Living With Immigration

It seems to me….

Ours is an open and accepting society and has historically provided an avenue for lawful immigration to all those willing to accept the responsibilities of citizenship.” ~ Spencer Bachus[1].

The entire world is in an age of mass migration. As the percentage of immigrants approaches approximately 22 percent, the percentage of right-wing populist voters has risen to 50 percent. Hostility to immigration has become a core theme of every populist political party.

In the past three or four decades, western societies have seen large influxes of people from different lands and cultures. In 1970, foreign-born residents composed less than 5 percent of the U.S. population; today they are about 14 percent. The rise is even sharper in most European countries, home to 76 million international migrants who most recently have come from Africa and the Middle East. Austria, for example, took in almost 100,000 immigrants adding 1 percent to its population in 2015 alone.

This migration became a refugee crisis in 2016[2] as, worldwide, nearly 1 in 100 people were displaced from their homes, the highest level since following World War II. 34,000 people are forcibly displaced everyday due to conflict and persecution with 54 percent of refugees worldwide coming from only three countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria. About 6 in 10 Syrians, an estimated 2.5 million people, are currently displaced. Children make up more than half of all refuges resulting in half of all primary-age refugee children not being in school. In just the past two years, 1.3 million people fleeing conflict and persecution have traveled through Greece in search of safety in Europe with some 62,000 of those refugees currently remaining stranded in that country.

It also must be considered that while a refugee almost always can be an immigrant, an immigrant is not necessarily a refugee. It is difficult to understand how anyone cannot be sympathetic and accepting to someone fearing for their and their family’s safety; fleeing their homes to escape persecution or death, leaving behind all they possess and everyone they knew. The insensitivity and lack of empathy of those wanting to shut the door to those in such need is beyond understanding.

Change can be unsettling. For most of human history, people have lived, worked, and died within a few miles of the place where they were born but, in recent decades, hundreds of millions of people from poorer countries have moved to wealthier ones. This reflects an economic reality. Rich countries have declining birthrates and need labor; poor countries have millions who seek better lives. But this produces anxiety, unease, and a cultural backlash apparent across the entire Western world.

Migration tends to be beneficial for both origin and destination societies and refugees should not be seen as a burden but as a potential resource[3]. It is the immigrant that as a percentage is the greater engine of change providing a high dynamic of innovation.  Possessing a different perspective, immigrants frequently are able to pursue a different direction than the native-born. Diversity always results in advances.

Most migration policies are, in fact, quite effective and immigration policies have become more liberal for most migrant groups over past decades. Immigration is not a flow that can be turned on and off like a tap. Modern immigration policies aim to influence the selection and timing of migration rather than volumes of migration. It is, however, often overestimated what migration policies can achieve as migration is driven by processes of economic development and social change – in both the origin and destination societies – that lie beyond the reach of those policies.

Economic migration is strongly driven by labor demand defying popular beliefs that it is an uncontrolled phenomenon largely driven by poverty and violence in origin countries. The idea that climate change will lead to mass migration to the West is equally unrealistic. Economic growth and improved education typically increases people’s capacities and aspirations to migrate. With many developing countries facing increasing levels of unemployment among university graduates, it is therefore no coincidence that prominent emigrant countries such as Mexico, Morocco, and Turkey are middle-income countries.

There is an urgent need to see migration as an intrinsic part of economic growth and societal change rather than primarily as a problem. Studies have shown it is predominantly businesses, the wealthy, and the upper-middle classes who benefit from migration – apart from the migrants themselves. Most migrants do jobs that local populations shun or for which they lack the skills. Contrary to generally unsupported ideological beliefs, several studies indicate that while migration’s effect on economic growth is rather small, it tends to be positive.

The magnitude of migration is far too low to offset the effects of population aging. The actual problem might therefore not be so much how to prevent migrants from coming but how to attract them.

Countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, and Jordan currently host the largest refugee populations. Western societies, by contrast, receive a comparatively low number of refugees – and that percentage has declined in recent years.

One of the paradoxes of liberalization is that the political desire for less migration is fundamentally incompatible with the trend towards economic liberalization and the desire to maximize economic growth. The erosion of labor rights, the rise of flexible work, and the privatization of formerly state-owned companies in recent decades have significantly increased the demand for migrant labor in Europe. The heated migration debates in Britain and the U.S. – both strongly liberalized market economies facing persistently high levels of immigration – are powerful illustrations of this liberalization paradox.

Immigrants are important for a very important reason: jobs. Immigrants create companies at a much higher rate than native Americans; e.g., most Silicon Valley companies had at least one immigrant as their founder. The majority of refugees (and I’m intentionally differentiating between refugees and immigrants) are women and children fleeing to escape death and persecution – anyone with compassion and empathy would want to open our doors to these people. For Christians, it is not an option – it is something they should consider to be a moral imperative.

The U.S. has more immigrants than any other country in the world[4]. Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.S., about 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, were born in another country accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s migrants in 2015. Today’s immigrant share however remains below the record 14.8 percent in 1890 when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S.

Roughly half (46 percent) of the nation’s 43.2 million immigrants live in just three states: California (25 percent), Texas (11 percent), and New York (10 percent). California had the largest immigrant population of any state in 2015, at 10.7 million. Texas and New York had about 4.5 million immigrants each.

Most immigrants (76 percent) are legally in the country. In 2015, 44 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens, 27 percent of immigrants were permanent residents, and 5 percent were temporary residents. Another 24 percent of all immigrants were undocumented immigrants. Mexican unauthorized immigrants are more likely to be long-term residents of the U.S. As of 2014, 78 percent had lived in the U.S. for 10 years or more while only 7 percent had been in the country for less than five years.

The number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border has sharply decreased over the past decade from more than 1 million in fiscal 2006 to 408,870 in fiscal 2016. Specific concerns over Mexican undocumented immigrants is equally unfounded as the number leaving in recent years has exceeded the number arriving. In fiscal year 2016, more non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at U.S. borders with apprehensions of Central Americans at the border exceeding that of Mexicans for only the second time on record.

Dispelling any ideological biases, undocumented immigrants are younger and consequently have lower medical expenses than native Americans. The majority are single males so educational expenses are less. Many pay into Social Security but are not eligible to receive any payments. They have a much lower crime rate than native Americans as they know they will be deported if even questioned by the police. There have been several studies showing they are a significant financial benefit to our economy. The need for border security to prevent smuggling and other criminal activity is unquestioned but Trump’s wall is totally pointless. Money for his wall would be much better spent on higher priority items such as infrastructure or environment.

A majority of Americans have positive views about immigrants. Six-in-ten Americans (63 percent) say immigrants strengthen the country “because of their hard work and talents”, while just over a quarter (27 percent) say immigrants burden the country by taking jobs, housing, and health care. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities in the U.S. make the country a better place in which to live; fewer (29 percent) think growing diversity in the country does not make much difference, and just 5 percent think it makes it worse[5].

In October 2016, 54 percent of registered voters said the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria while 41 percent believe it does. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (74 percent) view the refugee exodus leaving countries such as Iraq and Syria as a major threat to the well-being of the U.S compared to just 40 percent of Democrats with similar views. Among Democratic voters in the 2016 Presidential election, just 40 percent of Clinton supporters and 34 percent of Sanders supporters viewed refugee migration as a major threat.

The Trump administration has a politically motivated anti-immigration agenda. In addition to ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, it also is terminating the Temporary Protected Status program for many temporary immigrates who have legally lived in the U.S. for extended periods, many of whom have deep roots in this country, have children who are citizens, are well integrated into society, and are essential workers in critical industries. The administration’s apparent misguided intent is to slash legal immigration, drive out all current immigrants, keep out refugees, and ban Muslims.

Eventually, Western societies will be able to adjust to this new feature of globalization. The majority of young people in both Europe and the U.S. deeply value the benefits of diversity and seek to live in an open and connected world. Unfortunately, this perspective is not shared by many older entrenched conservatives. Hopefully, the many advantages from a positive immigration policy will be recognized and the nation’s doors opened in welcome.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Spencer Thomas Bachus III is a former U.S. Representative for the state of Alabama who served as a ranking member and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

[2] Karakoulaki, Marianna. A Refugee for Hope, On Wisconsin, Volume 118, Number 2, p27.

[3] de Haas, Hein. Myths of Migration: Much of What We Think We Know Is Wrong, Der Spiegel, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/eight-myths-about-migration-and-refugees-explained-a-1138053.html, 21 March 2017.

[4] López, Gustavo, and Kristen Bialik. Key Findings About U.S. Immigrants, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/03/key-findings-about-u-s-immigrants/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=be5de05165-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_05_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-be5de05165-400092341, 3 May 2017.

[5]In First Month, Views of Trump Are Already Strongly Felt, Deeply Polarized, Pew Research, http://www.people-press.org/2017/02/16/in-first-month-views-of-trump-are-already-strongly-felt-deeply-polarized/, 16 February, 2017.

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Trump Just Doesn’t Get It

It seems to me….

We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” ~ Donald Trump[1].

I have avoided directly commenting on Trump’s performance as U.S. President for quite some time. While believing his actions are totally inappropriate and unbecoming for someone occupying that office, my remarks were becoming an all-too-frequent harangue rather than contributing to any critical review of his performance. Several of his remaining supporters also argued that he should be provided more time (something conservatives NEVER provided President Obama vowing from the day following his election to oppose everything he proposed).

It is now over a year since his election but he still has not said or proposed one thing with which I can agree. It is doubtful that the U.S. has ever had such a totally unqualified – in both temperament and experience – President. He narcissistically attempts to humiliate anyone who disagrees or criticizes him through verbal harassment. He is a master of the malodorous tweet using that media as a put-down of his opponents, whether actual or only perceived, attaching scurrilous adjectives to characters in his personal psychodrama: Lying Ted, Crooked Hillary, Crazy Bernie, Little Marco…. His behavior, constantly spewing vitriolic comments, is totally unprofessional.

The U.S. has always been disciplined and cautious; previous Presidents reacted with sobriety to the bellicose statements of other world leaders but Trump seems determined to have the last insult. He likes to be seen as the tough guy.

Perhaps the most important personal characteristics of anyone elected to such a high office are honesty and integrity. Trump possesses neither. We expect honesty, not only from family and friends, but also in all aspects of life: especially from our President. This is not a new concept – in the 1st century BCE the Roman poet Virgil wrote “Evil is nourished and grows by concealment” regarding the values for which he wanted Rome to stand. Most parents strive to instill honesty in their children but somehow Donald Trump’s were obviously unsuccessful. He has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be a pathological liar apparently incapable of distinguishing between fact and what he would prefer to be the truth. Whether compulsive or impulsive, he lies on a regular basis seemingly unable to control what he says despite being aware of the inevitable negative consequences or ultimate disclosure of those lies.

The fact of Russian meddling in our 2016 Presidential election is strongly denied by Trump who refuses to accept such assertions from all U.S. intelligence agencies. He openly admires Putin and accepts his avowals of non-involvement. Regardless of whether Trump colluded with Russia – and his continual attempts to interfere with ongoing investigations only provides credulousness to such charges, he exemplifies a Manchurian candidate. Due to his intransigence, very little is apparently being done to prevent such interference in future U.S. elections.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men in recent weeks have drawn wide public support and prompted quick response; Trump’s numerous female accusers who came forward with claims of harassment during the presidential race should not be forgotten. Their claims were both substantiated and credible – especially given his multiple live radio conversations with Howard Stern and very public bragging on video about his ability to get away with sexual assault. Trump deserves to be held as accountable as anyone else similarly accused.

Trump claims that he judges people “based on their capability, honesty, and merit” and so should he be judged. Attendees at Trump rallies witlessly accept that “He tells it like it is” which is the farthest from the truth from what he does but the repetitive simplicity of his short assertions and their insistent certainty are effective, especially with more educationally limited audiences.

It is almost impossible to change the minds of followers of authoritarian figures. Research shows they frequently are highly ethnocentric and highly inclined to see the world as their in-group versus everyone else, highly fearful of a dangerous world, highly self-righteous, aggressive, highly prejudiced against racial and ethnic majorities – non-heterosexuals and women in general. They reason poorly, are highly dogmatic, and very dependent on social reinforcement of their beliefs. As they severely limit their exposure to different people and ideas, they also vastly overestimate the extent to which other people agree with them.

The U.S. was extremely fortunate to have a President like Obama who was considerate, compassionate, rigorously intelligent, and reveled in the achievements of others. Now we have a President who stands in stark contrast to everything Obama worked for and achieved during his eight years in office. Where Obama brought optimism and hope, Trump paints a dark and despondent view of our world. I much prefer to live where light and happiness reign.

After the most severe financial crisis since the Depression, a broad-based economic upswing begun under President Obama is underway. In the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the emerging markets, all economies are once again showing progress – but the political mood is sour. A populist rebellion, nurtured by years of sluggish growth, is still spreading: globalization is out of favor and an economic nationalist sits in the White House.

This dissonance is dangerous. If populist politicians win credit for a more buoyant economy, their policies will gain credence but only with potentially devastating effects. An upswing might lift spirits and spread confidence but at what cost?

The upswing has nothing to do with Trump’s “America First” economic nationalism[2]. If anything, the global upswing vindicates the Keynesian economics that today’s populists often decry. Economists have long argued that recoveries from financial crashes take considerable time: research into 100 banking crises by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard University suggests that, on average, incomes recover to pre-crisis levels only after about eight years. Most economists also argue that the best way to recover after a debt crisis is to clean up balance-sheets quickly, keep monetary policy loose, and apply fiscal stimulus wherever prudently possible.

An endorsement for populist economics would favor the wrong policies. Trump’s proposed tax cuts would pump up the economy that now least needs support and complicate the Federal Reserve’s task. Fortified by misplaced belief in their own world view, the administration’s protectionists might urge Trump to rip up the infrastructure of globalization (e.g., bypassing the World Trade Organization in pursuing grievances against China) risking a trade war. A fiscal splurge at home and a stronger dollar would widen the U.S.’s trade deficit which may strengthen their hand. Populists deserve no credit for the upsurge but they could yet snuff it out.

The U.S.’s loss of faith in politics did not start with Trump. For decades, voters have complained about the gridlock in Washington and the growing influence of lobbyists. Trump has only fueled that mistrust. He has correctly identified areas where the U.S. needs reform but failed in his response – partly because of his own incontinent ego.

Donald Trump is not only a symptom of the U.S.’s political division but also a cause of it[3]. He was elected partly because he spoke for voters who felt that the system was working against them. He promised that by dredging Washington of the elites and lobbyists insufficiently intelligent or self-serving to act for the whole nation, he would fix U.S. politics. These, for the most part, are the very people he has chosen to fill prominent positions.

The Trump presidency has been plagued by poor judgment and missed opportunities and the strain is beginning to show in every aspect of government. Trump is hardly our first bad president. Given the erosion in his approval ratings, he hopefully will be around for only four years – if that.

His attempt to reform this “administrative state” is wrecking the machinery the government needs to function. Trump’s hostility has already undermined the courts, the intelligence services, the state department, and the U.S.’s environmental watchdog. He wants deep budget cuts and has failed to fill many critical Presidential appointments.

Suspicion and mistrust corrode all they touch. The rising monopoly power of companies has gone unchallenged. Schools and training fall short even as automation and artificial intelligence are about to transform the nature of work.

Dangers are already clear in foreign policy. By pandering to the belief that Washington elites sell the U.S. short, Trump is doing enduring harm to U.S. leadership. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would have entrenched the U.S.’s concept of free markets in Asia and shored up its military alliances. His rejection of the Paris climate accord showed that he sees the world not as a forum where countries work together to solve problems but as an arena where they compete for advantage.

His erratic decision-making and his intimacy with autocrats lead his allies to wonder if they can depend on him in a crisis. One of the most dismaying findings is that the decreasing international regard for the U.S. goes well beyond Trump. Sixty-four percent of the people surveyed expressed a favorable view of the U.S. at the end of the Obama presidency. That has now fallen to 49 percent. Even when U.S. foreign policy was unpopular, people around the world still believed in the U.S. – the place, the idea. This is less true today.

When we need empathy for those unfortunate and struggling, he has turned his back on them. When we need concern for those without, he has created greater burdens for them to bear. When the Earth is stressed from pollution and misuse, he has denied the problem and is allowing it to worsen. He wants to impose a ban on starving Syrian children to protect U.S. citizens but apparently approves of paranoid schizophrenics buying semiautomatic weapons.

Trump frequently is critical of what he calls “fake news” – when the news media honestly and truthfully reports fallacious administrative claims. Our nation has a serious problem but it is not with fake news; it is with a fake President.

There may be no previous instance in modern American history when deal breaking has been so central to an administration’s posture in the world. His approval both in this country as well as around the world continues to plummet. He is a total embarrassment to the office and our nation – the only question now is how much more are his Republican colleagues willing to tolerate.

There have been other Presidents I did not care for but Trump is the first I consider extremely frightening; as a populist President, there are too many parallels to the rise of Fascism. I haven’t any doubt that the U.S. will survive but we will pay a high price. My hope is Congress will see fit to foreshorten his elected four-year term in office. It once again is time for all of us to speak up for the restoration of national sanity.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Donald John Trump is the 45th U.S. President. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and television personality.

[2] The Global Economy Enjoys A Synchronised Upswing, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21718868-past-decade-has-been-marked-series-false-economic-dawns-time-really-does-feel, 18 March 2017.

[3] Donald Trump’s Washington Is Paralysed, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21724392-and-man-oval-office-making-bad-situation-worse-donald-trumps-washington, 1 July 2017.

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Tax Reform

It seems to me….

Tax reform is taking the taxes off things that have been taxed in the past and putting taxes on things that haven’t been taxed before.” ~ Art Buchwald[1].

There currently is considerable discussion regarding tax reform – a Trump campaign promise. Under consideration are many conflicting perspectives regarding taxes in general and many of them if approved rather than being beneficial, would adversely affect both current assessment allocations and the national deficit. There is considerable latitude for improvement but reform is being proposed by elected representatives with little knowledge of economics – many apparently unfamiliar with even basic ECON-101 – who are formulating recommendations primarily on ideology rather than advise from economists.

Taxes actually are the way individuals are able to purchase necessities; e.g., security (military, police, fire…), infrastructure (roads, bridges…), utilities (power, water, sewer…), education (schools, colleges…), healthcare (hospitals, research…), etc.; collectively which we otherwise would be unable to afford individually. There is little disagreement as to the need for these expenditures but considerably less on the amount and burden allocation. Additionally, there is very little understanding of who actually pays the majority of those taxes.

When most people discuss taxes, they tend to talk about them ideologically[2]. The right claims taxes are too high for everyone; the left worries that the rich do not pay their fair share. But facts do not support either position. Contrary to prevalent rightwing claims, the U.S. has one of the lowest tax burdens in the industrialized world (but there is little probability of that changing except in the wrong direction). The U.S. federal government derives most of its revenue from the income tax and 70 percent of those taxes are paid by the top 10 percent of Americans.

There are two somewhat conflicting principles regarding the fairness of taxes: the Benefits Principle and Ability-To-Pay Principle. The Benefits Principle is that those benefiting should bear the burden of a tax paying for that benefit – a “consumption” tax. The Ability-To-Pay Principle requires those with higher incomes to pay a larger percentage – a “progressive” tax. Many countries impose a tax on consumption rather than income called a Value-Added Tax (VAT) – a sales tax, often as high as 25 percent – that hits everyone equally. A consumption tax has high administrative costs and is difficult to make progressive.

Any tax, especially a consumption tax (sales tax, excise tax, highway tolls…), decreases unit demand (unless that demand is totally inelastic) as resulting costs must increase if the payer is to receive the same unit compensation as without a tax. Any increase in unit cost, depending upon price elasticity, is most likely to result in decreased unit demand. Taxes therefore always result in deadweight losses due to market inefficiency as some mutually beneficial transactions never occur.

The U.S. has the most progressive income, payroll, wealth, and property taxes of any developed country. There always are incentive concerns associated with taxes that are highly progressive and always trade-offs in a tax system between equity and efficiency.

The simplest comprehensive way to judge a country’s tax burden is to look at its tax revenue from all levels of government as a percentage of gross domestic product. With a tax burden of 25 percent, the U.S. has the fourth-lowest burden in the industrialized world, ranking 31st out of 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and well below the overall average of 34 percent[3]. It ranked 17th out of 29 industrialized countries when it came to tax revenue per capita according to the OECD and its marginal effective tax rate was second to France among industrialized nations according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation[4].

The U.S.’s percentage is actually lower today than it was in 2000 while the OECD average is about the same ranking below all measured countries except Korea, Chile, and Mexico.

Trump and other Republicans are right about one aspect of U.S. taxes, however. When it comes to taxing corporate profits, at 35 percent the U.S. does indeed have one of the highest nominal maximum corporate tax rates among industrialized nations.

One thing that the U.S. does have is the world’s longest tax code. Even though the U.S. is generally more competitive than other rich countries, its taxation is much more complicated and inefficient. All the small additions and exemptions to the tax code that have accumulated over the years are adverse economically. They divert business activity into areas that might not make economic sense but provide tax benefits. They are expensive and reward people and businesses for activities they might have done anyway. And most damaging of all, they are hidden and often eternal, not requiring reauthorization. By providing a complicated tax credit, it ensures that no one realizes how much cash is being given to a company or industry. If Congress wants to fund something, it should do so openly by giving grants.

Corporations exploit research and developments conducted using public funding and employ workers educated and trained in U.S. universities but contribute a decreasing share of associated costs. Contrary to what some critics claim, while possibly detrimental to U.S. interests, this is just good corporate management. While many multinational corporations were started and incorporated in the U.S., they now include many non-U.S. personnel in their management who do not share any personal allegiance to the U.S. Any criticism should be levied at Congress for failing to cut and simplify the U.S. tax code rather than at those corporations.

U.S. corporations hoard around $2 trillion in profits overseas rationalizing that the U.S. tax rate of 35 percent is excessive even though Fortune 500 companies on average pay only 19.4 percent and a third of them pay less than 10 percent. Congress has repeatedly awarded corporations numerous loopholes over the years so that our tax code now resembles a block of Swiss cheese. Consequently, U.S. corporations are making record profits yet contributing a lower share of overall U.S. federal financing than in previous decades.

Conservatives continue to shout the mantra that reducing taxes on the wealthy results in economic growth even though the opposite has repeatedly been shown to be true. Bill Clinton raised taxes: the result was economic growth; Bush cut taxes: recession. Obama raised taxes: economic growth; Kansas cut taxes: budget crisis. California raised taxes: economic growth…. The results have been consistent. Even when a tax reduction did result in economic growth such as under President Reagan, that growth was only very moderate compared to what was experienced under either Clinton and Obama.

A national sales tax, favored by the wealthy, is the most regressive of all taxes as it impacts the middle and lower classes much harder than the wealthy. The U.S. economy has been hyper-inflated by credit-fueled consumerism. A national sales tax, however, could have at least one positive effect: anything that encourages a healthier rate of saving and investment, which a sales tax would indirectly accomplish, can’t be totally bad.

There never will be universal agreement on any issue as contentious as tax reform but any attempt at reform drafted without bipartisan support will only serve to further widen the political chasm currently dividing us. While tax reform, especially simplification, is necessary, it should be accomplished based on fundamental economic principles and bipartisan agreement rather than political ideology.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Arthur “Art” Buchwald was an American humorist who primarily focused on political satire and commentary.

[2] Zakaria, Fareed. Trump’s Real Charitable Gift: Exposing The Corruption Of The U.S. Tax Code, The Washington Post, https://fareedzakaria.com/2016/10/06/trumps-real-charitable-gift-exposing-the-corruption-of-the-u-s-tax-code/, 6 October 2016.

[3] Jarass , Lorenz J., Anthony E. Tokman , Mark L. J. Wright. The Burden of Taxation in the United States and Germany, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, https://www.chicagofed.org/publications/chicago-fed-letter/2017/382#ftn7,

[4] Mintz, Jack and Duanjie Chen. U.S. Corporate Taxation: Prime for Reform, Tax Foundation, http://taxfoundation.org/article/us-corporate-taxation-prime-reform, 4 February 2015.

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What Is Your Size?

It seems to me….

The finest clothing made is a person’s own skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.” ~ Mark Twain[1].

There are some minor things in life that become too annoying to ignore: it has become virtually impossible in recent years to know one’s own clothing sizes[2]. As anyone who has recently shopped for clothing knows, the rise of so-called vanity sizing has rendered most labels meaningless. As Americans have grown physically larger, brands have shifted their metrics to supposedly make shoppers feel more slender. Modern fashion has a fit problem and while it also affects men, whose shirts and jeans rarely bear any honest relationship to actual measurements, it’s a much more sweeping issue for women – not just because they have more clothing options but also because they are more closely scrutinized (somewhat unfairly) for what they wear.

Men’s standard clothing sizes based primarily on chest measurements were probably initially developed during the American Revolutionary War and in regular use by the army for ready-made uniforms during the War of 1812. Though this was successful for men, when the same approach was attempted for women using the bust as the sole measurement in the early twentieth century, it proved unsuccessful since women’s bodies are far more diverse in shape.

In the U.S., cultural norms started to shift during the Great Depression when very few could afford to buy food let alone fabric for clothing. At the same time, industrial techniques were improving making it less expensive for companies to mass-produce clothes.

In the early 1940s, the New Deal-born Works Projects Administration (WPA) commissioned a study of the female body in the hopes of creating a standard labeling system. (Until then, as mentioned, women’s sizes had been based exclusively on bust measurements.) The study took 59 distinct measurements of 15,000 women; everything from shoulder width to thigh girth but the most consequential discovery by researchers Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton was psychological: women didn’t want to share their measurements with shopping clerks. For a system to work, they concluded, the government would have to create an “arbitrary” metric, similar to shoe sizes, instead of anthropometrical measurements.

By the end of World War II, those factors, along with the rise of advertising and mail-order catalogs, had sparked a consumer revolution both at home and abroad: made to measure was out; off the rack was in.

In 1958, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) put forth a set of even numbers 8 through 38 to represent overall size and a set of letters (S, R, T) and symbols (-, +) to represent height and girth respectively based on O’Brien and Shelton’s research. Brands were advised to make their clothes accordingly.

Studies have shown that shoppers prefer to buy clothing labeled with small sizes because it boosts their confidence. So as the weight of the average American woman rose, from 140 lb. in 1960 to 168.5 lb. in 2014, manufacturers adjusted their metrics to help more women squeeze into more-desirable sizes (and get them to buy more clothes). Over time this created an arms race and retailers went to extremes trying to one-up each another.

By 1983, that standard had fallen by the wayside and experts argue it probably would also fail now for the same reason: there is no “standard” U.S. female body type. Universal sizing works in China, for example, because “being plus-sized is so unusual they don’t even have a term for it”. But the U.S. is home to women of many shapes and sizes. Enforcing a single set of metrics might make it easier for some of them to shop like the thinner, Caucasian women on whom O’Brien and Shelton based all their measurements but that would leave out more people than were originally included.

By the late 2000s, standard sizes had become so forgiving that designers introduced new ones (0, 00) to make up the difference. This was a workable issue, granted an annoying one, as long as women shopped in physical stores with help from clerks who knew which sizes ran large and small.

Then came the Internet. People started buying more clothes online, trying them on at home, realizing nothing fit, and sending them back. And retailers got stuck with the bills for two-way shipping, inspection, and repair. Vanity sizing, which was once a reliable sales gimmick, now vacuums up billions of dollars in profits each year.

If there supposedly is a federal standard for clothing sizes, it should be up to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce it. When the FTC finds a case of fraud perpetrated on consumers, the agency files actions in federal district court for immediate and permanent orders to stop scams, prevent fraudsters from perpetrating scams in the future, freezes their assets, and gets compensation for victims. While the FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks, it seems as though not adhering to sizing standards would also fall under their purview. If previous size standards are considered outdated, it might be time to adopt the recommendations of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), Technical Committee 248, Textiles and Textile Products, which is composed of representatives from retail, manufacturing, and consumer industry groups.

Studies conducted by ASTM[3] – an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services – in the 1980s indicated there now is overwhelming consumer endorsement for the inclusion of body dimensions on clothing labels. Perhaps it is time for the standards community to help the garment industry give people what they want: clothes that are “true to size”.

Personally, probably somewhat typical for a male, I dislike shopping. While shopping online is definitely preferable, size discrepancies have forced me back into actual stores. While it admittedly is a hassle, if you can handle it, online prices normally are considerable less that in the brick-and-mortar stores. Sizing, brands, and fit can vary, so always check a site’s return policy before placing an order. While it no longer works for me, hopefully, it will for you.

Good luck….

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer.

[2] Dockterman, Eliana. Inside The Fight To Take Back The Fitting Room, Time, http://time.com/how-to-fix-vanity-sizing/, 2 September 2016. (Considerable portions were based on this article.)

[3] The letters “ASTM”, created in 1898, originally stood for the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Posted in Advertising, ASTM, Blue Jeans, CEN, China, Civil War, Clothing, Clothing, Clothing Size, Consumers, Dress, European Committee for Standardization, Great Depression, National Institute of Standards and Technology, New Deal, Pants, Revolutionary War, Ruth O’Brien, Shirts, Sizes, Standards, War of 1812, William Shelton, Women, Works Projects Administration, World War II, WPA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The U.S. Injustice System

It seems to me….

You can only watch injustice go on for so long until you’re compelled to say something. To speak out against it.” ~ Macklemore[1].

Approximately 70 million Americans have criminal records. More than one in five people have been arrested, jailed, or otherwise encountered the criminal justice system. Mass incarceration has functioned to construct political majorities, or, more accurately, power blocs, primarily for conservative political benefit through voter disenfranchisement and other forms of civic and social exclusion. Though those identified as “white” represent only 39 percent of the people in prison and jail, it is not generally appreciated that the most severe consequences of criminalization fall on “black”, “brown”, indigenous, and/or trans-working-class people.

People of color face double jeopardy. The U.S. justice system routinely grinds masses of mostly minority men through its gristmills but fails to protect them from bodily injury or death in their communities. People retreat into their silos and arm themselves with their best rhetorical weapons – racial bias on one side and statistics in which minorities, particularly African-American, are overrepresented as criminals on the other. Although the news media and popular culture constantly cast suspicion on young Muslim and African-American men and the supposedly disproportionate and ever-present threats these communities pose, African-American men are more than six times more likely to be sent to prison than Caucasian men even though Caucasian men and women accounted for 60 percent of those arrested for violent crimes (murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault…).

Some primarily minority areas have essentially become urban war zones to an extent considered intolerable in non-minority neighborhoods. The more dangerous the environment in which a person lives, the more likely males are to kill holding all other individual attributes constant [2]. The level of danger in an environment is itself endogenously fueled by the extent of perceived danger or fear. Systemic lower incomes and higher rates of unemployment among African-Americans make the penalties for attempted murder or manslaughter seem lower for them relative to their outside options.

Prisons are an essential tool for keeping society safe[3]. Without the threat of a cell to keep them in check, the strong and selfish would prey on the weak as they do in countries where the state is too frail to run an adequate justice system.

But as with many good things, more is not always better. The first people any rational society locks up are the most dangerous criminals, such as murderers and rapists. The more people a country imprisons, the less dangerous each additional prisoner is likely to be. At some point, the costs of incarceration start to outweigh the benefits. The U.S. long ago passed the point of negative return.

The U.S. incarceration rate rose fivefold between 1970 and 2008. Relative to its population, it now locks up seven times as many people as France, 11 times as many as the Netherlands, and 15 times as many as Japan. It imprisons people for things that should not be crimes (drug possession, prostitution, unintentionally violating incomprehensible regulations) and imposes extremely harsh penalties for minor offences. Under “three strikes” rules, petty thieves have been jailed for life.

In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, about 126,000 prisoners were held in privately operated facilities under the jurisdiction of 29 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons[4]. That’s an 83 percent increase since 1999 according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). By comparison, the total U.S. prison population increased 12 percent during that span.

Regardless of this increase, however, both the private and overall U.S. prison populations have declined at modest rates in the most recent 4-5 years. The private prison population has shrunk by 8 percent since its peak in 2012 while the overall prison population has fallen by 5 percent since its peak in 2009. (The state private prison population peaked in 2012 with 96,774 prisoners; the federal private prison population reached its peak a year later in 2013 with 41,159 prisoners.)

Prisons are expensive: cells must be built, guards hired, prisoners fed…. Inmates, while confined, are unlikely to work, support their family, or pay taxes. Money spent on prisons cannot be spent on other things more likely to reduce crime, such as hiring extra police or improving pre-schools in at-risk neighborhoods. And locking up minor offenders can make them more dangerous since they learn felonious habits from hard-cases they meet inside.

A ten-year sentence costs ten times as much as a one-year sentence but is not nearly ten times as effective a deterrent. Criminals do not think ten years into the future. If they did, they would take up some other line of work. One study found that each extra year in prison raises the risk of recidivism by six percent. Also, since mass incarceration breaks up families and renders many ex-convicts unemployable, it has increased the U.S. poverty rate by an estimated 20 percent.  Between 2010 and 2015 the U.S.’s incarceration rate fell by 8 percent. Far from leading to a surge in crime, this was accompanied by a 15 percent drop.

There is ample evidence of what works: Reserve prison for only the worst offenders. Divert those less threatening to drug treatment, community service, and other penalties that do not mean severing ties with work, family, and normality. Justice systems also could do far more to rehabilitate prisoners. Cognitive behavioral therapy counselling for prisoners on how to avoid the places, people, and situations that prompt them to commit crimes can reduce recidivism by 10-30 percent and is especially useful in dealing with young offenders. It also is relatively inexpensive, a rounding error in the $80 billion a year the U.S. spends on incarceration and probation. Yet, by one estimate, only 5 percent of U.S. prisoners have access to it.

The U.S. is unusually individualistic partially explaining its primarily punitive-focused approach to crime and aggression when contrasted with Scandinavian nations more inclined to emphasize treatment rather than punishment even for serious crime offenders. Mental health treatment reduces recidivism indicating that externalizing behaviors including crime and aggression should be considered a psychopathology requiring treatment rather than failures of impulse control to be punished.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, known by his stage name Macklemore and formerly Professor Mack Lemore, is an American rapper, singer, and songwriter.

[2] O’Flaherty, Brendan, and Rajiv Sethi. Homicide In Black And White, http://www.columbia.edu/~rs328/Homicide.pdf, 15 January 2010.

[3] America’s Prisons Are Failing. Here’s How To Make Them Work, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21722642-lot-known-about-how-reform-prisoners-far-too-little-done-americas-prisons-are?cid1=cust/ednew/n/bl/n/20170525n/owned/n/n/nwl/n/n/na/33652/n, 27 May 2017.

[4] Geiger, Abigail. U.S. Private Prison population Has Declined In Recent Years, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/11/u-s-private-prison-population-has-declined-in-recent-years/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=5b5503619d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_04_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-5b5503619d-400092341. 11 April 2017.

Posted in African-American, African-American, Aggression, Assault, Bias, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Prisons, Caucasian, Convict, Convictions, Crime, Criminal, Criminalization, Drugs, Education, Employment, France, Gun, Handgun, Homicides, Homicides, Incarceration, Incarceration, Indigenous, Inmate, Jail, Japan, Japan, Justice System, Legal, Manslaughter, Mental Health, minorities, Murder, Murder, Muslim, Netherlands, Offense, Prison, Probation, Prostitution, Psychopathology, Race, Race, racial bias, Rape, Recidivism, Recidivism, Robbery, Scandinavia, shootings, System, Three Strikes, Unemployment, Weapon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potential Termination

It seems to me….

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” ~ Stephen Hawking[1].

The Drake Equation[2], proposed by Dr. Frank Drake in 1961, attempted to estimate the number of life-supporting communicating planetary systems in the Universe: the only reasonable conclusion is that civilizations that supposedly have reached that stage of development should be extremely common. If so, as stated in the Fermi Paradox[3], why have none ever been detected? One of the postulates is that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself – with development of general-level artificial intelligence (AI) being one of the highly probably explanations. Other possibilities are that intelligent life inevitably destroys itself through genetically-engineered pathogens or nanomachines, tiny self-replicating robots programmed to convert matter into more robots.

It can reasonably be assumed that most developing civilizations would follow the same route as here on Earth. Any developing the means to electronically communicate would eventually also develop general-level AI. AI is therefore not just an important topic, but is in many ways by far THE most important topic for consideration in our future[4].

There have been many apocalyptic predictions throughout history but, so far, their historic success rate has been zero. Unfortunately, that should not provide assurance that such predictions will never be correct. It would be catastrophic if they ever were to be correct even once. Anything leading to a possible potential termination result needs to be carefully evaluated.

99.9 percent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct; what has been termed an attractor state, a state into which all species eventually fall unable to ever return. While AI would have the ability to send humans to extinction, many also believe that used beneficially, AI’s abilities could be used to bring individual humans, and the species as a whole, to a second attractor state: specifically, species immortality[5].

AI means different things to different people and though scientists have made significant progress in AI, advances until now have been almost entirely in what researchers call narrow AI where algorithms are created for dedicated tasks such as answering common sales enquiries or recognizing human speech. An important consideration with any AI system is that it does what people intend rather than just literally performing commands. It must be insured that AI systems involved in critical activities perform safely and prevent any potentially negative transformational results.

As Donald Knuth[6] has stated, “AI has by now succeeded in doing essentially everything that requires ‘thinking’ but has failed to do most of what people and animals do ‘without thinking.’”[7] It’s what’s next that is critical. AI capabilities tend to increase exponentially and we are quickly approaching a critical inflection point.

Non-computer programmers significantly underestimate the difficulty in instructing a computer what to do. Computers rely on scenarios created by software programmers: if this happens, then do that. Much human communication is through unstated inferences and implications but computers will do exactly what they are told and nothing else – there is no understanding of the subtleties humans use. Even punctuation can be extremely critical (a very costly Venus satellite was lost as a result of a single misplace comma among millions of lines of code). Up to now, computers only have done as they have been told. Just about everything of what a computer is capable was put there by a person – and computers have only extremely rarely been able to discover new techniques or learn on their own. Very few computer programs initially work as expected and every nontrivial program is guaranteed to contain some errors regardless of how extensively tested.

An artificial entity is currently rarely able to provide answers or be more logical than those who created it. While humans tend to anthropomorphize other life, an artificial entity is not human and would share fewer human characteristics than would a spider or snake. Once having passed the intelligence singularity, it will be totally impossible to predict the behavior of such an entity. This is the reason so many very intelligent people warn its development might be devastating to life.

The unfortunate truth is that every technological advance has the potential for misuse; every discovery, every invention, everything ever developed has this dichotomy for both good and bad. It must be accepted this will also be true for AI.

The basic problem with AI is that an intelligent entity might become incredibly good at achieving something other than what is actually wanted. If an entity is given a directive, it will single-mindedly attempt to accomplish that task regardless of any attempt to interfere, alter, or terminate it prior to completion. Given the demonstrated impossibility of constraining or preventing undesirable actions by hackers or felonious humans, it would prove even less possible to guarantee secure operations when confronted by super-intelligence.

It therefore is critically important with AI to avoid undesirable outcomes. The entity must be correctly (predictably) trained such that the system will not have unintended side-effects and there is adequate verification that it will perform as intended. AI has the potential to provide beneficial solutions to many of the world’s most complex problems but only if done correctly.

Prevalent science fiction scenarios are not realistic; there will not be any Terminator. The problem would be that humans are unable to consider every possible interpretation of their instructions and the entity would following the primary directives it was given without consideration of possible deleterious effects or results. If an intelligent entity’s primary directive was to eliminate all disease and sickness, the logical approach would be to eliminate everyone who became ill. Computers are extremely literal.

Example: A number of years ago in an all-night restaurant on what then was U.S. Route 66 in Nevada, an employee who normally closed the restaurant at 02:00am prior to leaving, was told “Daylight savings time ends tonight. If you are still here at 02:00am, turn the clock back to 01:00am prior to leaving”. The manager was very surprised the next morning to find a very tired employee repeatedly turning the clock back every hour. As humans, we assume it is understood that the clock must only be adjusted once but without a specific termination instruction, a computer will do exactly as instructed – and only as instructed.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to eliminate war, disease, poverty, permit space exploration, etc. It could result in a utopia; it also could be the end of all life. Up to now, we always had the opportunity to repeatedly try something until we eventually got it right. With artificial intelligence, it has to be right the very first time – we will not have any second chance.

We’re used to relying on a loose moral code, or at least a semblance of human decency and a hint of empathy in others to keep things somewhat safe and predictable, but when something has none of those things, anything could happen. By making AI either good or evil, movies constantly anthropomorphize AI, which makes it less creepy than it really would be leaving us with a false comfort when we think about human-level or superhuman-level AI. To be friendly, an AI needs to be neither hostile nor indifferent toward humans. It is necessary to design an AI’s core coding in a way that leaves it with a deep understanding of human values.

A key distinction is the difference between speed superintelligence and quality superintelligence. The more intelligent a machine becomes, the more rapidly it’s able to increase its own intelligence. Maybe the way evolution works is that intelligence creeps up more and more until it hits the level where it’s capable of creating machine superintelligence, and that level is like a tripwire that triggers a worldwide game-changing explosion that determines a new future for all living things[8]. Once general-level artificial intelligence exists, any human attempt to contain it is impossible.

Human-level AI represents something both smart and totally alien. Anthropomorphizing AI (projecting human values on a non-human entity) will only become more tempting as AI systems get smarter and better at seeming human. Humans feel high-level emotions like empathy because we have evolved to feel them;  i.e., we’ve been programmed to feel them by evolution  but empathy is not inherently a characteristic of anything with high intelligence.

The first system to develop human-level intelligence, even by just a few days prior to the second system, would be sufficiently intellectually advanced to effectively and permanently suppress all competitors. This would allow the world’s first general-level artificial intelligence to become what is called a singleton,   an intelligence that can [singularly] rule the world at its whim forever, whether it’s whim is to lead us to immortality, wipe us from existence, or turn the universe into endless paperclips.

There are so many variables that it’s completely impossible to predict what the consequences of an AI Revolution would be. However, what we do know is that humans’ utter dominance on this Earth suggests a clear rule: with intelligence comes power. This means a super-intelligent entity, once created, will be the most powerful being in the history of life on Earth and all living things, including humans, will be entirely at its whim — and this might happen in the next few decades.

Those who truly understand super-intelligent AI call it the last invention we ever will make; the last challenge we’ll ever face. It definitely will be the most critical development in a human history. If its development is catastrophic, the end will most likely come suddenly and without warning.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.

[2] Drake Equation, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation.

[3] Urban, Tim. The Fermi Paradox, Wait But Why, http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html, May 2014.

[4] Urban, Tim. The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence, Wait But Why, http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html, 22 January 2015.

[5] Sysiak, Pawel. AI Revolution, https://medium.com/ai-revolution/ai-revolution-101-8dce1d9cb62d, 27 July 2016.

[6] Donald Ervin Knuth is an American computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford University who made many extremely important contributions in the computing field.

[7] Nilsson, Nils J. The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and Achievements, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

[8] Urban, Tim. The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction, Wait But Why, http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-2.html, January 2015.

Posted in AI, AI, AI, Artificial, Artificial Entity, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Drake Equation, Enrico Fermi, Evolution, Extinction, Fermi Paradox, Frank Drake, Human-Level, Intelligence, Intelligence, Intelligent Entity, Pathogens, Singleton, Singularity, technological singularity, Termination Event, Terminator | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Common Sense Gun Control

It seems to me….

How many have to die before we will give up these dangerous toys?” ~ Stephen King[1].

Supporting the individual right to bear arms should never stop us from ensuring our communities are as safe as possible. An overwhelming number of Americans, many of them gun owners, support commonsense efforts to reduce gun violence, such as stronger background checks, but the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun lobby vehemently oppose any efforts to make our country safer and to promote responsible gun ownership. It is in the gun manufacturers’ financial interests to sell as many guns as they can, to whomever they can, whenever they can, and wherever they can. Supporting the widely misunderstood Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s right to own firearms should never stop us from ensuring that our communities also are safe.

Interestingly, regardless of which side of the issue they might be on, the majority of Americans believe most other Americans agree with their personal opinion on firearms; something termed the “false consensus effect”[2]. This same effect has been verified on a range of subjects such as healthcare, election preferences, and the environment. Most people strongly desire to be part of the prevailing social consensus – if they and everyone they know share similar beliefs, it is only natural to project that this is how the rest of society also feels about some issue. The problem is that our personal circle of friends tends to share similar values somewhat isolating us from the broader national prevailing opinion.

The reality is that 67 percent of Americans favored the series of executive weapons-related actions proposed by President Obama in January 2016 while only 32 percent were opposed. When comparing the influence of what scientists and other Americans think on the issue, the views of fellow Americans had little to no effect on Democrats’ judgments but exerted a strong influence on Republicans’ personal views about stricter gun control laws.

48 percent of gun owners said protection was the primary reason for owning a gun while 32 percent said it was for hunting. Gun owners overwhelmingly said having a gun in their household makes them feel safer – fully 79 percent expressed this view. Yet about as many (78 percent) said having a gun was something they enjoyed. On the opposing side, most people (58 percent) who did not have guns in their homes said they would not be comfortable having a gun.

The number of guns in the U.S. has increased by 70 million since 1994 but the percentage of Americans who own a gun has decreased during that time – from 25 percent to 22 percent[3] as fewer gun owners now own more weapons. Just 3 percent of Americans own about half of all the 265 million guns in America according to a new Harvard/Northeastern survey[4]. These “super-owners” possess arsenals of between eight and 140 guns each.

This raises an obvious question: other than for gun collectors, why do 3 percent of Americans feel compelled to own so many firearms?

The NRA has been in existence since 1871 and originally was created to be an organization that would provide marksmanship programs[5]. Through most of the NRA’s history it supported, or at least condoned, gun control initiatives including the 1968 Gun Control Act which expanded the government’s ability to prohibit criminals and those with mental impairments from owning firearms. It wasn’t until 1977 when Harlon Carter took leadership that the organization began its more restrictive Second Amendment Rights agenda. The NRA was supportive of gun control in the 1960s during the Black Panther Movement but the organization’s goals had changed by the late 1970s and both groups now advocate minimum restrictions on gun ownership.

The legislative measures that inspire most Second Amendment discussions are Gun Control laws. The Second Amendment protecting the right to keep and bear arms was adopted on 15 December 1791 as part of the first ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have the right to own weapons while also ruling that the right is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of either firearms or similar devices.

Definitions of this amendment by the Supreme Court have neither been consistent nor necessarily clarified its intent. For example, in December 1879, it cited a previous decision (United States v. Cruikshank[6]) that the Second Amendment only means that the federal government may not infringe on the rights of states to form their own militias. The Court refused to accept the argument that the right to bear arms is a personal right of the people. In United States v. Miller[7], the Court ruled that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to own a firearm unless the possession or use of the firearm has “a reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia”. In 2008 however, in the Court in District of Columbia v Heller[8], Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion in a very controversial 5-4 split ruling that the Second Amendment confers an individual the right to keep and bear arms – something rejected in previous decisions.

No law regulating firearms has ever been struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Second Amendment[9]. Many supporters of the currently prevailing interpretation of the Second Amendment maintain that any right to bear arms should be secondary to concerns for public safety and that the Constitution need not be interpreted in accordance with a changing society even though the destructive capability of semiautomatic and automatic firearms was never envisioned by its Framers. There obviously will be still more interpretations yet to come. The issue remains too contentious not to be further challenged.

What is left out of the debate over weapon legislation is that without effective gun control none of us can feel secure. Gun advocates always demand THEIR freedom to own weapons but where is OUR freedom to feel safe from fear. Politicians who respond to mass shootings with expressions of “thoughts and prayers” need to replace those sentiments with “answers and solutions”. They very publicly state their condolences to victims but then refuse to approve any meaningful gun legislation – condolences have never saved anyone’s life. Isn’t it time to end this lunacy?

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Stephen Edwin King is an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy.

[2] Wilson, Chris. Most Americans Think Their Opinion on Guns is Widely Shared, Time, http://time.com/4439610/gun-control-opinion/?xid=newsletter-brief, 5 August 2016.

[3] Beckett, Lois. Gun Inequality: US Study Charts Rise Of Hardcore Super Owners, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/19/us-gun-ownership-survey, 19 September 2016.

[4] Why A New Survey From Harvard And Northeastern Is The Most Authoritative Assessment Of American Gun Ownership in 20 Years, Northeastern University, http://www.northeastern.edu/news/in-the-news/why-a-new-survey-from-harvard-and-northeastern-is-the-most-authoritative-assessment-of-american-gun-ownership-in-20-years/, 19 September 2016.

[5] Ledvina, Katie. Fact-Check: Did the NRA support gun control when the Black Panthers advocated that minorities arm themselves?, All The Rage, http://blog.uwgb.edu/alltherage/fact-check-did-the-nra-supported-gun-control-when-the-black-panthers-advocated-that-minorities-arm-themselves/, 13 November 2013.

[6] United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 23 L. Ed. 588 (1875).

[7] United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 59 S. Ct. 816, 83 L. Ed. 1206 (1939).

[8] District of Columbia v. Heller (No. 07-290) 478 F. 3d 370, affirmed.

[9] Second Amendment, The Free Dictionary, http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Second+Amendment.

Posted in 2nd Amendment, Background Check, Barack Hussein Obama II, Bill of Rights, Constitution, False Consensus Effect, Gun, Gun Lobby, Gun Owners, Harlon Carter, National Rifle Association, NRA, NRA, Obama, Obama, Scalia, Second Amendment, Supreme Court, Supreme Court, Weapon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment