Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Losing economic freedom, and the prospect of women in combat

Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Chile, Mauritius, and Denmark all beat the United States in the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom. The U.S., part of a group of countries termed "mostly free," scored 76.0 out of 100, dropping .3 from last year, compared with 89.3 for Hong Kong. The world average score of 59.6 is only .1 above the 2012 average. All free economies averaged 84.5, well above the U.S. ranking.

The Index is produced by The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation, and is based on Adam Smith's theory expressed in The Wealth of Nations in 1776. It covers 10 freedoms scored from 1 to 100, from property rights to entrepreneurship, for 185 countries, and has been published since 1995.

Economic freedom is defined as "the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself." That definition applies less to the U.S. each year.

The U.S. has lost economic freedom for five consecutive years and suffered losses in the categories of monetary freedom, business freedom, labor freedom, and fiscal freedom. The U.S. did post an increase in one category, however: government spending, in which it scored lowest of the ten categories.

The poor U.S. position, the lowest Index score since 2000, is due to rapid expansion of federal policies, which have encroached on the states' ability to control their own economic decisions. The authors specifically mentioned the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial bill as having strong negative influences on economic freedom. They also noted that national spending rose to over 25 percent of GDP in 2010, that public debt passed 100 percent of GDP in 2011, and that budget deficits have exceeded $1 trillion each year since 2009.

"More than three years after the end of the recession in June 2009, the U.S. continues to suffer from policy choices that have led to the slowest recovery in 70 years," the authors wrote. "Businesses remain in a holding pattern, and unemployment is close to 8 percent."

Until government stops trying to regulate nearly every facet of life, its tinkering will continue to slow the economy and prolong suffering, and we will continue to fall in the Index of Economic Freedom.

* * * * * * *

The decision to put women in up-front combat roles is troubling, to say the least, perhaps more so to those of us who grew up and served in times when women played important roles in the military, but were not directly involved in combat, or even close to combat.

Fortunately, only a relative few females have been injured and killed in recent military actions, but if this decision stands those numbers will grow, and that prospect is a quite traumatic one for many Americans, and completely unacceptable for many others.

The critical factor in determining whether any group or individual serves in a combat situation is whether they are up to the daunting challenges that exist. Requirements for who fills combat roles must be maintained at levels that guarantee that every person in a combat role is up to it, man, woman, gay, straight or whatever.

There are also practical considerations when males and females are in combat situations in close proximity. Troops are often in sustained operations for extended periods, and living conditions offer no privacy for personal hygiene functions or sleeping. Finding ways to provide needed privacy during high stress and dangerous operations may very well put troops at greater risk. That is not acceptable.

A convincing argument against this is that the decision was made for the wrong reasons: it was driven by political and social considerations, not military need, according to Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, US Army (Ret.), who served for 36 years as an original member of the Delta Force and a Green Berets commander.

Some women believe that their chances of career advancement within the military suffer from being excluded from ground combat positions. And predictably, the American Civil Liberties Union, which frequently takes positions that make no sense in the practical world, agrees and has filed a lawsuit on their behalf.

The safety of our military personnel must not be put at risk in return for achieving some politically correct sense of fairness or even to allow female military personnel access to the career advantages that are available to males, as unfair as that may be. Fairness and equality sometimes must take a back seat.

Despite the strong desires of many Americans, men and women are by nature different biological creatures and distinctly not equal in important ways, one of which is that men are better suited to military combat than women. We shouldnt fool with Mother Nature.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Passing more laws and restrictions to control lawful gun owners

There are of people who are confused about our country’s founding principles, quite a few of whom are in positions to influence and dictate to others.

Jesse Jackson proposes to hold gun manufacturers responsible for what anyone who buys, borrows or steals their products might do with them. He believes that "these assault weapons can only kill people and in fact are threats to national security.”

Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, who proposed what he called the nation's toughest gun ban, does not know what the 2nd Amendment is all about. "You don't need 10 bullets to kill a deer," he howled, at a recent appearance. Gov. Cuomo seems to think the Founding Fathers fought and died to guarantee our right to bear arms so we can hunt and shoot targets. A shocking number of Americans share this fallacy.

The NRA produced a TV spot pointing out that while President Obama's children attend a school protected by armed guards, the president does not support that same protection for other children. White House spokesman Jay Carney condemned the NRA for using the president's children in pursuit of their agenda, a willful distortion of what the NRA did, which was merely alluding to the security issue.

However, only hours later Mr. Obama festooned himself with children as he announced measures and proposed new laws to restrict the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans in reaction to the mass killing of students and staff in Sandy Hook, Conn.

Prior to Mr. Obama's enacting increased background checks, privacy intrusions, etc., Vice President Joe Biden in a meeting with gun-rights organizations said that "we simply don’t have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately,” but his task force then recommended that Congress pass additional laws for the government to enforce.

The president said on the campaign trail in 2008, "I will not take your shotgun away.  I will not take your rifle away.  I will not take your hand gun away." This statement, along with other statements and actions, illustrates his confused notion of how the U.S. government is designed. He is only the President of the United States, not its emperor, and there are two other branches of government that are co-equal with the Executive branch. He also seems not to realize that the American people pay him to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," not alter it to his liking.

In addition to guaranteeing Americans a broad range of personal rights, such as free expression and to own weapons sufficient to ward off tyrants and thugs, the Founders established a system of checks and balances to prevent any of the three co-equal branches of government from gaining too much power. You would expect someone claiming to have been a constitutional law professor to understand this.

The tragic murders of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook school has proved to be too tempting a morsel for the president and his fellow 2nd Amendment enemies to resist. Rahm Emanuel's "Chicago crisis rule" still holds: the Sandy Hook crisis has not been wasted.

The first information reported about the incident was that an "assault weapon" was used at Sandy Hook, and that was enough to launch a new fusillade of gun control rhetoric and proposed measures to end such violence once and for all. However, more than a month after the horrific shooting conflicting information about whether an "assault weapon" was even used at Sandy Hook has finally leaked out. NBC News' Pete Williams reported that, in fact, four handguns were found in the school, and the only "assault weapon" anywhere around was found in the trunk of a car. And what about rumors of a second person arrested there?

What actually happened at Sandy Hook? We don't really know. Reporting of the incident by an incurious media has greatly helped the emotional reaction to the shooting overpower sober and rational analysis, and the mania to ban "assault weapons" has been reborn.

It's easy to blame weapons and move on, believing the problem is solved. But the easiest solution is often wrong, which is the case where mass murders are concerned. The problem with focusing on "assault weapons," even if one was used in these horrible incidents, is that it ignores the true problem: what motivated some nut-job to kill lots of people?

The one thing common to all mass killings -- shootings, bombings or whatever -- is one or more persons filled with evil intent or who is/are mentally unstable, or both. "Assault weapons," or rocket launchers, or M1 Abrams tanks in the hands of 99.9 percent of Americans would result in zero deaths. You do not increase the security of the people by restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Our forefathers paid too high a price to guarantee our personal liberty to sacrifice some of it in a vain attempt to fix a problem that is not caused by the people having too much liberty.

Once lost, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to regain.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

US experiences warmest year in the history of recorded temperatures

"It's official: 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States,” according to a statement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as reported by Scientific American.

"The average temperature in the lower 48 states reached 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, shattering the previous record set in 1998 by a full degree," the story continued, noting that government temperature records go back only to 1895.

NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch explained that "Climate change has had a role in this," cautioning that it is still hard for scientists to know how much of this year's warmer weather was caused by natural variability and how much was caused by man-made climate change.

The obvious question is, "how does the increased temperature in the US extrapolate to Earth's global temperature?" Surprisingly, it doesn't.

According to the UK Daily Mail, the world stopped getting warmer almost 16 years ago, despite the US experience in 2012. From the beginning of 1997 until August of last year there was no discernible rise in aggregate global temperatures.

"This means that the ‘plateau’ or ‘pause’ in global warming has now lasted for about the same time as the previous period when temperatures rose, 1980 to 1996. Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for about 40 years," the British publication noted.

The new data from the British Met Office was compiled from more than 3,000 measuring points on land and sea, showing that global warming has stalled. Met officials say that by 2017, temperatures will not have risen significantly for nearly 20 years, and admit that previous forecasts were inaccurate. "That the global temperature standstill could continue to at least 2017 would mean a 20-year period of no statistically significant change in global temperatures," according to Dr. David Whitehouse, science adviser to the Global Warming Policy Foundation. "Such a period of no increase will pose fundamental problems for climate models. If the latest Met Office prediction is correct, then it will prove to be a lesson in humility" for supporters of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory.

Predictably, not everyone has accepted this news. Dr. Richard Allan of the University of Reading said: "Global warming is not 'at a standstill,' but does seem to have slowed down since 2000, in comparison to the rapid warming of the world since the 1970s." And Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, commented that 15 or 16 years is too short a period from which to draw conclusions.

However, supporting the view of skeptics of the AGW theory was Professor Judith Curry, the head of the climate science department at Georgia Tech, who said it was clear that the computer models used to predict future warming were "deeply flawed."

Along that same line of thinking is this from "Antarctic sea ice set another record this past week, with the most amount of ice ever recorded on day 256 of the calendar year. ... The mainstream media frequently publish stories focusing on ice loss in these two areas [West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula], yet the media stories rarely if ever mention that ice is accumulating over the larger area of East Antarctica and that the continent as a whole is gaining snow and ice mass."

You may have heard or read that polar bear populations are threatened by ice loss, but as the Forbes report showed, that is not the case in the Antarctic, and perhaps not in the Arctic, either. While environmentalists and animal rights advocates believe the polar bear is threatened, Alaska is fighting to keep them off the endangered species list, arguing that populations are "at an all-time high."

More bad news for the AGW faction comes from German researchers using tree ring data that is a key indicator of past climate. The study suggests Britain experienced a lengthy period of hotter summers than today as far back as 2,000 years ago.

The Earth has experienced warming and cooling periods throughout its history, and is currently experiencing a broad period of warming. It has not been satisfactorily proved that human activities have a significant impact on the global climate, and these new inconvenient truths support the position of skeptics who doubt the impact of human activity on the Earth's environment.

The Daily Mail article labels the data trumpeted by global warming advocates "flawed science," and explains that it has had a substantial negative effect on energy bills. It says that in response to the threat of manmade warming, subsidies paid to spur the renewable energy industry will cause UK households to see an increase in energy bills, and it predicts continuing increases.

In the US the Obama administration's war on coal has cost thousands of jobs and caused great pain in coal state economies, all because of policies based on the theory that burning coal and other fossil fuels is wreaking havoc on the environment. This idea is increasingly challenged by newer scientific data that strongly contradicts the AGW theory.

What we need in Washington is to replace ideological zeal with common sense policies that do not cause more harm than good.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Some important issues deserving attention as the New Year begins

With the country facing the $16.4 trillion debt limit in two months – which works out to about $52,000 per man, woman and child – and with the government spending about a third more than it collects every year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Friday that president Barack Obama should invoke the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling on his own, circumventing Congress. “I would do it, in a second, but I’m not the President of the United States,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

She believes the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that the validity of U.S. public debts “shall not be questioned,” gives Mr. Obama all the authority he needs to raise the ceiling.

That’s just what the country needs: the biggest spending president in the history of the nation by far – with trillion-dollar-plus deficits every year of his presidency – having the ability to unilaterally increase the amount of money the country borrows whenever he wants to.

Barack Obama is an irresponsible spendthrift who has shown no capacity for fiscal matters, and therefore needs a mechanism, like Congressional intervention, to keep him from bankrupting the country. Congress must not allow him to invoke the 14th Amendment.

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is quoted as having said something like “never let a good crisis go to waste,” and anti-gun zealots have thus initiated new efforts to ban scary looking so-called “assault weapons,” or even repeal the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prevent future mass murders like the Newtown, CT school incident in which 26 people were murdered by what most people understand was a crazed individual.

Other Americans are justifiably concerned about such violence and also support those measures. But those prescriptions miss the point: The factor responsible for this horrible incident was the state of mind of the murderer, not guns or the 2nd Amendment. What we must focus on are mental health issues, our dramatically devolved culture, and providing better school security.

The Founders, who had just put their lives on the line to gain independence, understood that Americans must be guaranteed the right to defend themselves with weapons equal to those that may be used against them. Some states felt so strongly that certain rights, like the right to bear arms, needed to be explicitly guaranteed that they would not ratify the Constitution without the Bill of Rights being included.

If measures such as those that are being advocated were in force in the 1770s, we would be singing “God Save The Queen” as our national anthem.

One of the reasons our country is in such horrible condition at this time is that some of our elected representatives have been in office for decades, during which time their perspective has most often changed for the worse. Long tenure in office is contrary to the concept of citizen leaders who serve their country for a short time, and then return to civilian life, as it was early in our history. This same problem exists for presidents as well as Congresspersons.

Even if we have someone a majority of Americans regard as a good president in office, removing the ban restricting his or her tenure to eight years opens the door to eventually having a “president for life” which is not so different from being ruled by a king. That didn’t work out so well prior to 1776, and there are examples throughout history where people stayed too long in office to their country’s detriment.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected four times, and his policies extended the Great Depression by several years and deepened its effects, increasing the suffering of the people who elected him. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided FDR’s Agricultural Adjustment Act was unconstitutional, he attempted to overcome the Court’s opposition by increasing the number of Justices, and doing so by adding appointees favorable to his policies.

His behavior prompted the proposal for and the adoption of the 22nd Amendment, which is one of the best things resulting from FDR’s presidency.

Eight years is enough for a president to hold office. Leave the 22nd Amendment alone.

As 2013 begins the country still languishes in non-recovery from the 2008 recession, President Barack Obama gave a New Year’s gift to returning members of Congress, federal workers and Vice President Joe Biden by signing an executive order ending a years-long pay freeze.

Federal employees are already paid more than their private sector counterparts. “The federal government paid 16 percent more in total compensation than it would have if average compensation had been comparable with that in the private sector, after accounting for certain observable characteristics of workers,” the Congressional Budget Office reported.

Government employees at all levels exist to serve the public. They should not be treated less well than private sector workers, but sometimes when circumstances warrant, they must make sacrifices, like everyone else has to do. And considering the nation’s critical fiscal condition alluded to above, any additional non-essential spending is plain foolish.

The House of Representatives has voted to rescind Mr. Obama’s Executive Order.