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Why Obama Can’t Override The Debt Ceiling

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No, this is not a blog post about the legal implications of Obama’s alternatives to avoid the debt ceiling.

That is a nice discussion to have, but basically that comes down to this:  14th amendment solution is likely not legal, and even if it is, it is a terrible idea; the platinum coin solution is probably legal, but makes Obama look like the head of a banana republic.  It would be no different than the Federal Reserve and Treasury printing another $1 trillion in dollars, and depositing it.  In other words, a brilliant inflationary solution, but nothing more.  Luckily, the Treasury has said they will not even consider the coin.

No, this post is the real reason why Obama can’t use either of the two above alternatives:  practical reality.

Yes, I know. The Beltway loves to ignore practical realities as much as any organization in the history of mankind.  They avoid truths and facts like it were a leper colony.  But in this debate, there is a practical reality Mr. Obama cannot ignore.

For all the talk on the left, Obama realizes he has four more years of having to deal with a House that most likely will be controlled by Republicans, and more than likely by John Boehner.  The math is clear:  barring a wave election, it is far more likely that Republicans take the Senate than Democrats take the House.

So what would any of these alternatives bypassing Congress do?  They would make the partisan divide deeper and wider.  They would give the conservative wing of the Republicans more, not less, voice as we go forward, as they argue that there is little reason to compromise with such a radical executive in charge.

Liberals can whine and moan as much as they want (as they often do).  But a simple fact remains: not much can get done without the Republicans compromising.  And any avoidance of Republicans on this issue would make compromising on anything going forward almost impossible.

But hey,  never underestimate the stupidity of those within the Beltway.

This is crossposted on the Spitcracker Picayune.

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A Movement Without A Party?

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At some point, you have to question whether you have a clue with what is going on in politics.  Why are conservatives even a political movement any more?

Who could have imagined, before or after the election, that you would get 85 Republicans voting for a plan that raises taxes on the top 1%, gets rid of the payroll tax, all the while not decreasing but increasing spending?.  A deal that adds $4 trillion to the debt over the next decade?  Let us be clear:  the definition of balance for President Obama is $41 of tax increases for every dollar of spending cuts.   And 85 House Republicans agreed.  Among them, Speaker Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan.   And that comes after only 7 Republican Senators voted against or abstained on the measure.

So after years of stating that we would accept no taxes unless we get spending cuts first…we are back to raising taxes first, and hope the Democrats deign the concept of spending cuts later. Charlie Brown, meet football.

Some GOP apologists surely will state that this was necessary to avoid the fiscal cliff, and by delaying the sequester by two months and getting taxes off the table, they will be able to leverage spending cuts at the time of the debt limit talks.  Who are these people trying to fool?  Most likely themselves.  Let us review the events of the past two years:   So far, the results are as follows: (1) the debt ceiling was raised, (2) the debt continued to soar, (3) the latest McConnell-brokered deal will increase, rather than decrease, the debt, and (4) taxes are about to go up.  Is that the track record you are willing to bet on?  There is no evidence that the GOP would stand their ground on such a measure, and no reason other than stupidity that the President and Democrats would accept that scenario at all.  They will simply replay the events of the last two weeks, until we get into a crisis moment, and then force Speaker Boehner and Sen. McConnell to make another ill-fated last minute deal that supposedly helps them save face.  The most likely result?  The sequester stays in place, and they give him the debt limit escalation; basically, full surrender.

The irony is that many progressives are unhappy, and think Obama gave away a farm.  If there ever were more proof of the delusional nature of the extreme left, it is this.  Sure, the top tax rate level went from $250,000 which Obama originally proposed (the top 2%) to $450,000 (the top 1% or so).  However, deductions for that group in the 2% also have been cut, so taxes are, in fact, rising on these people.  And the continuation of the estate tax rates for those under $5 million will have negligible effect on anything.  In fact, if progressives were going to be angry about something, shouldn’t they be more angry about expiration of the payroll tax cut, which means that 77% of American households will pay higher taxes in the coming year?  You see little or not complaints about that, which once and for all shows that their concern is not about helping the little guy, but to punish the rich ones.

The reality is we have a small-minded President who prefers tactical victories over grand political change.  Barack Obama had the political weight and capital to do something truly grand.  He could have pushed for something along the lines of Simpson-Bowles, even if it leaned more liberal, and achieved something that would be remembered for years.  Instead, he chose a short term political victory that will do little to help anything, and if anything will hurt our debt crisis and the economy.

For conservatives, there is no upside in this deal.  There is nothing positive to take from it.  The GOP will get no credit for compromising.  The media will spin this as total victory for Obama…and why wouldn’t they?  That is a fact.  And two months from now, we will be right back here, as Obama surely will ask for more revenue and not real spending cuts, and will claim the GOP is not taking a balanced approach.  Heed my words, that is what is coming.

Oh, I know that ultimately I will drift back to the Republican fold. The reality is that there are few if any alternatives.  I could be a liberatarian, take the high road and not affect any political change, and claim some kind of moral victory.  Or remain a Republican, and have grand victories like yesterday. The ultimate reality is that the Democrats are now solidly in control and soundly and wholly responsible for the economic future of this country and responsible for our debt crisis, and clearly haven’t a clue what they are doing.  And the opposition party fiddles as Rome burns.

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Happy New Year!

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Best wishes on a great 2013.

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Most Anticipated Movies for 2013

I do a list of my most anticipated movies of the up coming year, mostly so I can keep track of what I really want to see.

Here are links to past years:  201020112012.

Most years, I end up being disappointed.  But 2012 was actually quite a spectacular year at the movies, and 2013 is shaping up quite nicely.  Fingers crossed!

Zero Dark Thirty – January 11th

O.K., I already saw this movie, and you can see my review here.  It was technically a limited release in late 2012, but arrives in wide release in 2013.  I added here for others who most likely did not have access to the early limited showings.  A spectacular movie that quite dramatically shows the detailed steps it took our valiant intelligence community to find, and ultimately kill, Osama Bin Laden.

Gangster Squad – January 11th

In the line of gangster movies of the past, a special squad of the LAPD fight the mafia in Los Angeles in the 1940s.  And also…Emma Stone.  Sigh.

Warm Bodies – February 1st

I am always wary of movies that look for ‘paradigm changes’.  But this movie might pull it off.  It is about a zombie, after the apocalypse, who falls for a live human girl…who helps bring back his humanity.  I know, corny…but there is potential here.  Here is hoping.

 

A Good Day To Die Hard – February 14th

Ah, what a sweet thought on Valentine’s day!  John McClane and son find bad guys in Russia…and lots of people Die Hard.  What is not to like?  Oh…and a few hot Russian women to boot.

 Jack the Giant Slayer – March 1st

From Bryan Singer comes this new version of the classic Jack and the Beanstalk.  I think it could be fun.

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Oz The Great and Powerful – March 8th

The erstwhile prequel to the Wizard of Oz comes to the big screen, as James Franco plays the great Oz.

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GI Joe:  Retaliation – March 29th

The first movie…horrible.  This movie…probably horrible..but WITH BRUCE WILLIS!

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Oblivion – April 12th

Tom Cruise remains one of the lone survivors on a terror filled post-apocalyptic Earth.  But who is the threat?

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Iron Man 3 – May 3rd

Certainly one of the most anticipated movies of the year.  After a lackluster sequel, Shane Black takes over the directing helm.  The after effects of the events from the Avengers movie ravage Tony Stark.  The direction they take this movie should be fascinating…but there are a lot of risks here.

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The Great Gatsby – May 10th

This movie was supposed to be a 2012 offering, and was in my list last year.  Can’t avoid putting it in this year’s list.

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Star Trek Into the Darkness – May 17th

Another one of the highly anticipated flicks for the summer season, this sequel by J.J. Abrams was bound to excite fanboys, the early trailers have been impressive and dramatic.  Fingers crossed that he can repeat the magic again.

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Hangover Part 3 – May 24th

Honestly, was this necessary?  Part 2 was a mess and simply wasn’t that funny.  Here is hoping they can find the magic again.

Man of Steel – June 14th

Possibly the most anticipated movie of the year.  Zach Snyder (Watchmen, 300) is tasked to bring one of the most legendary characters in modern American mythology to life.  After the failure of Superman Returns, the risk and reward is enormous.  I have to say I had mixed feelings before, but after seeing the trailers…am getting pretty excited.

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World War Z – June 21st

O.K., I love this book…I really do.  But the early trailers show very little resemblance to the world created in the book.  Rumors of dissention among the producers and Brad Pitt abound, and this movie has been delayed several times.  I am reserving judgement.

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Monsters University – June 21st

This opens the same week as World War Z, and I will tell you right now….this is the movie I will see opening weekend.  Monsters Inc is one of my favorite Pixar movies, and my boys love them.

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Kick-Ass 2 – June 28th

A surprisingly fun and entertaining first installment, that retained much of the darkness from the comic series, has a small cult of fans excited for the more violent and darker 2nd part.

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The Lone Ranger – July 3rd

Starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.  Really.  What was the purpose of this movie?  I put it on this list simply because I have to believe this will be the biggest flop of the year.

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Despicable Me 2 – July 3rd

I have actually never seen the original…but the kids love it.

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Pacific Rim – July 12th

Big huge interdimensional aliens.  And big huge manmade robots.  Fighting over the Pacific.  What’s not to like?

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The Wolverine – July 26th

The last Wolverine movie was really quite bad.  New director, new producers, same actor…if they had put the people in charge of the X-Men series in charge of this, I think we could expect far more.  As it is, I am not all that enthused.

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Elysium – August 9th

From Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9, comes this futuristic movie about the hope to bring rivaling classes to peace.

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – October 4th

An erstwhile prequel of the original, brings back among others Clive Owen and Jessica Alba.

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The World’s End – October 25th

Years after attempting an epic pub crawl, a group of friends (played by Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman and Nick Frost) reunite in 2013 to try it again. Only this time, they wind up becoming humanity’s last hope for survival.

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Ender’s Game – November 1st

One of my all-time favorite science fiction novels come to life.  Decades after an alien invasion almost wiped out humanity, a group of children being trained as soldiers and leaders are the best hope for humanity’s survival.

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Thor – The Dark World – November 8th

The Dark Elves attack the kingdom of Asgaard, forcing Thor to join forces with Loki to bring the villains to justice.

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Catching Fire (Hunger Games Part II) – November 22nd

This will be a huge Thanksgiving offering, as the second Hunger Games movie, along with all its fans, rush out to see what next happens to their heroine Katniss.

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The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug – December 13th

The biggest offering for Christmas, this second part likely deals with the dragon Smaug and how the dwarves and their thief, Bilbo, obtain the riches of the Lonely Mountain.

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Top Movies of 2012

That time of the year again.  After a sub par 2011, I thought 2012 was filled with enjoyable, and some transcendent, movies.   It was an amazingly strong year.  In mid-summer, my #8 movie was ranked in my top two movies of the year, and was beat out by 6 movies that arrived later in the year.  Brave is the first Pixar movie not to appear on my top 10 list.  And a movie that I truly loved, The Hunger Games, is on the outside looking in.

Please note that the links take you to my reviews of the movies, where available.

Honorable Mentions: The Amazing Spider-Man, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Brave, The Cabin in the Woods, Chronicle, Django Unchained, The Grey, The Hunger Games, The Master, Jack Reacher, John Carter, Paranorman,  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Pitch Perfect, Wreck-It Ralph

Worst or most disappointing movies of the year:  A Thousand Words (because, well, Eddie Murphy), Killing Them Softly (a waste of time), Prometheus (I liked it, but not up to billing), The Raven (boring), Red Dawn ( an insult to the cheesy classic), Savages (terrible adaptation), Taken 2 (please, take it back), This Means War (horrendous), Total Recall (why?), We Bought A Zoo (how could a movie with Scarlett Johannson and Matt Damon be so boring?)

10.  Moonrise Kingdom

This is a film that I caught, in of all places, on a flight from Hyderabad to London.  I don’t think I otherwise would have picked up this film.  Glad I got the chance to see it.  In another of Wes Anderson’s wacky storytelling genre films, a young orphaned boy and strange but pretty girl who have fallen in love plan a daring escape to be together.  Following them are the girls parents (played by the brilliant Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).  The boy is an escapee from a scout group led by Edward Norton, while Bruce Willis plays the town sheriff.  In his own, quirky way, Anderson creates one of the most optimistic movies of the season.

9.  Looper

There are few movies that made me really think as much as Looper did.  Time travel movies area always hard to pull off without either appearing cheesy, having huge plot holes, or simply making no sense whatsoever.  This movie pulled it off, with great acting jobs from both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

8. The Dark Knight Rises

When I saw this movie in mid-summer, I thought other than The Avengers it was the best movie of the year. What is utterly amazing is that the seven movies ahead of it came after that point in time…one sign of what a good year for movies it was.  This movie was not up to the level of its predecessor, with along with The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part II are among the best sequels ever, but the dark environs of Gotham still are fascinating.  Yes, there is plenty of plot holes and some questionable plot decisions…but still a great addition to the series.

7.  The Hobbit

The Hobbit is far from a perfect movie.  It is an hour too long, in a story that is now going to stretch two entire more movies.  It has the feel of the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings, which are fascinating for Tolkien lovers, but not for casual fans.  That said…it is a very enjoyable romp through Middle Earth, with a host of new characters.  And the scene with Bilbo and Gollum in the cave is worth the price of entry alone.

6.  Skyfall

After a glorious restart with Casino Royale, the new Bond films hit a bump with Quantum of Solace.  With Skyfall, they appear to be back on track.  It is basically a movie that reminisces about the past, with many references to Bond of yesteryear.  It may be the most emotional and heart-felt of any of the James Bond movies ever.  But more importantly, the movie sets up a new future for the Bond series that I am very excited about, for the first time in a long time.

5. Argo

OK, I admit it:  Ben Affleck has talent.  Affleck directs a fantastically laid out rescue plan after the 1979 Iran Hostage taking at the American embassy, where the CIA sets up a Hollywood company and pretend that six American fugitives who escaped the embassy were, in fact, Canadian film-makers scouting locations for a picture to be shot in Iran.  What follows is the secret agent version of a heist movie, but is still engrossing and entertaining.  I almost forgive Affleck for doing Daredevil…almost.

 

4. Marvel’s The Avengers

Yes, I know.  It is a mainstream blockbuster summer movie.  I don’t care what you think. The Avengers is a fabulous cinematic experience.  Joss Whedon does what few directors could have done:  bring several tent pole movie characters together, develop a repertoire that makes the ensemble realistic, and then allows them to kick ass during an alien invasion of New York.

 

 3.  Les Miserables

How does a musical sell in this day and  age?  Not easily.  Chicago won the Academy Award a few years back (and I hated that movie).  But Les Miz is maybe the most beloved musical of the modern era.  To pull it off takes great skill, and many have failed before.  But this time, they succeeded. Hugh Jackman stuns as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway is glorious as Fantine. Both are definitely on my list for Best Actor/Actress awards.  The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, and it will certainly challenge for the Best Picture as well.  Maybe the best Musical movie in the modern era…and I don’t make that claim lightly.

 

 2.  Zero Dark Thirty

This movie actually opened in very limited release last week, and I was lucky enough to get in on an early review.  This was a movie that, during the election campaign, took on a lot of political meaning, but in the final analysis, was not political at all.  The story is focused on how for a decade, an elite team of intelligence and military operatives, working in secret across the globe, devoted themselves to a single goal: to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden.  Kathryn Bigelow does a brilliant job of making this moving engaging and heart dropping, and gives those heroes that live in the shadows of our government the kudos they so well deserve.  Bigelow holds no punches, showing how ‘enhanced interrogations’ and other methods, some that are detested by many, were at times critical to the discovery of Bin Laden, and at times led them astray.  The movie does not defend those actions; it simply states the reality of the entire endeavor, and what it took to kill America’s number one enemy.

 

1.  Lincoln

This is not a film for everyone.  First and foremost, it is worthwhile just to see Daniel Day-Lewis in all his glory.  I think this may have been his greatest acting role ever, and if not the Academy Award, a nomination is at least deserved. As for the movie itself, history buffs and the like will adore this portrayal of reality.  Others maybe should take a pass.  But for those that are truly interested in one of the most important moments in history, with maybe our country’s greatest President dealing with issues that would shape the nation to this very day…this is a must see.  It was the most transcendent movie of the year, and the one I think is most likely to be watched 10, 20, and maybe 50 years from now.

 

 

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Could We Have Prevented Sandy Hook?

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut leaves a nation with broken hearts, tears, and many, many questions.

I know that on that day, my elder son was in school, my younger one at daycare…and I had the urge, like many parents, to run and get them home as soon as possible.

But as with most of these cases, we are left with mostly questions and a few answers.  The political types are well on their way to the usual food fight that comes of these tragedies.  I was hoping to take the discussion one step further.  I wanted to look at what the real solutions that would solve this problem really are, if they are viable, and what that means for our country.  And hopefully, I will try to do so without injecting my own beliefs into the debate (at least, as much as I can).

So how could we prevent another Sandy Hook?  I think the solutions come down to a few choices.

1.  Gun Control

This is an overly broad category, that really has two subsets.  One is the ‘minimalist’ solution; basically, regulate the guns that are available to the public, without changing the 2nd amendment.  The second solution is much more drastic, and for lack of a better term, I call the ‘absolutist’ solution:  pass an amendment to the Constitution repealing the 2nd amendment and the individual’s right to bear arms, and then proceed to confiscate all weapons in this country.  I will take each discussion separately.

The Minimalist Solution

This option is what we would consider traditional gun control.  It is basically an analogue of the Brady Act, which banned ‘assault weapons’.  Thus, this option has a lot of historical data and numerous studies that show where it succeeded, and where it failed.  The reality is there are numerous studies on the Brady Act that all showed the same thing:  it did not significantly decrease gun crimes or homicides.

A 2003 study from Duke University Professor Philip J. Cook, regarded as the nation’s foremost authority on gun control, concluded that the Brady Act was a failure.  Data shows a slow gradual decline in gun homicides from 1993 to the present, a trend that started before the Brady Bill passed, but figures from both the control and treatment states track virtually identically. “Control and treatment states had the same gun homicide rates before and after the Brady law passed,” Cook said. “It made no discernible difference. There is no statistically significant effect.”

Below you see the results.  The bill was passed in 1993, and there was no real change in the amount of mass shootings, deaths or victims over the period covered by the Brady bill.

The one area that there was some effect was in a slight decrease in gun-related suicides; and even in that respect, the drop was not considered statistically significant.  The law did help identify and stop gun-running operations that were buying large numbers of guns in southern states and transporting them north for resale. The law has also helped improve criminal history records. Proponents of the law also point to the 60,000 people trying to buy guns who were turned down after background checks revealed that they were felons. But a later California study showed that the turn downs had no effect on criminal activity.

We can also look at other countries, and see how their gun control laws have worked.  Australia instituted harsher gun control laws after a mass killing in 1996.  Has it resulted in major improvements in homicides by guns?  Not really.  Data shows a steady decrease in gun crimes that started in the late 80s, and has continued in a linear fashion to this very day.

The other example often cited is England.  In 1996, 16 children were killed in a school in Scotland. What followed were the harshest gun control laws England had ever seen.   What resulted was actually an increase in gun crimes for almost a decade.  There has been a drop off in recent years, as the chart to the left shows, but it is difficult to nearly impossible to relate that decrease to the gun laws from a decade ago.

One other point about comparing England to the United States.  England had very lax gun laws through out the years.  As Thomas Sowell points on this piece this week, you could more easily buy a shotgun in 1950s London than in New York City.  However, even at that time, the murder rate was significantly higher in New York City.

The Brady Act was a test case for modern liberal answers to the gun problem; retain the 2nd amendment but regulate the type of guns that were accessible.  By any measure, that part of the argument has shown no statistical beneficial changes.

One side point…what is the reality of our gun homicide rates?  Have they been increasing, and are we at record high murder rates, as some in the media suggest?

The answer is no; the opposite is true, as the graph to the right demonstrates.

The homicide rate has ironically been dropping for decades…irrespective of the gun control laws, as shown in the chart to the right.  The irony of this entire situation is, we have not seen gun crimes this low in America since the 1960s.

 The Absolutist Solution

This solution is the most drastic solution of any I will discuss.  It entails a major shift in American thinking, and right now, seems virtually impossible.

First, it would take a constitutional amendment repealing the 2nd amendment.  Why?  Because according to the Supreme Court in their rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicagothe court affirmed the individual’s, and not the state or the militia’s, right to bear arms.  To take away such a right only has one solution, through amending the Constitution.  A refresher, on what it takes to pass a constitutional amendment:

There are essentially two ways spelled out in the Constitution for how to propose an amendment. One has never been used.

The first method is for a bill to pass both houses of the legislature, by a two-thirds majority in each. Once the bill has passed both houses, it goes on to the states. This is the route taken by all current amendments. Because of some long outstanding amendments, such as the 27th, Congress will normally put a time limit (typically seven years) for the bill to be approved as amendment (for example, see the 21st and 22nd).

The second method prescribed is for a Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the States, and for that Convention to propose one or more amendments. These amendments are then sent to the states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions. This route has never been taken, and there is discussion in political science circles about just how such a convention would be convened, and what kind of changes it would bring about.

Regardless of which of the two proposal routes is taken, the amendment must be ratified, or approved, by three-fourths of states. There are two ways to do this, too. The text of the amendment may specify whether the bill must be passed by the state legislatures or by a state convention. See the Ratification Convention Page for a discussion of the make up of a convention.Amendments are sent to the legislatures of the states by default. Only one amendment, the 21st, specified a convention. In any case, passage by the legislature or convention is by simple majority.

The Constitution, then, spells out four paths for an amendment:

  • Proposal by convention of states, ratification by state conventions (never used)
  • Proposal by convention of states, ratification by state legislatures (never used)
  • Proposal by Congress, ratification by state conventions (used once)
  • Proposal by Congress, ratification by state legislatures (used all other times)

In other words, a long and tedious process that requires enormous public support…support, that even today, does not exist.  In polls (usually taken after tragedies), the public supports gun control measures by large margins, but then supports the individual’s right to bear arms by large measures.  In the last polling, 68% of Americans (including a majority of Democrats) believe the right to own a gun is an individual right protected by the 2nd amendment.  So to pass a constitutional amendment, one would need to turn those numbers absolutely upside down.

Let us continue down the rabbit hole however.  If a constitutional amendment passed, unless it specifically outlawed guns, one would then have to go state by state, repealing constitutional rules in numerous states that defend the right to bear arms.

Now, if you accomplish this Herculean task, then comes the hard part.

You would need to confiscate every weapon in the country.

Without confiscation, there would be 300 million guns in this country, or approximately enough weapons to arm every man, woman, and child living in the nation.  So a house by house confiscation of every weapon would be needed to truly accomplish this goal.  Can you imagine the fiasco?

Then, to compound the problem even if you were to succeed confiscating all 300 million weapons (which would not be given up easily to begin with), you would have to seal the borders, especially the southern border with Mexico.  It is estimated there are almost 100 million guns in Mexico, that criminals would be more than happy to pay for if guns disappeared in the United States.  So sealing the border…how well has that worked out historically?   Well, in a slow year, almost 500,000 people crossed the border illegally.  That doesn’t even take into the account the tons of illegal drugs smuggled from the south.  So how easy would it be to stop the illegal importation of guns?

Am I starting to convince you this is unreasonable yet?  The reality is, this would more likely lead to far more bloodshed (if not outright warfare in some regions) than all the gun victims we face routinely now, and even if accomplished, it would be doubtful it would stem the flow of guns into the country.

This is simply not a viable option.

2. The Gun Expansion option

Now, other than the absolutist solution, this may be the most extreme solution available, and the one that many one the left cannot fathom.

We expand the right to carry guns to all places in society.  We eliminate the concept of ‘gun free zones’, which have obviously been an utter failure (every major mass killing except the shooting of Rep. Gabbie Giffords occurred in a gun free zone, and that exception could be considered an assassination attempt).  Furthermore, we allow individuals in areas of risk, such as schools, to carry weapons.  Maybe you require a training certification before allowing teachers and the like to carry guns; that is up for debate.

You additionally consider arming security guards at schools.

This is frankly the most libertarian of the arguments.  Arm as many people as possible, under the understanding that our police forces can never stop these crimes in their entirety.  Arm teachers, staff, and the citizenry to take it upon themselves to protect the public, as a subsidiary of our normal police force.

There is a lot of mixed data on this.  We have small samples of data that show crime decreases in areas that allowed concealed carrying of guns, but not large enough samples to extrapolate the results to the national level.

The National Rifle Association says that, by its definition, there are now 41 states that have “right-to-carry” laws. “Since 1991, when violent crime peaked in the U.S., 24 states have adopted ‘shall issue’ laws, replacing laws that prohibited carrying or that issued carry permits on a very restrictive basis; many other federal, state, and local gun control laws have been eliminated or made less restrictive; and the number of privately owned guns has risen by about 100 million,” the organization says on its Web site.

The leading pro-gun advocate has been John Lott.  Lott notes that, by his assessment, a majority of the research in referred academic publications supports his point of view. In a 2012 article for the Maryland Law Review, Lott listed 18 studies that found such laws reduced violent crime, ten that said it has no discernible effect and one that found it increased violent crime.

“The debate has been between those who say that it reduces crime and those who say it has no effect,” he noted. “Very few debates are divided that way.”

However, other research is mixed.  An article from the Yale law school questioned some of this data.  Their conclusions?

We conclude that Lott and Mustard have made an important scholarly contribution in establishing that these laws have not led to the massive bloodbath of death and injury that some of their opponents feared. On the other hand, we find that the statistical evidence that these laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile. Minor changes of specifications can generate wide shifts in the estimated effects of these laws, and some of the most persistent findings — such as the association of shall-issue laws with increases in (or no effect on) robbery and with substantial increases in various types of property crime — are not consistent with any plausible theory of deterrence.

In other words, crime did not increase with right to carry laws…but do not appear to have decreased crimes either, at least not significantly.

Maybe we should confront this issue from another angle.  We know for sure that crime continues to decrease in this country, and has been following that trend since the early 1980s. What is the reason for this?  Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago tried to answer that question, and in a 2004 article stated that the data is mixed on whether states with right to carry laws saw any appreciable change in crime rates.

So again, we are left with a hung jury.  However, let us be clear what the consensus of the research shows:  it shows that although right to carry laws may or may not reduce crime, they certainly have not shown any increase in crime.   This is an important take home point. 

3.  Or maybe, possibly, there was no way to stop the killer?

This is the most dispiriting of the choices…that ultimately, whether you want to believe in fate, chance, God’s hand…that this could not have been prevented at all.

We have to accept this as a real possibility.  I know that people in the modern world feel they control their lives.  The reality is, we don’t…not really.  We live under the delusion that we can control every facet of our lives, but it is only an illusion that allows us to live with a reality of horrible possibilities.

Whether it be the deaths at the school, or another shooting like at Aurora, CO; whether it is a weather event like Hurricane Sandy, or a terrorist attack like 9/11, there are too many variables that cannot be controlled by the laws of men.

The facts now coming out about the murderer in Connecticut is that he was not insane.  He was methodical, planning each stage of his killing spree in detail.  He even had the precognition to destroy his computer before starting the rampage that day.  How does one stop a sane, methodical person who is simply, for lack of a better term evil?

“He didn’t just snap. This takes a lot of planning,” said Mary Ellen O’Toole, who worked for 15 years in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit where she studied psychopaths and helped capture killers.”He wanted to accomplish maximum lethality,” O’Toole said. “He was not out of touch with reality. I think he put some security measures in place so he wouldn’t be stopped.  If you pick older people you are going to have some blowback,” O’Toole said. “He didn’t want people to interfere. When people take security measures like that, you know what you are doing is wrong.”

So in face of such evil, what law would have worked?  Whether you want to describe such an individual as a psychopath, a terrorist, or simply evil, it remains that there is little to stop a single human being from harming others, if he has the time and intelligence to do so.

Let us be completely honest:  no gun control act can keep weapons out of the hands of hard-core determined criminals.  This is a simple fact worldwide.  Even laws completely outlawing guns have failed to stop violence.  Gun control could have made it harder for this man to find a gun, but not impossible.  Would the difficulty of being able to find a gun have stopped a man who put this much time and effort into killing 1st graders?  I find that argument lacking; it is like arguing that if we simply write a few more laws protecting our airports, such events like 9/11 can never occur.  That is a fallacy.

Additionally, how many people have tried to get a gun illegally?  Not very hard at all.  PBS’s Frontline did a story a few years ago, which showed the absolute ease of getting a gun while avoiding all local, state and federal laws.  “In fact, more than half the arrestees say it is easy to obtain guns illegally,” the report states. Responding to a question of how they obtained their most recent handgun, the arrestees answered as follows: 56% said they paid cash; 15% said it was a gift; 10% said they borrowed it; 8% said they traded for it; while 5% only said that they stole it.

We are left with solutions that are much less concrete.  Maybe America is inherently more violent than many places in the world?  There is data that does support this conclusion, for example the comparison of London and New York City that I described earlier.  However, even if this is the case, how do we confront it?  People mention violent movies and video games, a culture of irresponsibility, a society slowly pushing two parent homes and God out of the sphere of influence.  We can also argue for more mental health care (which is a sensible solution, regardless of its effect on murders), but again, this killer may or may not have been helped by such endeavors. Many of these points may have some validity, but they also are not easily curable nor are there any magic bullets to find.

In conclusion, I simply don’t know what the answer is.  After reviewing the data, gun control is a fool’s errand.  I support right to carry laws for a simple reason:  although they may not decrease crime, they also do not increase crime.  If there is no negative to passing such laws, I will always defer to more freedom rather than less.  In a society where there may be no solution to evil people, maybe taking the role of protecting our own lives may have to fall into our own hands.  That is somewhat depressing, but that maybe the reality we live in.

All I know is, after last week’s events, I will hold my boys closer, and pray for those children that are lost…because ultimately, that my be the only thing in this world I have control over.

 

http://news.yahoo.com/no-rise-mass-killings-impact-huge-185700637.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/14/why-are-mass-shootings-becoming-more-frequent/

http://reason.com/blog/2012/12/17/are-mass-shootings-becoming-more-common

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/335848/gun-control-ignorance-thomas-sowell

http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/news/2003_spr/cook.htm

http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=192946#qundefined

https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/204431.pdf

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-17/schools-safer-than-1990s-as-educators-anticipate-killers.html

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2012/12/the-times-embarrasses-itself-on-guns-again.php

http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2010/12/regv33n4-7.pdf#page=8

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/do-concealed-weapon-laws-result-in-less-crime/2012/12/16/e80a5d7e-47c9-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_blog.html

http://reason.com/archives/2012/12/22/gun-restrictions-have-always-bred-defian/1 [please note this citation was added at a later date]

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323777204578195470446855466.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop [please note this citation was added at a later date]

http://kontradictions.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/why-not-renew-the-assault-weapons-ban-well-ill-tell-you/ [An excellent post from August 2012 by a liberal...HIGHLY RECOMMENDED]

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/337958/gun-sales-and-background-checks-obamas-bogus-40-percent-stat-john-fund#

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/the-stale-claim-that-40-percent-of-gun-sales-lack-background-checks/2013/01/20/e42ec050-629a-11e2-b05a-605528f6b712_blog.html?wprss=rss_politics

http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/aw_final.pdf

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/01/forget-what-you-ve-heard-mass-shootings-aren-t-rising-but-they-probably-aren-t-going-away.html [Excellent Article with Criminologist James Alan Fox]

http://americamagazine.org/issue/repeal-second-amendment [first honest article I have seen asking for total repeal of the 2nd amendment]

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2013/03/new-study-finds-firearms-laws-do-nothing-to-prevent-homicides.php [refers to JAMA article below from 3/2013...conclusions are biased.  The study actually shows no statistical difference for homicides with and without gun control].

http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1661390

http://extranosalley.com/?p=29360 [nice post about homicide rates, which have fallen over the decades; below chart shows important historical correlations]

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http://bjs.gov/content/pub/press/fv9311pr.cfm [New DOJ report showing gun crime has been falling for decades]

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=18319&page= [The irony of this link is this is the study Obama asked the CDC to peform after Sandy Hook; it basically refutes most of the liberal arguments for gun control]

http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf [recent Harvard study, reiterating the findings of the CDC study]

http://www.amjmed.com/webfiles/images/journals/ajm/AJM12080.pdf [AJIM study finds that countries with higher gun ownership (meaning total guns per 100 people) also have higher rates of firearm death, even after accounting for differences in rates of mental illness (meaning major depressive disorders). Meanwhile, it finds no relationship between gun ownership and the overall crime rate.]

http://www.realclearpolicy.com/blog/2013/09/21/another_day_another_gun_study_658.html [analysis of above AJIM study]

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/link-between-ptsd-and-violent-behavior-is-weak/2012/03/31/gIQApYFZnS_story.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cops-dealing-with-ptsd-face-stigma-lack-of-resources/

http://time.com/48930/dont-blame-ptsd-for-the-fort-hood-shooting/

http://www.pulpless.com/gunclock/kleck2.html [self defense stats]

http://www.realclearpolicy.com/blog/2014/06/10/myth_vs_fact_violence_and_mental_health_970.html [mental health and gun violence]

http://www.realclearpolicy.com/blog/2014/06/17/guns_kids_and_tradeoffs_979.html [regarding safety and guns in the home]

http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2014/06/23/why-is-vox-doing-violence-to-gun-statistics/ (gun ownership rates vs. violence).

1

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Movie Review

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again,  is probably J.R.R. Tolkien’s most read book.  Although the follow up books composing the Lord of the Rings are an amazing piece of literature in both scale and substance, it is The Hobbit that grabs the imagination of children around the globe first.

It took years of compromise and legal maneuvers to get the move into the able hands of Peter Jackson.

The story of Bilbo Baggins, a simple hobbit minding his own business until the great wizard Gandalf collects a group of dwarves for a quest, and gives humble Bilbo a nudge out the door.

First off, the cinematography.  There has been a lot of controversy about Jackson’s filming choices.  He chose to film the movie in 48 frames per second (double the normal 24 fps), claiming it would provider greater detail and would enhance the quality of the 3D.  I agree that it accomplished the latter, but it is certainly an annoying creative choice.  It took about half the film for me to become accustomed to it, always blinking away tears early on as my eyes struggled to keep up.  Once you get used to it, however, some of the scenes are spectacular in detail, but others almost seem cartoonish.  I do wonder, however, if I watch it again…will my eyes again have to make the adjustment?  That would be enough for me to choose the standard version.

The actual  visuals are as beautiful as you would expect, and so closely align with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you almost feel as if you never left middle earth.

Martin Freeman was a brilliant choice as Bilbo.  He fits the role like a glove, and his innocent and sometimes clueless demeanor fits the character perfectly.

The movie takes almost three hours.  Yes, it is long, and I question some of the editing choices.   The first hour is composed of introductions, songs, and some comedy.  You finally get to the ‘meat’ of the story, followed by a visit to the Elvish city of Rivendell.  Even then, it feels like the story is slightly limping along.

It is not until we are introduced to Gollum that we really feel we are honestly in the Hobbit.  Gollum of course is the critical pivot point for both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and the scene lives up to its billing.

Ultimately, I did enjoy the film.  Is it at the same high quality level as the Lord of the Rings trilogy?  Sadly, no.  There are times in the LOTR movies that you feel the story is bloated, but it is doubly true here.  Expanding a 300 page book into three movies, even with Tolkien’s extensive secondary stories added in to fill the blanks, distracts from what should be a streamlined story  I could see this being a 2 movie deal at most.  How he is going to stretch this to three movies, especially at almost 3 hours a piece, and not having hard core Tolkien fans snoring in their seats is beyond me.

That said, I still loved the story, and Peter Jackson clearly loves the source material in a way very few others do.  An enjoyable jaunt through Middle Earth should never be ignored.  But, just not as fun as the last time around.  I hope he elevates his game for the next two installments.

0

Choice For Me, Not For Thee: The Debate Over Right To Work Laws

Labor unions have long defended their monopoly over workshops as necessary to protect the common good.  But after years of consolidating power, the conservative movement is fighting back.

The battle most recently was fought in Wisconsin, with Gov. Scott Walker largely winning the case not only by passing right to work, but winning easily in the recall election that was brought purely because of the unions’ desire to rid the political world of Walker.

Now comes Michigan.  Frankly, Gov. Snyder didn’t really want this fight right now.  He is a more pragmatic politician than many give him credit for.  However, the Michigan GOP has never been the most practical of political parties.  Now that they have brought this bill to Snyder’s desk, he must sign it.  He believes in Right to Work, and although politically he feels this is an unnecessary fight with Michigan’s larger economic woes, he cannot veto the bill and stay true to his beliefs.

So the fight is on.

To me, this was always an open and shut case.  In a country that supposedly believes in free choice, what greater right does an individual have than to control where their money goes?  That is what Right to Work starts with.  No entity, neither the government nor anyone else, should dictate how a person utilizes their own property, in this case income.  Closed shops mandate joining a union.  Unions in this day and age are largely political wings of the Democrat Party, and as such, the rules mandating closed shops are nothing more than forced endorsements of a certain political view.

Almost a 1/3 of union workers would prefer not to be in a union, but are obliged to because of the rules.  These are simply archaic in nature. Free choice used to mean something to liberals…but not when it comes to union rights.

In an open and  free society, why should individuals have to support any private entity they do not believe in?   Unions justify forced dues by arguing that the law requires them to represent non-members. That is actually not factually true; most states allow unions to only bargain for their members, and allows their negotiated contract not to be binding on anyone else.

The strongest argument that pro-union forces make is that people who choose not to be part of the union are freeloaders, benefiting from the supposed hard work and lobbying of the unions. This, in my mind, is a very poor argument. First of all, if the union is providing such a fantastic service, wouldn’t employees yearn to be members?  Furthermore, if this is in fact true and the employees, both union and non-union, are getting the same benefits, then the pro-union argument that workers overall will be paid less is no longer true, is it not?

On the other hand, the argument against the unions is profound.  First of all, it is a virtual tax on employees that often get no benefit from the union at all.   Many of the union benefits are imagined, and in many cases, especially in states like Michigan, union actions have resulted directly in the destruction of jobs.  Remember, the union’s primary goal is not an individual’s job per se; it is to protect the maximum number of union employees nationwide.  So there are times unions purposefully sacrifice one members job to protect another.  Why should the union employee whose job is being sacrificed be forced to pay into an organization that is detrimental to their own well being?

Right to Work states (again excluding Indiana) were responsible for 72% of all net household job growth across the U.S. from June 2009 through September 2012.  Since the recession ended in June 2009, almost three out of every four jobs added to U.S. payrolls have been in Right to Work states (1.86 million out of 2.59 million), even though those 22 states represent only 38.8% of the U.S. population (120 million).

Union supporters admit (as the graph above shows) that right to work states have created more jobs over the past decade, but state that those jobs are lower paying.  Actually, the evidence is shoddy at best.  The average right to work state does have an average income $1,500 lower than the other states, but that does not take into account that overall, the cost of living in the states with right to work rules is far less than the states without.  In fact, if you take cost of living into consideration, right to work state employees make slightly more than their compatriots in the other states.  The few studies that truly compare worker salaries in the right to work states versus union states show virtually no real world difference in incomes.

This argument is not about workers pay, or about greater power for workers against big business.  In fact, the largest employer of unions in this day and age is not evil corporations, but big government.  No, this argument is about one thing and one thing alone:  political power.  Democrats get the vast majority of their ground game and money from unions, even in today’s weakened state.

Unions do have an important role to play in society. There are more open alternatives available to both sides, but that have largely been rejected by unions, who know that any reform will weaken their already destabilized organizations.  For example, from Alan Haus of the American:

Radically different employee associations that don’t suffocate both their companies and their members need to be created. New types of employee associations should support worker incomes by enhancing worker training and worker mobility between companies. This last goal will be realistic, however, only if there is a wide variety of such jobs to be found—which in turn will require steps to make it easier to organize the employee associations.

Unions can still provide a voice for many workers, and can help balance individual workers rights against powerful business interests.  They will have to adapt to provide more real benefits to their employees, instead of simply trying to consolidate power among the labor bosses.  But if unions want to be respected, they should not be granted mandates of authority; they should have to earn that authority through free choice, where individuals decide being part of this private organization is in their best interests.  That is an American ideal, one that the left clearly has forgotten.

0

The Charlie Brown Party

Republicans never learn.

In 1982, Reagan raised taxes, and was promised cuts over the next six years to balance the deal out…cuts that never really became real.  Reagan stated quite clearly in his autobiography “An American Life” that he would happily compromise with Democrats if he could get 75 or 80 percent of what he wanted…and that is exactly what he did. However, Reagan later clearly explained he did accept tax hikes “in return for [the Democrats'] agreement to cut spending by $280 billion,” but, Reagan continues, “the Democrats reneged on their pledge and we never got those cuts.”  Some liberals, and others like David Stockman, counter today that there were no spending cut promises in that plan…but that seems to be a rewriting of history more than any true explanation of what occurred at that time.

In 1992, George H.W. Bush was forced into a tax increase, where House speaker Tom Foley (D., Wash.) and Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D., Me.) promised to cut spending by $274 billion over the FY1991–1995 period.  Of course, those cuts never occurred, and it took the 1994 Republican Revolution to wipe out Congressional Democrats to allow the cuts from beginning to occur.

The lesson learned?  Tax increases are real; spending cuts, unless they are done first, are always illusory.

So we enter 2013, and we are in somewhat a similar predicament.  Barack Obama demands tax increases for the top earners; something that doesn’t promote economic activity in any economic theory, either liberal or conservative.  The demand is purely ideological, but here we are.

And Republicans are willing to give in…without any strings attached.  Charlie Brown, meet Lucy and her elusive football.

I am a realist.  I understand that the control of the Democrat Party is in the hands of idealogues, not pragmatists, and that is why the current tax demand from the President is what they will fight for, to the death.  And because of their intransigence and stubbornness, we will probably have to allow taxes to increase.

But it should come at a price.  The GOP is spending their time eating their own, instead of agreeing on the price that Obama must pay to get what they want.  We have Sen. Bob Corker accepting tax increases, without clearly stating what he needs in return.  We have Grover Norquist attacking everyone that is trying to avoid the cliff. We have Sen. Jim Demint attacking Speaker John Boehner as he exits Congress, without providing any answers along the way.

The Republicans need to get their act together.  This debating in the public arena weakens the conservative cause across the board.  As it is, we are in a precarious position as a party and as a political movement.  And to compound that, our leaders are making the situation worse by appearing petty and vindictive, and unable to rise above their own political goals for the greater good.

I am no fan of tax increases.  It will do damage to this weak economy.  Democrats are fooling themselves.  They believe that the Clinton tax increases of 1993 didn’t harm the economy, and actually led to the great economic revival of the 1990s.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  GDP growth throughout 1992 was over 3.4%.  When the Clinton taxes were enacted retroactively to January 1993, it slowed the recovery, with lower GDP growth rate through out 1993 of 2.9%.  We did rebound somewhat in 1994 with a growth rate around 4% but slowed again in 1995, but it wasn’t until 1996 (after the GOP tax cuts came into effect) that steady growth over 4% lasted through out the rest of the decade.

But the reality is we face higher taxes either way.  If we do nothing, the Bush tax cuts expire.  So, the question is, do we get something in return for increasing taxes, or nothing at all?  Our goal should be long term deficit control.  I would like to focus on the economy by reforming taxes and decreasing rates, but Obama makes that an impossible task…so we should focus on what we can accomplish, and not languish in a debate about what we cannot accomplish.  And we should do so with clear, immediately provided demands…no future promises to play games with.  If Obama wants a tax increase today, he has to provide for entitlement and spending cuts…today.

Come on, Republicans…pick a position, any winnable position.  Then stand by that position as a united front…or fall apart as a divided and broken movement.  No more of being the Charlie Brown Party.

 

 

1

Budget Negotiation 101: Avoiding The Fire

Anyone remember this?

Many in the media are proclaiming President Obama’s ‘nonoffer’ offer for a solution to the erstwhile fiscal cliff as ‘brilliant’ and ‘courageous’.

No, I am not kidding…read the New York Times or Washington Post.

The left seems to believe they have Republicans where they want them.  And actually, they may be right.  Republicans took a drubbing in the elections, and polls show the public will blame them, and not Democrats, if the fiscal cliff occurs.  And moreover, they don’t think that Republicans have any counter offer that will matter.

So, in answer, I present to you the Bowles-Simpson commission of 2010.

Look, the above commission is not ideal; far from it.  It raises taxes far more than I like and cuts some programs like Medicare far less than I would.

But the reality is we are in a deep dilemma as a party.

We have two choices:  one, walk away from the talks, let the fiscal cliff occur, and take the blame.  In which case we either get lucky and the public forgets their anger at the GOP by the time the 2014 elections roll around (unlikely), or we get crushed and Obama has two years where he is a lame duck but has control of all segments of Washington, D.C. A frightening thought.

The second choice is to present something that may pass that may solve at least a few of our problems.  For all the problems with Bowles-Simpson, it would start to put the country on a track to some fiscal sanity.  It restrains entitlements significantly enough that we have the prospect of avoiding a debt crisis, and forces long term changes to programs that have so far been untouched.

One side benefit:  Liberals hate it.

Sure, it raises taxes.  Tremendously.  But we better start to realize that is coming anyway.  If we walk away from the talks, the Bush tax cuts expire, in which case we actually get a scenario where we raise taxes more than the Commission ever would have.

Of course, the right wing of the party would have to get behind this, which is unlikely but possible.  We should unite as a party, and say we will vote for this solution, lock, stock and barrel.  No one in the media can state this isn’t a serious proposal, after two years of anointing Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson as the ‘Guardians of deficit sanity’.  Furthermore, it would show Obama for what he really is:  a paper tiger, and nothing more.  Obama is as unserious about deficit control as any man on the planet, and putting this up would show his true colors.

Sure, passing Bowles-Simpson would hurt.  The economy might take a hit from the tax increases alone.  But the GOP is a party with few open paths before it.  And among the very bad choices we have at hand, this may, at the very least, be a viable path forward.

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