When it sees that unprotected 15 month old in the backyard playpen, all it’s going to see is several thousand low risk calories that will be easy to catch. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country so that circumstance is absolutely going to occur. But as a mental exercise, just imagine the effect releasing 200 bears into New York’s central park would have on the local environment. Do you imagine those bears would be running from people at first glance and toughing out an existence in the sewer systems, or would it be more likely that school kids would be finding pieces of what used to be homeless people here and there?

The other issue that seems to be wildly misunderstood is the role that hunters would play in this natural eco-system. Hunters do not want to kill all the bears, quite the contrary. To all but the most simple minded this is obvious, but given the comments on, I think it bears repeating. What hunters want to do is keep the bear population at a level where there are still plenty of bears, but not so many that they are being trapped a mile from the state house in downtown Trenton. (Like they are now.) Hunters want a bear population with the sustainable population levels set by biologists for the DEP who study the bears at length, and they want the policy to be set based on science, not politics.

No animal in America that is being legally hunted has ever been wiped out. In fact, because of the careful science employed in determining hunting season lengths and locations, animal populations invariably increase after hunting is allowed. Hunting and conservation groups have brought Wild Turkeys back from virtual extinction in North America. And as their populations swelled, so did the population of the coyotes that prey on them. This is as it should be. Dozens of other efforts are currently underway (all to them funded by money from hunters) to reintroduce, elk, buffalo, and other species whose populations were depleted when hunting was about food rather than sport. In short, no group invests more and is more active in conservation efforts than hunters, despite what anti-hunter bigots would have you believe. Hunting is all about conservation. And while hunters may seem less concerned about individual bears than some other groups claim to be, they are much more concerned about the health of the bear population as a whole than any of the groups who advocate for so called “animal rights”. That’s what true conservation is really about. And the self-congratulatory “environmental groups” who claim to care for animals, really don’t.

The fact they would be reluctant to share with you is, bears don’t ever die of old age in comfortable beds surrounded by their families and cared for with government funded health care. In nature, there are only three ways that wild animals die, starvation, disease, and natural predation. (And it’s usually some combination of all three.) The animal rights groups think it’s somehow more moral to allow the animal population to swell to unsustainable levels, causing more of them to be eaten by other animals when they are too sick and weak from hunger to run away, than it is for humans to manage the population and ensure the better survival of those that remain. Oh and I misspoke; since bears are omnivores there usually is family around them when they die in the wild, but it’s because the surviving family members usually eat them.

Organized hunting doesn’t wipe an animal out; it helps the population as a whole to survive. And it ensures that the confrontations between bears and people are kept at a minimum. And that’s because a legal hunting season has another effect on a bear population. Every bear is slightly different in how it sees people. Some bears are more people averse, while others are less so. It’s the less human averse bears that would typically be killed during a hunting season, which would cause those with the stronger aversion to humans to pass that tendency on to future generations. This reduces the likelihood that the bears that remain will become “problem bears”. In effect, it’s good for the bears, and if I can be so bold as to speak for all hunters, that would be just fine with us as well.

If we let the animal rights crowd continue to set the state policy for managing bears, then bears will eventually kill at least one child in New Jersey. This isn’t speculation, its math; and is as inevitable as the sunrise. It may take a year, or it may take ten, but it’s going to happen that way. And when it happens, you people in Trenton who have been so willfully irresponsible about the whole thing will be held accountable. You had the option of acting on the science of the issue, and instead you chose to curry the political favor of the vocal but tiny animal rights minority. If it remains unchanged, then that decision will eventually cost a life, and when that happens, we’re going to make sure it costs you your political career, and your place in history as well.