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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Guns, David Brooks' Thoughts and Sid's Digital Woes


Guns, the Second Amendment and Thomas Jefferson

Here is the text of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Let’s get something straight.  With all apologies to the National Rifle Association, no one is attempting to repeal this amendment.  What is happening, however, is that the definition of “arms” as used in it is being questioned by many Americans.  To better understand this, let me ask you to take a little quiz.  In your opinion, which of the following kinds of "arms" do you feel that the right of the people to keep and bear should not be infringed?

      1.     Nuclear weapons
      2.     Tanks 
      3.     Howitzers 
      4.      Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles
      5.      Bazookas
      6.     Mortars
      7.     Machine guns
      8.     Assault rifles capable of extended rapid fire
      9.     Hand guns capable of extended rapid fire
     10.   Hand grenades and Molotov cocktails
     11.  All other rifles and hand guns 
12. Single shot hunting guns
     13   Shotguns
     14.  Bows and Arrows
     15.  Spears
     16, Slingshots 
17.  Rocks
     18.  Swords

If you read the amendment to mean that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is intended to enable the country to have a well regulated militia, as it clearly states, and if our nation’s budget didn’t provide enough money to purchase weapons for the armed services, it is conceivable that a possessor of a nuclear bomb or any of the types of “arms” listed above might be expected to bring them along with him when called up for duty.   
Minutemen brought their own weapons to Lexinton and Concord
This would be a necessity if our government had been foolish enough to have beaten all of its swords into plowshares. Hence, the right to have a nuclear weapon or an assault rifle in one's basement should be protected for the good of the country's national security.  Personally, I believe this is an archaic remnant from the days when every soldier or militia member brought along his own musket or rifle.  In today’s world, it just isn’t going to happen. 

Some extreme folks believe that possession of such weaponry should not be “infringed” upon because they are necessary in the event an alien or undemocratic government comes into power in this country, such weapons being necessary to enable the “people” to rise up against such a government.  I do not believe this is the intent of the amendment either, despite Thomas Jefferson’s comment that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” 

Thomas Jefferson,

People who believe this, such as the amateur militia which train in the wilds of Montana, are dangerous and should be closely watched by law enforcement agencies, as I believe they are.   Today, the words of Jefferson should be interpreted figuratively rather than literally.
I believe that, realistically, dealing with the circumstances addressed in the two situations described above is not the intention of the amendment’s language when viewed in the context of the United States of America in the twenty-first century.  That leaves me to conclude that in today’s world the rights of Americans as guaranteed by the Second Amendment are limited to keeping and bearing “arms” for self-protection, hunting, and sporting activity and that possession of weapons for purposes other than these is not justified by it.  "Arms” for such acceptable purposes include those appearing as items 11 to 18 on the above list.

There are those who strongly feel that once we put limits on the kinds of “arms” Americans can “keep and bear,” we are starting down the slippery slope toward repeal of the entire Second Amendment. I suspect than many who feel this way believe in a literal interpretation of the words of Thomas Jefferson.  I distrust their motives.  Someday, the Supreme Court will have to revisit this question and, I hope, come up with something other than the “strict constructionist” opinions which have been handed down thus far.

As for tighter regulation of gun sales so that they do not get into the wrong hands, greater emphasis on identifying and providing care for those with potentially dangerous mental disorders and cutting down on the violent cheapening of life as manifested in motion pictures and video games, these goals, however admirable, are only half-way measures which by themselves will not reduce the carnage.  They will never be a substitute for limiting the availability of items 1 to 10 on the list in the quiz above.
Jack Lippman

In the most recent posting on this blog, I said that there was enough wealth in this country to solve its economic challenges, and the the nation's best minds should be directed toward devising solutions.  One of those minds, that of the New York Times' David Brooks, does not agree with me and feels that having both a strong military and meeting the nation's growing health care needs are not simultaneously possible.  Here is his Times column of January 7 on that subject as it appeared on the internet.

Why Hagel Was Picked

David Brooks
Published: January 7, 2013 

Americans don’t particularly like government, but they do want government to subsidize their health care. They believe that health care spending improves their lives more than any other public good. In a Quinnipiac poll, typical of many others, Americans opposed any cuts to Medicare by a margin of 70 percent to 25 percent.

Josh Haner/The New York Times

In a democracy, voters get what they want, so the line tracing federal health care spending looks like the slope of a jet taking off from LaGuardia. Medicare spending is set to nearly double over the next decade. This is the crucial element driving all federal spending over the next few decades and pushing federal debt to about 250 percent of G.D.P. in 30 years. 

There are no conceivable tax increases that can keep up with this spending rise. The Democrats had their best chance in a generation to raise revenue just now, and all they got was a measly $600 billion over 10 years. This is barely a wiggle on the revenue line and does nothing to change the overall fiscal picture. 

As a result, health care spending, which people really appreciate, is squeezing out all other spending, which they value far less. Spending on domestic programs — for education, science, infrastructure and poverty relief — has already faced the squeeze and will take a huge hit in the years ahead. President Obama excoriated Paul Ryan for offering a budget that would cut spending on domestic programs from its historical norm of 3 or 4 percent of G.D.P. all the way back to 1.8 percent. But the Obama budget is the Ryan budget. According to the Office of Management and Budget, Obama will cut domestic discretionary spending back to 1.8 percent of G.D.P. in six years. 

Advocates for children, education and the poor don’t even try to defend their programs by lobbying for cutbacks in Medicare. They know that given the choice, voters and politicians care more about middle-class seniors than about poor children. 

So far, defense budgets have not been squeezed by the Medicare vise. But that is about to change. Oswald Spengler didn’t get much right, but he was certainly correct when he told European leaders that they could either be global military powers or pay for their welfare states, but they couldn’t do both. 

Europeans, who are ahead of us in confronting that decision, have chosen welfare over global power. European nations can no longer perform many elemental tasks of moving troops and fighting. As late as the 1990s, Europeans were still spending 2.5 percent of G.D.P. on defense. Now that spending is closer to 1.5 percent, and, amid European malaise, it is bound to sink further. 

The United States will undergo a similar process. The current budget calls for a steep but possibly appropriate decline in defense spending, from 4.3 percent of G.D.P. to 3 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

But defense planners are notoriously bad at estimating how fast postwar military cuts actually come. After Vietnam, the cold war and the 1991 gulf war, they vastly underestimated the size of the cuts that eventually materialized. And those cuts weren’t forced by the Medicare vise. The coming cuts are. 

As the federal government becomes a health care state, there will have to be a generation of defense cuts that overwhelm anything in recent history. Keep in mind how brutal the budget pressure is going to be. According to the Government Accountability Office, if we act on entitlements today, we will still have to cut federal spending by 32 percent and raise taxes by 46 percent over the next 75 years to meet current obligations. If we postpone action for another decade, then we have to cut all non-interest federal spending by 37 percent and raise all taxes by 54 percent. 

As this sort of crunch gradually tightens, Medicare will be the last to go. Spending on things like Head Start, scientific research and defense will go quicker. These spending cuts will transform America’s stature in the world, making us look a lot more like Europe today. This is why Adm. Mike Mullen called the national debt the country’s biggest security threat. 

Chuck Hagel has been nominated to supervise the beginning of this generation-long process of defense cutbacks. If a Democratic president is going to slash defense, he probably wants a Republican at the Pentagon to give him political cover, and he probably wants a decorated war hero to boot. 

All the charges about Hagel’s views on Israel or Iran are secondary. The real question is, how will he begin this long cutting process? How will he balance modernizing the military and paying current personnel? How will he recalibrate American defense strategy with, say, 455,000 fewer service members? 

How, in short, will Hagel supervise the beginning of America’s military decline? If members of Congress don’t want America to decline militarily, well, they have no one to blame but the voters and themselves. 


Sid's Corner


I just received my first digital edition of Newsweek because “they” (Tina Brown, et al) decided that continuing the hard copy version was no longer viable.

I’m one of those dinosaurs who is repulsed by electronic nooks, schmooks, kindles, schmindles, ipads, ischmads, and their ilk, and I dreaded this day because they lack the tactile satisfaction of taste, feel, and smell of the hard copy, printed page.

I bravely went to the Newsweek site link they sent me via email, logged on, and stared numbly at their home page with its offering of a plethora of icons presenting means of navigation to the index, article summaries, etc., etc., etc.

Because my subscription won’t run out until July, I decided to give the new-fangled offering a determined effort. Ten minutes later I found the small, faint “sign in” tucked into the top left corner of the site’s upper margin, and began my exploration. My efforts were immediately confused by pop ads…some animated…for Penske movers, maze solving, AT&T, game videos, and the like.

When I finally got to open one article of interest and scrolled through piecemeal to read it, I was plunged into an exhaustive collection of bloggy type comments at its end. Side bars offered multiple options for “you might like this” based on my selection of the article I just read. At the bottom of the page there was an array of invites to sample other e-sites. I felt like I was being blasted by electronic shotgun pellets.

Doggedly I perused Newsweek’s entire contents as I’ve usually done, except this time I was sitting at my desk top computer using the mouse to “flip” through instead of being seated at my kitchen table, munching on food, and using my finger to flip pages as I scanned through the issue…stopping now and again to fully read an article of interest.

Although I could have used my wife’s Ipad and sat at the table, my stubby, largish fingers and the need to constantly enlarge the display would not ameliorate my overall discomfort at the loss of my tried-and-true, feely-touchy, and decades-long romance with hard-copy books and mags.

In the coming weeks I’ll try a few times more, but feel in my heart that I’ll probably cancel my subscription in frustration and switch to Time Magazine…until they, too, switch to digital.
Sid Bolotin


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Jack Lippman
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