How clueless is Diane Feinstein?

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Feinstein said that Bushmaster sells a “slide” for its rifle that makes it fully automatic. She made it sound as if anyone could buy a legal rifle and turn it into an illegal automatic weapon. I think she was taking about the adapters find on of their catalog.

A couple of things to note:
1. It is not illegal to own a fully automatic weapon. It’s just a lot harder to acquire one legally. An FBI background check is required, as is the payment of $200 to the Federal government.
2. In order to buy the adapter, the buyer requires the same license as is required to buy an automatic weapon in the first place .

If we are to have a(nother) “national conversation” on the Second Amendment, we ought at least be working with facts, not loose uninformed assertions.

Speak now. Or forever hold your peace.

A recent email exchange with a group of brothers, on the subject of government spending, led to one of us observing that it would be hard to cut spending. I replied:

Hard, perhaps, but scarcely impossible. The American economy managed somehow to muddle through without the Federal government providing welfare, well into the 20th century. It was LBJ’s Great Society that kicked the government into high gear. (It was also his “guns and butter” policy that institutionalized the lie that we could have high government spending without raising taxes, that we didn’t have to make choices in what the government does. The government, like God, was seen as omnipotent, capable of doing everything all at once. Of course, with omnipotence comes the omnipresence of government, which trait becomes more prominent by the day.) In fact, the economy did sufficiently well that we were able to get away with “having it all” for quite some time. We accomplished this by spending our inheritance. (If only we had bargained harder, we might have gotten at least a mess of pottage in exchange. Instead, all we got was a mess.)

We need to return to first principles. This may well require vigorous debate as to what those principles are, or should be, in today’s society. Fine. Almost any set of principles would be preferable to the ad hoc government we have had. Merely establishing the idea that principles exist would be a major step forward in our nihilistic materialistic culture.

From those principles would then flow the actions and choices we make in how we choose to govern ourselves.

I offer as a starting point that individual freedom should be the organizing principle. For individual freedom to thrive, individuals must also be responsible actors, vulnerable to the consequences of their choices. Any government action which reinforces the principle of individual freedom could be enacted. Any government action contrary to the principle would have a high hurdle to clear before it could be enacted. (Example: drafting people into military service is contrary to the principle, but may be necessary to protect the long-run survival of the principle.)

Of course, to do this, we need principled leaders. Such creatures are thin on the ground right now. So I return to an older idea, that we should vote against all incumbents, until we are certain that we have discouraged those who conceive of “public service” as the public serving them.

Of course, to do that, we need principled citizens. Too many of our fellow citizens are unaware of an alternative to the nihilistic materialism in which we currently stew. In many cases, all it takes is for one person to speak out. There have been experiments performed by psychologists, in which they are able to get people to deny their own senses, if they are in a group which is unanimous in support of a lie. (For instance, selecting which line on a chart is longer.) Those experiments have down that if just one person expresses a view contrary to the group consensus, the subject of the experiment is more likely to go against the consensus. Just one. One.

How bureaucrats apportion blame

The State Department released its “independent internal” (note the oxymoron) report on why Ambassador Stevens and three others were left to be killed in Benghazi. It is a study in how bureaucracies cover themselves after a major failure.

This brought about a deep sense of the importance of husbanding resources to meet the highest priorities, laudable in the extreme in any government department.   But it has also had the effect of conditioning a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.” What this actually means is that the desk jockeys in Foggy Bottom were rewarded for cutting back on resources that were needed by diplomats on the front line. And they call it “laudable in the extreme”!

One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.” It’s Congress’s fault!

The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks...” Somehow, the Board failed to find out how Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice came up with the fiction about the video bring the prime mover.

Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department...” Look how the squid squirts ink, hiding those individuals culpable behind a “systemic” screen.

Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi.” Oh, my. It’s Ambassador Stevens’ fault! (This is a classic bureaucratic dodge: blame someone who cannot defend himself, will escape any punishment from the finding, and will not object to bring blamed. For instance, when an airplane crashes and the pilot dies, one can count on “pilot error” being a major contributing factor. )

Special Mission Benghazi’s uncertain future after 2012 and its “non-status” as a temporary, residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult…” Once the bureaucracy decided not to care about the mission in Benghazi, it stopped carrying about the mission in Benghazi. Because of its “non-status”, it is the Mission’s fault!

In the weeks and months leading up to the attacks, the response from post, Embassy Tripoli, and Washington to a deteriorating security situation was inadequate.” Again, multiplying the number of players obscures the locus of culpability. One could also, equally truthfully, say that the response from post, embassy, Santa Claus the Tooth Fairy and Washington was inadequate. Because the response from Washington was inadequate. Note also the use of the third person singular: the response… was inadequate”. Was there a single unified response from the three actors? No. But this grammatical trick makes it seem like: it’s everyone’s fault!

At the same time, the SMC’s dependence on the armed but poorly skilled Libyan February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade (February 17) militia members and unarmed, locally contracted Blue Mountain Libya (BML) guards for security support was misplaced…  At the time of Ambassador Stevens’ visit, February 17 militia members had stopped accompanying Special Mission vehicle movements in protest over salary and working hours.” The guards with guns were unskilled, and they were on strike anyway. It’s the guards’ fault!

The Board found that Ambassador Stevens made the decision to travel to Benghazi independently of Washington…” Did we mention that it’s Ambassador Stevens’ fault?

The Ambassador did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature and scale on the U.S. Mission in the overall negative trendline of security incidents from spring to summer 2012.” That’s Ambassador Stevens. Again.

His status as the leading U.S. government advocate on Libya policy, and his expertise on Benghazi in particular, caused Washington to give unusual deference to his judgments.” Can you believe we trusted this guy?! He really put on over on us, let me tell you. But, hey, how can we be blamed for his lousy judgment?

Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels.  Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.” We all got along just great at that conference in Maui. Good times. Unfortunately, when we got back to the office, some of us, not sure exactly who, resumed lying to the rest of us. And that trust-building exercise was supposed to take care of that! Also, we never did quite figure out who was responsible for which job, but we did have that on the list of “things to do” for when we got back. (note to selves: put “find things to do list” on the things to do list.)

“The Board’s inquiry found little evidence that the armed February 17 guards offered any meaningful defense of the SMC, or succeeded in summoning a February 17 militia presence to assist expeditiously.   The Board found the Libyan government’s response to be profoundly lacking.” The guards were on strike! It’s the Libyan government’s fault!

The Board found that intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.”  The clustering of adjectives makes it possible to cause the facts to disappear. This is a three-part Venn diagram: the intelligence has to meet all criteria in order to count. If one sufficiently narrows the definition, nothing will fit. And then one can say: it’s the CIA fault!

The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection.  However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.” That was a close one! For a minute there, we thought someone might have done something that would force us to do something, but it didn’t rise to the level of a breach of duty. So, of all the people at fault, we can say for sure: not the desk jockeys!

Worth noting: the Secretary of State is mentioned only as the one who convened the review board. Apparently, she is a very hands-off manager, since she never appears in any of the actual action.

Another Crushing Defeat for US Forces in the War on Poverty

Interesting analysis from NYT columnist Nicholas Kristoff.

THIS is what poverty sometimes looks like in America: parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

I have a theory as to why this occurs, especially with Federal programs. First, a brief recap of the principle of Subsidiarity: decisions should be made at the lowest competent level. This is, at least in part, because the lower levels of authority are closer to the situation, and can make a more informed decision based on individual circumstances. The further away from the situation an authority is, the less detail is available to it, and therefore the greater the need to make rules which guide decisions.

Now, one thing that welfare programs need to do is to define eligibility. There are two broad approaches to writing the rule:

  1. Ensure that nobody ineligible obtains the benefit.
  2. Ensure that nobody eligible is denied the benefit.

In the first case, some people will be denied benefits who should receive them; the number of recipients will be small, and will include only those truly eligible. In the second case, the number of recipients will be much larger, as the rules will wave through some ineligible applicants, in order to avoid blocking eligible applicants. Everyone eligible will get benefits; but so will many others.

The first approach can be characterized as “tight-fisted”, the second as “open-handed”. I submit that most people going into government service see themselves as helping others, and would prefer to be open-handed.

Especially with Other People’s Money.

There is another reason that government employees would prefer to be open-handed: it’s less work. See, for instance, this report on school lunches for the children of Hurricane Sandy victims. All children in NYC schools got the free lunch, because it would have been hard to identify those actually impacted by the storm. Note that the mother being interviewed offers a solution consistent with Subsidiarity: have the schools determine who qualifies for the free lunch.