Confidence Man-in-Chief

confidence man

n 1: a swindler who exploits the confidence of his victim

From David Mamet:

The Founding Fathers, far from being ideologues, were not even politicians. They were an assortment of businessmen, writers, teachers, planters; men, in short, who knew something of the world, which is to say, of Human Nature. Their struggle to draft a set of rules acceptable to each other was based on the assumption that we human beings, in the mass, are no damned good—that we are biddable, easily confused, and that we may easily be motivated by a Politician, which is to say, a huckster, mounting a soapbox and inflaming our passions.

The Constitution’s drafters did not require a wag to teach them that power corrupts: they had experienced it in the person of King George. The American secession was announced by reference to his abuses of power: “He has obstructed the administration of Justice … he has made Judges dependant on his will alone … He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws … He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass out people and to eat out their substance … imposed taxes upon us without our consent… [He has] fundamentally altered the forms of our government.”

This is a chillingly familiar set of grievances; and its recrudescence was foreseen by the Founders. They realized that King George was not an individual case, but the inevitable outcome of unfettered power; that any person or group with the power to tax, to form laws, and to enforce them by arms will default to dictatorship, absent the constant unflagging scrutiny of the governed, and their severe untempered insistence upon compliance with law.

The Founders recognized that Government is quite literally a necessary evil, that there must be opposition, between its various branches, and between political parties, for these are the only ways to temper the individual’s greed for power and the electorates’ desires for peace by submission to coercion or blandishment.

Healthy government, as that based upon our Constitution, is strife. It awakens anxiety, passion, fervor, and, indeed, hatred and chicanery, both in pursuit of private gain and of public good. Those who promise to relieve us of the burden through their personal or ideological excellence, those who claim to hold the Magic Beans, are simply confidence men. Their emergence is inevitable, and our individual opposition to and rejection of them, as they emerge, must be blunt and sure; if they are arrogant, willful, duplicitous, or simply wrong, they must be replaced, else they will consolidate power, and use the treasury to buy votes, and deprive us of our liberties. It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government.

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Fundamentally Transforming America

Of all the countries in the world, Barack Obama sees the United States as one in need of fundamental transformation. Truly warped yet completely expected coming from such a devout Leftist.

From Charles Krauthammer:

The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of the left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat was apparently still oblivious. Until Monday’s inaugural address, that is.

Where has everyone been these four years? The only surprise is that Obama chose his second inaugural, generally an occasion for “malice toward none” ecumenism, to unveil so uncompromising a left-liberal manifesto.

But the substance was no surprise. After all, Obama had unveiled his transformational agenda in his first address to Congress, four years ago (Feb. 24, 2009). It was, I wrote at the time, “the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.”

Nor was it mere talk. Obama went on to essentially nationalize health care, 18 percent of the U.S. economy — after passing an $833 billion stimulus that precipitated an unprecedented expansion of government spending. By the White House’s own reckoning, Washington now spends 24 percent of GDP, fully one-fifth higher than the postwar norm of 20 percent.

Obama’s ambitions were derailed by the 2010 midterm shellacking that cost him the House. But now that he’s won again, the revolution is back, as announced in Monday’s inaugural address.

It was a paean to big government. At its heart was Obama’s pledge to (1) defend unyieldingly the 20th-century welfare state and (2) expand it unrelentingly for the 21st.

The first part of that agenda — clinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today’s radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up the rest of the budget.

As for the second part — enlargement — Obama had already begun that in his first term with Obamacare. Monday’s inaugural address reinstated yet another grand Obama project — healing the planet. It promised a state-created green-energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s regulatory apparatus systematically squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).

The playbook is well known. As Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the planet.

Monday’s address also served to disabuse the fantasists of any Obama interest in fiscal reform or debt reduction. This speech was spectacularly devoid of any acknowledgment of the central threat to the postindustrial democracies (as already seen in Europe) — the crisis of an increasingly insolvent entitlement state.

On the contrary. Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. But by that he means only government, not the myriad of voluntary associations — religious, cultural, charitable, artistic, advocacy, ad infinitum — that are the glory of the American system.

For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only in the shadow of Leviathan. Put another way, this speech is the perfect homily for the marriage of Julia — the Obama campaign’s atomized citizen, coddled from cradle to grave — and the state.

In the eye of history, Obama’s second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan’s first. On Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan had proclaimed: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And then succeeded in bending the national consensus to his ideology — as confirmed 15 years later when the next Democratic president declared “The era of big government is over.” So said Bill Clinton, who then proceeded to abolish welfare.

Obama is no Clinton. He doesn’t abolish entitlements; he preserves the old ones and creates new ones in pursuit of a vision of a more just social order where fighting inequality and leveling social differences are the great task of government.

Obama said in 2008 that Reagan “changed the trajectory of America” in a way that Clinton did not. He meant that Reagan had transformed the political zeitgeist, while Clinton accepted and thus validated the new Reaganite norm.

Not Obama. His mission is to redeem and resurrect the 50-year pre-Reagan liberal ascendancy. Accordingly, his second inaugural address, ideologically unapologetic and aggressive, is his historical marker, his self-proclamation as the Reagan of the left. If he succeeds in these next four years, he will have earned the title.

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The Wisdom of Fools

From Charles C. W. Cooke:

Some ugly news out of Pennsylvania yesterday, in which state a five-year-old girl was suspended from school for talking about a bubble gun that she had left at home, a reference that was interpreted by the school as a “terrorist threat.” Per ABC:

Her weapon of choice? A small, Hello Kitty automatic bubble blower.

The kindergartner, who attends Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Pennsylvania, caught administrators’ attention after suggesting she and a classmate should shoot each other with bubbles.

“I think people know how harmless a bubble is. It doesn’t hurt,” said Robin Ficker, an attorney for the girl’s family. According to Ficker, the girl, whose identity has not been released, didn’t even have the bubble gun toy with her at school.

The kindergartner was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation during her 10-day suspension, which was later reduced to two days. The evaluation deemed the girl normal and not a threat to others, Ficker said.

The suspension comes one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which has created a heightened sense of alert at schools across the country.

Have we all run mad? It certainly looks that way. Sandy Hook has not just created a “heightened sense of alert,” but has also ushered in a lot of hysterical nonsense and mawkish self-indulgence. Children so much as pointing their fingers at one another are being treated as criminals. In Maryland, CBS reports:

There’s controversy at a Talbot County school after two 6-year-old boys were suspended while playing cops and robbers during recess and using their fingers to make an imaginary gun.

“It’s ridiculous,” said parent Julia Merchant.

This is the second time a Maryland child has been suspended for such play. Earlier this month, 6-year-old Rodney Lynch was suspended from his Montgomery County school after pretending to fire an imaginary gun more than once.

“Just pointing your fingers like this and then she did the pow sound and I just went like that and then I got sent to the office again,” Lynch said.

The school reversed its decision after Rodney’s parents appealed.

Amid all the asinine calls to “do something for the children,” it would be nice if a few adults took the reins. What happened at Sandy Hook was unspeakably awful, but it is no reason for us to turn ourselves into blithering fools. Or is it? New York’s State Assembly isn’t so sure. Last week, it rushed through an astonishingly rash piece of legislation that, among other things, has put mental-health professionals in a tough spot, called into question the right of cops to carry their duty weapons, and almost certainly violated the Constitution as defined in D.C. v. Heller. Not to be outdone, the president of the United States stood in front of the world’s cameras and read out letters written by children, praising their great wisdom and making them the centerpiece of his push for new legislation. He was serious.

It is not beyond the wit of man to recognize that children’s letters could be put to propaganda use in support of almost any policy position you can imagine. How about a letter from a child that said, “Dear Mr. President. New York State has just made my Daddy’s gun illegal. We live in an area with a lot of bad men. I am really scared at night. Please don’t take away Daddy’s gun”? Or: “Dear Mr. President, I find it really gross when men kiss each other. I don’t like seeing it because it is icky. Please make it illegal, Mr. President. Thank you.” Or, perhaps: “I love everyone in the world, Mr. President. Uncle James tells me that in Pakistan little girls of my age are being killed by flying death robots. Uncle James says that you have the power to stop it. Please stop little girls in Pakistan being killed by flying death robots Mr. President!” And so on and so forth. As Brendan O’Neill pointed out in the Telegraph,

The use of children to front a potentially big overhaul of Americans’ constitutional rights is really about silencing dissent, exploiting the wide-eyed innocence of worried children to try to shame those adults who still dare to say: “But what about my constitutional rights?” Indeed, it is normally only the most censorious, authoritarian regimes or groups that use children to front or follow through political campaigns. Who can forget the Child Spies in George Orwell’s 1984, those “ungovernable little savages” whose simplistic moralism made them the perfect monitors of adult behaviour? Today, all sorts of fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-masses campaigns – from Green efforts to guilt-trip us over our carbon use to Mary Whitehouse-style demands to censor wicked art – exploit or evoke children to get their message across. And that message is: “It doesn’t matter what you adults believe or want or desire – the feelings of children are way more important.”

That America has not rejected this trick outright and demanded to be treated with a little more respect by its employees in the government is not a good sign. Likewise, that the teachers responsible for suspending or punishing children for pointing imaginary guns at each other or for talking about Hello Kitty bubble blowers have not resigned or been fired in disgrace is an indication that our common sense is being overridden by our emotions. (“If it saves just one teacher . . .”). After all, if the children are so wise, then perhaps they should be running the schools instead. Raise your hand if you agree . . .

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Unalienable

While listening to people on radio discuss the subject of gun control, I have heard more than a few of them say that the 2nd Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms. It does no such thing.

As Charles C. W. Cooke wrote:

American liberties, including the right to bear arms, pre-exist the federal government, and are defined and protected in the same document from which the state derives its authority and its structure. In a free republic, the people cannot be disarmed by the government, for they are its employers, and they did not give up their individual rights when they consented to its creation. There is no clause in our charters of liberty that allows for the people to be deprived of their freedom if and when a few individuals abuse theirs.

The 2nd Amendment does not give us the right to keep and bear arms. It merely makes explicit the fact that the government does not have the power to infringe on that already existing right.

More Guns, Fewer Murders

From John R. Lott, Jr.:

In the wake of the recent shootings, the liberal media have concluded we need more gun control. President Obama just signed 23 executive actions related to guns, and promises to do more later.

To them the logic seems obvious, that more guns mean more deaths, suicides, and accidents.

And the U.S. supposedly has very high murder rates, they argue, because our nation is teeming with guns. So with stricter gun control, we would suffer fewer murders and less violence.

As Charles Blow recently claimed in the New York Times: “America has the highest gun homicide rate, the highest number of guns per capita …”

Or as the New York Times earlier this month put forward the notion: “Generally, if you live in a civilized society, more guns mean more death.” The claim is all over the news from CNN to various “Fact Check” articles.

It would be nice if things were that simple. The evidence — and there is plenty of it — points to the very opposite, that cutting access to guns mainly disarms law-abiding citizens, making criminals’ lives easier. Guns let potential victims defend themselves when the police aren’t there.

First, let’s just be clear that lots of nations, including “civilized” ones, suffer from both higher overall murder and gun murder rates. Indeed, we are very far from the top.

In 2011, the U.S. murder rate was 4.7 per 100,000 people, the gun murder rate was 3.1.

Much of Eastern Europe; most of Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa; all but one South American nation; and all of Central America and Mexico suffer even higher murder rates than we do. For example, despite very strict gun control, Russia’s and Brazil’s homicide rates over the last decade averaged about four to five times higher than ours.

Indeed, if you are going to look across all nations and not just a select few, what you find is that the nations with the strictest gun control tend to have higher murder rates.

The New York Times and others have made much from comparing some arbitrarily defined group of “civilized” nations.

But even with the very questionable data on gun ownership that the Times prefers to use from the Small Arms Survey, the results do not imply the lesson that gun control advocates think they do for the U.S.

Gun ownership and annual homicide rates for developed countries (excluding U.S.)

Gun ownership and annual homicide rates for developed countries (excluding U.S.)

If you graph (see above) their measure of gun ownership with homicide rates, higher gun ownership means fewer deaths.

A similar pattern holds for all countries as well.

How is this possible?

Many liberals conveniently focus on a few low-murder-rate countries such as England.

Even worse, they ignore that the countries they idolize enjoyed even lower murder rates before they banned guns.

The seemingly most obvious way to stop criminals from getting guns is simply to ban them.

So what happened in the countries that banned either handguns or all guns?

It did not go well: In every single place that we have data for, murder rates went up. Chicago and D.C. provided spectacular failures within the U.S.

But this has been true worldwide. The U.K., Ireland and Jamaica, despite being island nations that can’t blame a neighbor for supplying guns, have suffered more murders after gun control was passed.

So what has happened when Americans have been allowed access to guns? Consider a simple fact. Concealed handgun permits and gun sales have been soaring over the last four years, as regular people have worried that Obama would push through gun control. Yet, murders and violent crime have been falling.

That isn’t just a recent phenomenon. If you look at the U.S. over the last few decades, even after accounting for other factors, the states that have had the biggest increases in concealed handgun permits and gun ownership have seen the biggest drops in murder and violent crime rates.

Gun control just does not work. Indeed, it makes things worse.

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Doing Good vs. Feeling Good

From John R. Lott, Jr.:

Warning about “weapons designed for the theater of war,” President Obama on Wednesday called for immediate action on a new Federal Assault Weapons Ban. He said that “more of our fellow Americans might still be alive” if the original assault weapons ban, passed in 1994, had not expired in 2004. Last month, in the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) promised to introduce an updated version of the ban. She too warned of the threat posed by “military weapons.”

After the nightmare of Newtown, their concern is understandable. Yet despite being at the center of the gun-control debate for decades, neither President Obama nor Ms. Feinstein (the author of the 1994 legislation) seems to understand the leading research on the effects of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. In addition, they continue to mislabel the weapons they seek to ban.

Ms. Feinstein points to two studies by criminology professors Chris Koper and Jeff Roth for the National Institute of Justice to back up her contention that the ban reduced crime. She claims that their first study in 1997 showed that the ban decreased “total gun murders.” In fact, the authors wrote: “the evidence is not strong enough for us to conclude that there was any meaningful effect (i.e., that the effect was different from zero).”

Messrs. Koper and Roth suggested that after the ban had been in effect for more years it might be possible to find a benefit. Seven years later, in 2004, they published a follow-up study for the National Institute of Justice with fellow criminologist Dan Woods that concluded, “we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”

Moreover, none of the weapons banned under the 1994 legislation or the updated version are “military” weapons. The killer in Newtown used a Bushmaster .223. This weapon bears a cosmetic resemblance to the M-16, which has been used by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War. The call has frequently been made that there is “no reason” for such “military-style weapons” to be available to civilians.

Yes, the Bushmaster and the AK-47 are “military-style weapons.” But the key word is “style”—they are similar to military guns in their cosmetics, not in the way they operate. The guns covered by the original were not the fully automatic machine guns used by the military, but semiautomatic versions of those guns.

The civilian version of the Bushmaster uses essentially the same sorts of bullets as small game-hunting rifles, fires at the same rapidity (one bullet per pull of the trigger), and does the same damage. The civilian version of the AK-47 is similar, though it fires a much larger bullet—.30 inches in diameter, as opposed to the .223 inch rounds used by the Bushmaster. No self-respecting military in the world would use the civilian version of these guns.

A common question is: “Why do people need a semiautomatic Bushmaster to go out and kill deer?” The answer is simple: It is a hunting rifle. It has just been made to look like a military weapon.

But the point isn’t to help hunters. Semiautomatic weapons also protect people and save lives. Single-shot rifles that require you to physically reload the gun may not do people a lot of good when they are facing multiple criminals or when their first shot misses or fails to stop an attacker.

Since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in September 2004, murder and overall violent-crime rates have fallen. In 2003, the last full year before the law expired, the U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report. By 2011, the murder rate fell to 4.7 per 100,000 people. One should also bear in mind that just 2.6% of all murders are committed using any type of rifle.

The large-capacity ammunition magazines used by some of these killers are also misunderstood. The common perception that so-called “assault weapons” can hold larger magazines than hunting rifles is simply wrong. Any gun that can hold a magazine can hold one of any size. That is true for handguns as well as rifles. A magazine, which is basically a metal box with a spring, is trivially easy to make and virtually impossible to stop criminals from obtaining. The 1994 legislation banned magazines holding more than 10 bullets yet had no effect on crime rates.

Ms. Feinstein’s new proposal also calls for gun registration, and the reasoning is straightforward: If a gun has been left at a crime scene and it was registered to the person who committed the crime, the registry will link the crime gun back to the criminal.

Nice logic, but in reality it hardly ever works that way. Guns are very rarely left behind at a crime scene. When they are, they’re usually stolen or unregistered. Criminals are not stupid enough to leave behind guns that are registered to them. Even in the few cases where registered guns are left at crime scenes, it is usually because the criminal has been seriously injured or killed, so these crimes would have been solved even without registration.

Canada recently got rid of its costly “long-gun” registry for rifles in part because the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Chiefs of Police could not provide a single example in which tracing was of more than peripheral importance in solving a gun murder.

If we finally want to deal seriously with multiple-victim public shootings, it’s time that we acknowledge a common feature of these attacks: With just a single exception, the attack in Tucson last year, every public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has occurred in a place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms. Had some citizens been armed, they might have been able to stop the killings before the police got to the scene. In the Newtown attack, it took police 20 minutes to arrive at the school after the first calls for help.

The Bushmaster, like any gun, is indeed very dangerous, but it is not a weapon “designed for the theater of war.” Banning assault weapons will not make Americans safer.

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Irresponsible and Unpatriotic

From VDH:

As a senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama said that he detested budget deficits. In 2006, when the aggregate national debt was almost $8 trillion less than it is today, he blasted George W. Bush’s chronic borrowing and refused to vote for upping the debt ceiling: “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’”

In 2008, Obama further blasted Bush’s continued Keynesian borrowing: “The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children . . . so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.”

Strong words. But so worried was Obama about the debt that just two weeks after he took office, he promised still more: “And that’s why today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office. I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay.”

In his first term, Obama has added more than $5 trillion to the national debt, borrowing more in four years than the “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic” Bush did in eight. In fact, Obama is on schedule to add more total debt by the end of his two terms than all prior presidents combined. What happened to worries about leaving our children with a “debt they cannot repay”? And where did all that borrowed money go, given that the war in Iraq has been over for more than a year, and we are winding down in Afghanistan?

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