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The NRA’s Response To Newtown Misses The Mark

Posted December 21, 2012 By Steve

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

Police at riot
I have to admit to being disappointed. After Newtown, when those who run the NRA had no public statement, I was unsure of the reason. Was it that they believed that it would be politically disadvantageous for them to say anything for a while? Did they believe that it would be in their interest to wait to get a better sense of any change in public opinion in the wake of the massacre? Did they (unlike gun control advocates) actually have sufficient decorum to wait until after all of the funerals to politicize the tragedy?

But now we’ve learned that the real reason was none of these things. Instead, their response was delayed so long because, apparently, they have been working around the clock to come up with the most stupid and short-sighted possible response to the shootings. Put simply, for them to suggest that it’s actually necessary or wise to have an armed policeman in every school in America is so ridiculous if I hadn’t read it on their own web site I wouldn’t have believed they could say something that obtuse.

Now I understand the basic idea behind their proposal, that places where good guys don’t have guns, only bad guys will have them. And with that much I can agree. But as I see it, there are three really glaring flaws in any plan to station armed police in every public school in America.

First, it accepts at face value the hysterical notion that children are in unreasonable danger when they go to school. Events like Newtown and Columbine are horrific, but they’re also incredibly rare. I have four kids in public schools in the U.S., and I am no more concerned that they’ll be killed at school than I am if they go to the mall, or a museum, or any other public place. I realize that there is always a chance that something terrible could happen, and I don’t mean to minimize the sorrow of parents who have lost children to violence. But there is no way to keep kids completely safe, and there comes a point when one has already taken all reasonable precautions.

Second, this is the sort of proposal that addresses the symptom of the disease rather than the root cause. By the time someone gets to the point where they’re shooting innocent kids in a school, to blame the gun is like blaming a pencil because the one holding it never learned how to spell properly. American culture doesn’t take mental illness seriously enough, in particular when it focuses on liberally dispensing psychotropic drugs that destabilize people as often as help them. Americans’ lazy relationship with news media isn’t helpful either, because the sort of attention these incidents get serves only to glorify those who commit these atrocities.

Finally, the NRA’s plan shows that their leaders may care about private gun ownership, but have no concern for what it will take to slow the continuing decline of American freedom. The key to having kids grow up thinking of themselves as the heirs to a free society is not to have them spend the majority of their waking hours in the company of armed police. The history of liberty’s decline is the history of the use of crises as an excuse to increase government control over people’s lives, so the suggestion that we acclimate future generations to the constant presence of armed government officials is one that might be better expected from an organization that promotes tyranny than liberty.

It’s important to remember that no matter what its detractors say, the NRA doesn’t speak for all gun owners nor for those like me who don’t own a gun but believe the government has no legitimate role to play in an individual’s right to choose whether or not to do so. With this poorly considered proposal, that’s certainly the case. There’s no way to ensure perfect safety for kids, and armed cops in schools is no exception. But even on an individual basis we can renew our commitment to valuing life, accentuate positivity in ourselves, and promote an environment of concern for one another. Passing on those sorts of cultural changes on to future generations, not gun control or armed cops in schools, is the best way to respond to this tragedy.

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All The Views They See Fit To Print

Posted March 15, 2011 By Steve

Recently there was a tragic bus crash here on the East Coast. A tour bus taking a bunch of tourists from the casinos of Atlantic City, N.J. to New York City went through a guardrail and crashed into a signpost. Fifteen people died as a result, a great tragedy.

But the coverage from the New York Times leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than simply report the news, they turn a seemingly isolated incident into a call for more regulation. It’s sad that those people died in the crash, but one crash shouldn’t be enough to prompt an expansion of government, particularly at the federal level. It seems that some people believe that with enough regulation, we can live in a world of perfect safety without any drawbacks.

But sadly, that’s not the case. And in the absence of that, we should make reasonable judgments about risk management rather than simply seeing every possible risk as unacceptable. For example, what would have been helpful in this article would have been a statistic like the number of passenger deaths per million miles traveled on these buses, or something similar that compares that mode of travel with people getting places in their own cars or on airplanes. Without that sort of information, it’s impossible to know what sort of reaction is warranted.

But it didn’t help that the piece was laced with opinion and bias. For example: “Prospective drivers must only obtain a commercial driver’s license, issued at the state level — essentially granting bus companies the freedom to hire whomever they choose.” What’s wrong with that? It’s hard to get a CDL, it’s not like they give them out as the toy surprise in boxes of Cracker Jacks. And they say that companies can hire whomever they choose like it’s a bad thing. Who better to choose the drivers than the companies that are assuming the liability? Would the New York Times prefer that bus driver jobs be awarded by lottery instead? Or perhaps be assigned by the Department of Bus Driver Job Allocation?

I also wasn’t impressed with this: “The driver of the bus that crashed, Ophadell Williams, was arrested in 2003 for driving with a suspended license and served two years in prison for manslaughter stemming from a 1990 episode in which a man was killed during an argument.” What’s the point of including this? Are they suggesting that anyone who’s ever done time should be forever unemployable afterward? That he’d once had a suspended license would seem to be more relevant, except that driver’s licenses can be suspended for all sorts of irrelevant non-vehicular reasons nowadays, like failure to pay child support, so even that isn’t sufficiently informative. Without more information about what Williams’s criminal record has to do with his ability to drive a bus, this comes across simply as trying to paint him as a villain.

Basically, this article could have been better if there had been fewer opinions and more facts. But commentary doesn’t require any of that tedious research, and being less expensive to produce, I suppose that’s all we can expect now in the twilight of journalism.

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I just sent the following letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Dear Sir or Madam,

I’m not sure this is the right place to send this, but it wasn’t clear how to contact the people who run the Wired Campus section of your site directly, so I thought I’d try here since this is the only email address that refers to suggestions.

My suggestion is to find the people who added that constantly updating Twitter feed to every page in Wired Campus, drag them out back, and shoot them dead. It is nearly impossible to read an article when something else on the page is constantly distracting the reader with an unnecessary update. It is a usability nightmare — the triumph of “Can we do it?” over “Should we?”

If you’re not willing to resort to homicide, however justifiable, then if nothing else, please, please, please, at least get rid of it, or failing that make it one-click easy to shut off so that readers can actually absorb the content they came to your site to find.

Thanks,

Steve Foerster

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Taxes And Generosity

Posted December 17, 2010 By Steve

“Entitlement is the antithesis of gratitude.” — Donald A. Palmer



When I’m on the exercise bike at the gym, I have three options. I can watch ESPN, in which I have no interest. I can watch the local ABC affiliate, in which I usually have no interest. Or I can watch CNN. I’m not really interested in that either, but it’s the least dull of the three, and it’s better to watch that than to think constantly about how hard I’m cycling.

One of the problems I have with CNN is that it reminds me how far journalistic standards have fallen. When a channel has “news” as its middle name, it ought to be in the business of news, not entertainment. I realize this is a quaint notion nowadays, but if it makes me a dinosaur to think that newscasters shouldn’t make exaggerated facial expressions to tell me what their opinion of an already slanted news story is, then I guess I’m a velociraptor. (Yes, Brooke Baldwin, I’m talking to you.)

Anyway, one of the things I’ve noticed about not just CNN but the rest of the meanstream media is the rhetoric they’re using when it comes to the deal on tax rates that Obama has made with Congressional Republicans. A few points:

  • What we’re talking about here is not a tax cut. I realize that because of the machinations of legislation that this is a continuation of a supposedly temporary tax cut from the early part of the Bush administration. But seriously, when tax rates have been the same for eight years now, then if they do go up, whether from legislative action or inaction, then that’s a tax increase, pure and simple.
  • Not raising personal income tax on those who make more than a quarter of a million dollars per year is not a “giveaway”, and it’s not “generous”. It’s taxpayers, not the state, who are giving something away; it’s taxpayers who are “generous” here. Anyone using this sort of rhetoric is demonstrating not only that they feel entitled to the wealth of others, but that those others should feel grateful for whatever they’re allowed to keep. Now, if you think that the wealthy, the middle class, or the poor should fork over a significant chunk of their earnings to the state for some sort of purpose, then it’s not like you don’t have a lot of company, but at least be intellectually honest about what you’re saying.
  • It seems that a common objection to this failure to raise taxes on the wealthy is that when they keep most of their money they don’t spend it all to boost the economy. I’ve heard repeatedly that tax cuts for middle income and poor people are better because those people will spend it all. Just because someone is well off doesn’t mean their bank account or paycheck should be thought of as a tool for monetary policy. It’s their money, not the state’s.
  • All this tax talk has focused solely on the personal income tax. Those who want to raise taxes on the wealthy say that supply side economists are wrong, because the rate at the highest bracket for personal income tax doesn’t really have very much impact on creating jobs and so forth. And that’s probably true. But the corporate income tax rate has enormous impact on that, and so far no one’s talking about that, even though Japan’s recent corporate income tax cut leaves the U.S. with the highest corporate income tax in the developed world. That’s especially stupid in that it would likely be revenue neutral to eliminate it completely, since the revenue would likely be made up by increased collection of personal income tax from those who would be able to get jobs as a result.

So if you happen to drop by my gym and see me frowning on the exercise bike, don’t worry, it’s not that I hate working out. It’s just continued dismay at how far those who treasure freedom have to go in this particular war of ideas.

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I’m on BBC Caribbean!

Posted June 27, 2007 By Steve
BBC Caribbean's Debbie RansomeI often read BBC Caribbean, and a few days ago I saw that they had a Have Your Say about the role the diaspora can play in helping countries back home. I made a brief comment, saying, “It would be exciting to see distance learning initiatives that match those in the diaspora who have become well educated with students back home.” I make brief comments online in various places all the time and don’t really think much about them after that. No big deal.

So the next day, my phone rungs, and Caller ID helpfully informs me that it’s from an “Unknown ID“. Must be some bill collector, I think, and proceed to ignore it. But then I think, hmm, I don’t actually owe anyone for a change, so it can’t be a bill collector. Maybe an international call? I think I’ll answer!

I picked up at the last second, and suddenly I’m speaking with Debbie Ransome (pictured) from BBC Caribbean. She wants to speak about my thoughts on the role of the Caribbean diaspora for a piece she’s doing for their Caribbean Magazine radio program. Now, this was a fascinating thing to be as I’m not exactly part of the Caribbean diaspora, being American and all that, but it’s not like I was going to say no, right?

So it aired yesterday. Here’s an mp3 of an edited recording of my segment. It’s a good thing that she used the bit about education and not the follow up questions she asked me about financial and electoral matters, as I think on education I sound reasonably coherent.

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