Border Crisis Highlights Lack of Effective Security Metrics

In the midst of the crisis on the southwest border involving the housing and free passage of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the White House continues to peddle the claim that President Obama has bolstered security of the U.S.-Mexico border, citing as evidence the increased number of apprehensions of illegal immigrants and the unprecedented number of border patrol agents employed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).[i]

Even disregarding the current crisis, the argument is laughable: 88 percent of the increase in border patrol agents took place even before Barack Obama took office.[ii] This blatant propagandizing provides a useful exposé into the (double) standards of the Obama administration: An economic anemia persisting five years after the transition of presidential power can be forever blamed on George W. Bush, yet enhancements to border security for which Bush was largely responsible are actually the accomplishments of his successor. As Pat Condell would say, “If not for double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards.”

Momentarily forgetting about the proper allocation of credit for border security enhancements, we can focus on a more pertinent problem: The southwest border is actually very unsecure.

This problem is obscured by the common floating of a few misleading statistics. In addition to the numbers on border patrol agents and border apprehensions, supporters of the President’s immigration policies often note the zero-to-negative growth rate in the population of illegal immigrants within the United States in 2011 and 2012 (though the growth rate has recently trended positive again).[iii]

Those who push these numbers commit a couple basic logical errors. First, they assume that because net growth of the illegal immigrant population is practically zero, the border is secure. But the number of people who illegally enter the country has no bearing on border security. The border is secure only when we have the capability to keep people out. The fact that people are choosing not to immigrate does not mean that, should they change their minds, they would be unable. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) attributes a considerable portion of the increased percentage of apprehensions to the decline in immigration which accompanied the 2007-2009 recession.

What is CBP’s actual capacity to apprehend illegal immigrants? Before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued changes to the methods for measuring border security in 2011, CBP used a gradient of security classifications to describe the security of the southwest border (see Table 1). The Border Patrol considered a particular stretch of the border to be under “operational control” if its security fell among the top two designations: “controlled” or “managed.” These designations were determined based upon the amount of resources and surveillance capabilities CBP has for a particular sector, and how useful those resources are in deterring or stopping illegal entries.

Table 1: Border Patrol Levels of Border Security 
Levels of Border Security Definition
Controlled Continuous detection and interdiction resources at the immediate border with high probability of apprehension upon entry.
Managed Multi-tiered detection and interdiction resources are in place to fully implement the border control strategy with high probability of apprehension after entry.
Monitored Substantial detection resources in place, but accessibility and resources continue to affect ability to respond.
Low-Level Monitored Some knowledge is available to develop a rudimentary border control strategy, but the area remains vulnerable because of inaccessibility or limited resource availability.
Remote/Low Activity Information is lacking to develop a meaningful border control strategy because of inaccessibility or lack of resources.

Source: GAO analysis of U.S. Border Patrol ORBBP documents.

A 2011 study by the Government Accountability Office, in examining the methods and results of the U.S. Border Patrol, found that of the 2000-mile southern U.S. border, only 873 miles were under “operational control,” and of those 873 miles, only 129 miles (15 percent of the border) were “controlled,” meaning that the Border Patrol has the ability to detect and apprehend all illegal immigrants upon entry. For the rest of the 873 miles, CBP was only able to apprehend illegal immigrants after entry (sometimes 100 miles or more away from the border). For most of the southern border, apprehensions upon entry range from difficult to impossible.[iv]

Since 2011, under direction of the DHS, CBP has abandoned the operational control metrics for assessing border security, and are currently in the process of developing new metrics. In the interim, CBP has used the number of border apprehensions as the standard of measurement for border security. As alluded to earlier, however, this method does not take into account our actual ability to repel entrants, and is too heavily influenced by other factors, such as the United States’ economic health, which partially determines how many potential immigrants attempt a crossing in the first place. In addition, CBP has not yet developed objective goals or targets that would indicate effective control on the border, and this lack of reliable measurements seriously “limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”[v]

Aside from their relative obscurity and lack of accountability, however, the interim metrics’ main problem is that they are simply ineffectual: The GAO found that “studies commissioned by CBP have documented that the number of apprehensions bears little relationship to effectiveness because agency officials do not compare these numbers with the amount of cross-border illegal activity.”[vi] This is generally because, as apprehensions increase along one portion of the border, cross-border activities increase in other areas.[vii]

If the President and his DHS want to regain some semblance of credibility, they should reinstitute border security measurements for CBP based on well-defined goals, rather than sheer inputs or activities. Operational control was a good metric, but no matter what they ultimately choose, it should allow for congressional oversight and accountability to Congress and the DHS. Finally, despite the obfuscation on this issue, we should take this case of bureaucratic mishandling as a renewed impetus to secure the border.

[i] The Whitehouse. (2014). Border Security. Retrieved from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration/border-security

[ii] United States Border Patrol. (2013). Border Patrol Agent Staffing by Fiscal Year. Retrieved from: http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Border%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%20Staffing%20Statistics%201992-2013.pdf

[iii] Pew Research Center. (2013). Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed. Retrieved from: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/09/23/population-decline-of-unauthorized-immigrants-stalls-may-have-reversed/

[iv] Securing Our Borders – Operational Control and the Path Forward: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, 111th Congress. (2011). (testimony of Richard M. Stana). Border Security: Preliminary Observations on Border Control Measures for the Southwest Border. Retrieved from: http://www.gao.gov/assets/130/125500.pdf

[v] What Does a Secure Border Look Like?: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, 113th Congress. (2013). (testimony of Rebecca Gambler). Goals and Measures Not Yet in Place to Inform Border Security Status and Resource Needs. Retrieved from: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM11/20130226/100300/HHRG-113-HM11-Wstate-GamblerR-20130226.pdf

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ordonez, K. (2008). Securing the United States Mexico Border: An On-Going Dilemma. Homeland Security Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.hsaj.org/?special:fullarticle=0.2.5

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Net Neutrality Politics: Moving Us Away from a Free, Open Internet

With the help of corporate sponsors like Netflix and Google, net neutrality has gone from being an unknown issue to garnering national attention. Like most fads, though, net neutrality’s popularity has grown far more rapidly than the public’s understanding of it, and people do not realize how unnecessary and destructive net neutrality policies actually are.

“Net neutrality” refers to a principle under which all types of information on the internet are delivered at equal speeds. In a neutral internet, an email from your grandmother will download to your computer at the same rate as a Netflix video. In a non-neutral internet, by contrast, some information could get prioritized, necessarily slowing the rest. Content producers (such as Netflix) and end-users tend to be in favor of net neutrality because they benefit from a vast diversity of content on the internet, and no one wants to run the risk of having their preferred content throttled (slowed).

Opponents of net neutrality tend to include internet service providers (ISPs), such as phone and cable companies, who believe that tailoring their networks to fast-track certain types of content could lead to better end-user experiences and cost savings.

The net-neutrality principle has been invoked in several pieces legislation and proposed administrative rules over the past eight years. Each of these acts would, to varying degrees, restrict the autonomy of ISPs. As a result, the term “net neutrality” now denotes a specific set of public policies, and not just a principle.

Like the proponents of many government regulations, net neutrality supporters will often invoke the public interest, the protection of some disadvantaged group, and/or the promotion of economic efficiency. Touchy-feely catchphrases like “keep the internet free and open” and “all bits are created equal” abound, along with the assertion that net neutrality will bolster marketplace competition by relieving the burden of bandwidth costs for startup tech companies. Proponents also assert that net neutrality will prevent ISPs from arbitrarily censoring (competitors’) content on their networks.

The proponents of such regulation seem to concede the benefit of market competition—a refreshing sign—but they fail to see the contradiction created by invoking it. Net neutrality is properly seen as a hindrance to competition, not a facilitator.

In order to compete in a market, companies must differentiate themselves in a way that satisfies the consumer. This is innovation. One method ISPs have to satisfy the wants and desires of their customers is to expedite the information their customers consume. The net neutrality regulations proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—recently struck down in January—would have prevented this, stifling innovation in the provision of internet services. As Larry Downes noted in November:

In all, the FCC’s Open Internet order itself cataloged a dozen major non-neutral technologies, protocols, and business arrangements that have long been necessary parts of the Internet. Sensibly and of necessity, the agency granted exceptions from the rules for each and every one of them, recognizing that the “open” Internet, at least from an engineering standpoint, was anything but. For the Internet to continue functioning at all, the rhetoric had to give way to reality.

But there was no way for the rules to preemptively grant similar permission to any future network optimization technologies, other than to caveat all of the rules with exemptions for “reasonable network management.” That term couldn’t be defined, however, meaning that any future innovations will require FCC approval before large-scale implementation.[i]

In other words, such an obstacle to innovation and experimentation in network management could spell higher costs and a far lesser quality of service for end-users and content providers alike. This seems like a terrible tradeoff, since even an absence of government net neutrality regulations would not prevent ISPs from adopting net-neutral practices; if consumers demanded such practices, they could simply switch from a non-neutral ISP to a neutral one. The same is true for content providers—not only the giant companies like Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon; smaller companies and (yet-to-exist) startups may also switch among ISPs if they believe that their content is being discriminated against. This would be a system of true market competition.

In response, net neutrality advocates quickly (and rightly) point out the monopolistic state of the broadband internet market. The FCC has reported that of the 132 million households in the United States, only 47 million (roughly 35%) have access to four or more video programming distributors (i.e., cable, satellite, and telephone companies); cable companies alone have a market share of 56% among these distributors, and of the roughly 1,100 cable companies in the United States, the top five of them (in market share) account for nearly 82% of all video programming subscribers.[ii] Given that all of these companies also provide broadband internet services to many of their customers, the ISP market looks incredibly uncompetitive.

The uncompetitive nature of the industry would seem to refute the argument that net neutrality stifles innovation—there’s no need for companies to innovate anyway if the market is cornered. Since Comcast and similar companies so effectively control their respective markets, there is virtually no recourse for a dissatisfied customer, which removes the normal incentives for companies to improve services and cut costs.

For most people, unfortunately, this is where the debate ends. Although many will concede the benefits of competition among ISPs, they dismiss those benefits as immaterial, since an effective monopoly exists in the largest markets. Now the only available option they see for ensuring fair or neutral business practices is for government to impose net neutrality upon the industry.

But this disregards the important question of how the industry became so uncompetitive in the first place. If the ISP market is naturally and inevitably monopolistic, it might lend support to net neutrality advocates. But if it is not, then net neutrality may unnecessarily stifle innovation and raise costs. Before we propose policies, we need to ask, “Why is there effectively a monopoly in internet service markets?”

Basic economic theory informs us that monopolies can only endure as long as no new companies enter the market to provide the same (or better) service at a lower price. So why haven’t more companies entered the market to upend the entrenched giants?

There are a number of up-front costs associated with starting a cable company and/or entering a cable market. Building the initial cable infrastructure is one of these costs, but another significant, yet often unmentioned cost is that of acquiring cable franchises. In most states, cable companies must obtain a cable franchise from each and every municipality in which they want to do business. Large companies can easily expand into new markets because they have lots of cash with which to pay licensing fees; but for smaller/startup companies, the licensing requirements present an insurmountable barrier to market entry. Encouragingly, 21 states have passed cable franchise reform bills, meaning that cable companies need only obtain one license to operate within the entire state. In the 29 remaining states, however, cable companies must still work through the old, inefficient system.

Evidence indicates that the entry of companies into previously uncompetitive ISP markets does reduce cable prices and provoke efforts from the incumbent cable companies to improve services. In response to entry by AT&T, which offers video services over telephone lines (and is thus not subject to cable franchise requirements), Comcast of Santa Rosa, CA, rushed to deliver “new features [video-on-demand, more channels] in Santa Rosa […]” In Houston, similarly, Comcast pledged to offer more “linear and high-definition channels, video-on-demand titles and digital phone features” following potential AT&T entry.[iii] A Bank of America study also observed basic cable price reductions of between 28% and 42% in areas of Virginia, Texas, and Florida where Verizon rolled out its FiOS video service.[iv]

The lesson from these stories is clear: Wherever ISPs are able to circumvent onerous cable franchise requirements and enter the market, services and pricing improve. The solution to the lack of market competition, therefore, is not to implement new government regulations, but to repeal the regulations we already have. Getting rid of cable franchising would abrogate the need for net neutrality while also improving consumer choice and quality of services. These reforms, not innovation-stifling net neutrality, will be a crucial step toward a truly free and open internet.

[i] Downes, L. (2002). What Verizon’s Net Neutrality Challenge Is Really About. Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrydownes/2013/09/11/what-verizons-net-neutrality-challenge-is-really-about/

[ii] Federal Communications Comission. (2013). Fifteenth Report. Retrieved from: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-13-99A1.pdf

[iii] Singer, H.J. (2007). The Consumer Benefits of Telco Entry in Video Markets. Retrieved from: http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/telecom2007/submissions/228100.htm

[iv] Bank of America Equity Research. (2006). Battle for the Bundle: Consumer Wireline Services Pricing.

Why Politics Isn’t “Cool” (and Never Will Be)

Politics is not cool—never was, never will be. This may be shocking to some, but allow me to explain:

“Coolness” is the province of the young, and young people do not like politics. Their attitudes toward it range from uninterested, to cynical, to hostile. They have repeatedly demonstrated their gross apathy and disdain for the political process through their well-documented, low voter turnouts. It would seem they view politics as, at best, a waste of time.

This is far from being a complaint—youngsters are right to hold this view! Politics is not fun, exciting, or exhilarating. The exuberance and dedication with which most people attend football, baseball, or hockey games will never be directed toward the reading of articles or studies; nor will most people ever find relaxation in the research/support of candidates, in writing letters to their representatives, or in the attendance of city council meetings.

Nevertheless, politicians across the political spectrum continually fetishize the youth vote. After the 2008 election, which saw a historically high voter turnout among the 18- to 24-year-old age group, some pundits and activists speculated on the rising political influence of youngsters. Rock the Vote, a progressive political grassroots organization, went so far as to proclaim, “No longer can pundits and politicians say we don’t vote. The face of our democracy is forever changed and young people have shown the world we are taking our country into our own hands.”

They conveniently neglect to mention that youth voter turnout still pales in comparison to that of other age groups, and that youngsters still comprise only 13 percent of the total voting-age population. What rationale is there for focusing a campaign exclusively on this miniscule subset of voters?

The politicians generally ignore this hurdle. Their rapaciousness for youth votes routinely manifests in memos and reports like the College Republicans’, “Grand Old Party for A Brand New Generation,” which abounds with proposals for attracting more young voters to the Republican Party. Unfortunately, these efforts miss the point: Youth vote obsession is ultimately a farce not because engaging youngsters requires impossible finesse or elevated technical/media prowess—though these factors may help or hamper outreach efforts on a superficial level—but because of a flaw in the youth campaign’s operating premises.

The conventional wisdom surrounding the prosecution of youth-centered campaigns has always been to “bridge the divide,” between young and old. The youth-savvy politician generally starts by asking youngsters “What issues are of interest to you?” with the intent of incorporating those issues into his campaign platform. Young people, however, being comfortable in their natural state of apathy and cynicism, are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the influence of governmental policies on their lives. This does nothing to aid the politician in his aspirations—a disinterested youngster will neither vote nor campaign for him—so he must find some way to engage them.

Faced with this daunting task, most politicians will appeal to vanity. This is a tactic to which young people are disproportionately susceptible, as was painfully displayed during the purely juvenile response to the recent kidnapping of hundreds schoolchildren in Nigeria. As Kevin D. Williamson wrote in May:

Our politics, particularly among young people and those who interact with the world mainly through social media, is no longer about the world but about the self. It is mostly an exercise in what economists call ‘signaling,’ a way to communicate to friends, and to the world, that one is a certain superior kind of person.

This approach reinforces within youngsters the mentality that the highest virtue in politics is not the holding of true, moral, or consistent principles, but rather the maintaining of a political identity. In a world where self-worth is determined by one’s ability to attract the attention and praise of others, political preferences and positions will inevitably be shaped by adherence to consensus and conformity. The result is a rapidly changing basket of “important” issues—constantly being emptied and refilled by a never ending stream of fads and pop-culture movements—in which young people are only superficially engaged; and just as they do not assign importance to different issues based on principle, neither will they arrive at policy solutions based on principle.

Sadly, this is the state of politics among this country’s youth. However, there is a better way for youngsters to engage in politics:

They can grow up.

Politics is not meant for the young. The reason most 18-year-olds find politics repulsive is the same reason most 5-year-olds do. Like a career, financial stewardship and budgeting, home maintenance, and parenting, politics is an adult endeavor: Youngsters have not yet reached a point of mental maturation commensurate with the development of stable concepts of morality, diligence, and consequent notions of justice which are necessary for substantive political participation.

We can facilitate this maturation. Instead of coddling young people, pandering to their particular situations with promises of subsidized student loans, free birth control, or free health insurance until age 26, we can expect more from them. We can challenge their positions, we can scour their mental landscape for some semblance of principle and cultivate it, and we can encourage them to apply their principles across a host of issues which may, at most, bear only a tangential relationship to their lives.

Ironically, doing so will create for those individuals a far greater, more enduring identity than one which proceeds from constantly seeking acceptance and recognition through the charade of political involvement. It will also create an environment in which the youth outreach problem effectively solves itself, since adults, not children, inherently carry with them an urgency in addressing political issues.

If our goal is not to create a class of infantilized herd voters, but rather to cultivate independent and rational individuals, then we should end the practice of making politics cool, and champion the political process as something of intrinsic, productive appeal. If you wish to solve problems which reach beyond your own life, then politics may a viable avenue. If it is entertainment or acceptance that you seek, then politics is not for you, and we would ask that you please leave it to the grown-ups.

Faulty Logic in the CRNC Report

Following the Republican Party’s generally lousy national election performance in 2012, many GOP officials, politicians, and pundits offered various explanations for the defeat, and advice on how the Party could fare better in future contests. One predominant sentiment which has emerged from this introspection was that the Party should grow its tent by reaching out to constituencies who have traditionally not voted for Republican candidates, such as women, minorities, and youth. This sentiment was most visible in two reports issued by two prominent Republican organizations: First, the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” from the Republican National Committee (RNC), prescribed some ways to “modernize the Party” and “appeal to more people.” The second report, “Grand Old Party for A Brand New Generation,” a product of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC), outlined several youth-centered Party reforms. It is the latter of the two which is of concern here.

The CRNC’s report uses responses from two surveys and several focus groups to gauge youth voter opinion on a variety of issues. While the report outlines a few intelligent improvements, much of its interpretation of survey data and consequent recommendations contain some notable flaws. One area of the report which raises particular concern is the section on “Reinventing the Brand.” Here, the CRNC uses survey responses to recommend a winning “narrative” for the Republican Party to adopt when reaching out to youth voters. Survey respondents were given a list of broad statements and were asked whether a candidate making those statements would be more or less likely to receive their vote.

CRNC Survey

The CRNC then goes on to conclude that Republican candidates should pursue a messaging strategy more closely attuned with the three most popular statements listed, while focusing less on the bottom four; the underlying premise for this conclusion being that young voters are really conservatives deep down, and would vote for conservative Republican candidates if not for the Party’s lackluster branding. Ergo, a shift in branding would allegedly cast a more positive light on the Republican Party and attract hesitant youth voters. A more nuanced examination of these responses, however, reveals dire implications for any Republican trying to construct a youth-oriented campaign.

The three top-polling statements are exceptionally vague—they are merely goals which any competent political philosophy should be expected to achieve (e.g., “economic growth,” “tackling tough, long term problems,” and “providing opportunity”). The four lower-ranked statements do not outline vague goals, but rather lay out particular methods—a means to achieve those goals.

For conservatives, those concepts are inextricably linked: Liberty, limited government, American values, and constitutionalism are viewed as necessary tools to achieve the surveyed youngsters’ purported goals of economic growth and opportunity. If respondents were truly conservative, then we would expect all the given narrative statements to poll at roughly similar levels. This is not what we see, however: The respondents seem mysteriously unable to perceive the connection between conservatism and the economic growth and opportunity which they so desire. Which seems more likely, then? That the Republican Party’s struggles with regard to young voters are caused by deficiencies with the GOP’s brand, or that young voters simply reject conservative principles?

The CRNC has apparently decided in favor of the former option; they believe that bettering the brand is the magic bullet that will turn around the GOP’s dismal electoral prospects. Admittedly, this may work for a short time. Even so, it would be a hollow victory, because such a strategy can only win by deceiving young voters: As the CRNC’s own survey data indicates, a candidate who champions conservatism is not more likely to garner young peoples’ votes than a candidate who speaks in vague platitudes. The CRNC’s rebranding strategy must invariably trick youngsters into believing that when Republicans wish to “focus on creating jobs and economic growth,” they intend to do so by means other than policies based on conservative principles. Ultimately, though, youngsters would catch on, the lie would crumble, and Republicans would be back to square one.

This conundrum persists, however, only so long as Republicans wish to remain conservative. The path of least resistance, and truly the more honest approach to the rebranding strategy, would be simply to abandon conservatism. This is not outside the realm of possibility, as we have seen in the Congressional debates on immigration reform, the debt ceiling, and the budget; and in the RNC’s negligence and undermining of conservative candidates in Republican primaries, to list a few examples.

If the Republican Party wishes to garner more of the youth vote and also remain conservative while doing so, then the CRNC’s rebranding strategy will not work—youngsters are simply not conservative enough.

It is nevertheless imperative that Republicans attract new, young members to the Party, since winning elections and enacting conservative policies will be exceedingly difficult without them. However, this means more than just reconstructing the image and brand of the Republican Party. It will require no less than a widespread shift in the intellectual disposition of young voters. The CRNC’s recommendations with regard to social media platforms have some merit on this regard, but social media is only a part of what must comprise a large-scale, grassroots information campaign. Each and every conservative must reach out to his/her peers and introduce them to the conservative message.

If the RNC/CRNC were really concerned with winning elections, they would refocus their energy on this endeavor, instead of trying to cut slices from an ever-shrinking electoral pie.

Republicans Bungle the Government Shutdown

I have heard many of my friends on the right suggest that the Tea Party has destroyed GOP credibility through the obstinacy of certain far-right senators and congressmen during the government shutdown and debt ceiling battle. Based on my own observations of the ordeal, this analysis just doesn’t sit right with me.

First, is it a certainty that the shutdown will hurt the GOP politically? Sure, as the litany of national polls seem to suggest, the public does not view the GOP favorably, and most blame Republicans for the shutdown. However, as Nate Silver pointed out in a recent article, the importance of most issues and current events quickly diminishes in the public eye:

Remember Syria? The fiscal cliff? Benghazi? The IRS scandal? The collapse of immigration reform? All of these were hyped as game-changing political moments by the news media, just as so many stories were during the election last year. In each case, the public’s interest quickly waned once the news cycle turned over to another story. Most political stories have a fairly short half-life and won’t turn out to be as consequential as they seem at the time.

Also, there is no evidence that Republicans suffered from the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns either. In fact, Republicans gained Senate seats in the 1996 election, and retained their majority in the House. This occurred even though President Clinton’s approval ratings were rising (though, as Silver points out, Clinton’s climb in approval may have been part of a long-term trend anyway).

Even if we grant, however, that Republicans will not be significantly hurt in 2014 by the most recent shutdown, the GOP moderates/establishment types may still assert that the particular position of the Tea Party during the shutdown was ultimately untenable, and that there was nothing to be gained from dragging America through a government shutdown. In answering this claim, it should be first broken down into two parts.

First, was the Tea Party’s position during the shutdown truly untenable? From a philosophical perspective, it was certainly not: Virtually all Republicans agree that Obamacare is an abomination which will deprive Americans of their freedoms and hard-earned wealth, and that it should be stopped. That said, was the position untenable from a political/electoral standpoint? The consensus among moderate/establishment Republicans appears to be that it was, but what is their evidence for that claim, besides the fact that the GOP eventually did cave and pass the Democrats’ continuing budget resolution? I have not yet come across any such evidence. It is, of course, easy to fail at something if you do not try.

I don’t own a crystal ball, but maybe the shutdown battle could have ended differently. Perhaps it would have been possible to win this fight if the Republicans were unified in an effort to block Obamacare. It is true that the media and their incessant polling put a disproportionate amount pressure on conservatives, but the media are never going to side with conservatives. If Republicans are doomed to be ruled guilty in the court of public opinion, it is better that they be so having stood on principle, because it is those conservative principles that this country so desperately needs right now. The national debt just screamed past $17 trillion, and Obamacare will only add to that while destroying jobs. America needs relief now, not later. There is no time to worry about public relations, image, and re-election.

The moderate/establishment wing of the GOP would consider this poor political strategy, but the vile, relentless attacks on Tea Party Republicans by their moderate counterparts were themselves poor political strategy for two reasons: First, they completely undermined the Tea Party’s position from the beginning by demonstrating to Obama and the Democrats that the Republican Party did not have the resolve to challenge them. It’s like playing poker and telling your opponent from the outset that you will fold regardless of how much they bet—a guaranteed losing strategy. Second, the resultant implosion of the GOP’s bargaining stance gave the impression that the Tea Party’s opposition to funding Obamacare was never a principled endeavor, because who would go to such trouble—shuttering the government and bringing the country to the edge of a so-called “default”—just to retreat and abandon their principles, unless their claims about the detriments of Obamacare and the soaring national debt were mere exaggeration to begin with? Such an impression will hamper efforts by the Tea Party, or anyone else, to implement conservative reforms well into the future.

Was the position of the Tea Party untenable? Maybe. But there is one (non-)strategy that was a guaranteed loser: the one put forth by the moderate/establishment Republicans. We don’t need a crystal ball to know that. In actuality, it was their tactics which have done most to harm GOP credibility, not the Tea Party’s.

Looking back, the Tea Party’s strategy was not without potential gains. At best, the Tea Party might have successfully defunded Obamacare. Even though they did not succeed in that regard, they have brought national attention to the the train-wreck that is the new health care law. Hopefully their efforts will lend courage to other like-minded Republicans to stand and fight in future battles.

Now look closer at the strategy put forth by the moderate/establishment GOP—which is not really a strategy at all, but rather a veiled retreat: They say that we should “let Obamacare implode,” that its implementation has proven so outrageously bungled that the American people will quickly comprehend the law’s shortcomings and reject it. This assertion is mere fantasy, and it carries absolutely no weight with me for two reasons. First, the leftist media in this country will never allow any narrative to develop which does not favor Obamacare, and those who are ignorant of its problems shall remain so. As we now see, the mainstream media have already started parroting the White House’s assurances about the soundness of Healthcare.gov and the Affordable Care Act as a whole.

And just what does it mean to say that the Obamacare rollout is going badly? Our best points of comparison are the other giant federal transfer programs and their rollouts (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, AFDC, TANF, SCHIP, food stamps, et cetera, et cetera). Their initial implementations may have been smoother, but the programs themselves were, by their very nature, unsustainable from day one. Unfortunately, if history has shown us anything consistently, it is not that the inefficiencies of government programs create the political will for reform—in fact, just the opposite is true: Every new transfer program creates an entrenched electoral constituency made up of financial beneficiaries, making it virtually impossible to repeal or even make the most marginal reforms of those programs. Moderate/establishment Republicans should know this, so exactly what do they expect to gain by allowing Obamacare to “implode?” I thought the whole point of reforming and/or repealing these programs was to prevent this! Our main assumption has always been that the implosion of the welfare state (which is literally running on borrowed time) will spell the implosion of the United States’ fiscal integrity, the American economy, and American society generally. There is no political victory to be reaped from that, so what are the Republicans waiting for?

The Perils of Addressing Privilege

Gavin McInnes at Taki’s Magazine has received quite a bit of flak for his article, “Tackling Asian Privilege.” Unsurprisingly, many of the article’s detractors pegged McInnes as a racist, lambasting him for mentioning a non-white racial group using politically-incorrect terms—concerns that could be assuaged simply by, oh… reading the article, perhaps? Other critics simply failed to sense the satire of piece, with which, in writing an almost-painful (but prudent) follow-up article, McInnes proceeded to beat over their heads.

Most of us are familiar with privilege, not because we have seen or experienced it firsthand, but because the Left endlessly assures us of its existence. The term “white privilege,” per its use in the modern leftist’s lexicon, has been rendered redundant: It is generally assumed by the Left that only white people can impose or benefit from institutional racial privileges.

Of course, using the term “privilege” in this way precludes any sort of intellectually sound discussion. McInnes’ article chips away at this assumption, but more importantly, it ponders the very notion of privilege itself. As the article explains, there are a number of fronts on which the Asian-American demographic has better social standing than other American racial minority groups:

Nobody clutches their purse to their side when an Asian walks into the elevator. If an Asian applies for a job at a bank or on the police force, he or she is welcomed with open arms. When an Asian commits a crime, people are shocked. When an Asian is appointed to the head of the Department of Energy, everyone knowingly nods their head. Asian privilege pervades every part of our day-to-day life and it’s time they joined the conversation about race.

Though they comprise less than 4.8% of the American population, they make up 8.3% of all doctors. Only 2.3% of doctors are African American, yet they’re 13% of the population. Thirty percent of African American men will go to jail, but only 1.6% of prisoners are Asian. Nobody sees the problem with that?

McGill University is one of the most elite schools in North America, and to walk through their campus is to be transported into a pastoral Chinatown. This is true of all Ivy League schools. Asian Americans have the highest education level of any racial demographic and they’re also the wealthiest. While African American households earned an average of $30,939 in 2005, Asian Americans walked away with twice that.

The narrative which the left has been perpetuating for the last fifty years—that whites are invariably the beneficiaries of institutional privilege, and that racial minorities are incapable of the same—fit well enough to a society where white people really were the dominant socioeconomic group. As certain racial minorities begin to prosper, however, and even prosper at faster rates than whites, that narrative begins to break down. Asian-American households now make, on average, $10,000 more than white households. Relative to their percentage of the total population, Asian-Americans are over-represented among doctors, while whites are under-represented. A greater proportion of whites are in prison than Asian-Americans. Incidentally, Asian-Americans have done quite well for themselves.

Incidental success has traditionally been the sole piece of evidence to support the existence of racial privileges, and when only whites were successful, this thinking fit the leftist paradigm well. However, the success of a racial minority presents the Left with a dilemma: Either they must concede that other factors besides privilege contribute to the success of certain groups, or they must admit to having employed a double standard in whom they designate as privileged.

This is not to say that privilege does not exist—on the contrary, society is rife with it. However, McInnes is right to question the common notions of privilege which permeate our political discourse, and which frame the discussion as one solely based on racial antipathy.

On Crime, Gun Control Misses the Target

Aurora, CO. Milwaukee, WI. Newtown, CT. These and other tragedies have marked 2012 with physical and emotional pain. The killing of innocent men, women, and children reveals the grotesqueries in our nature which civilized society (too) easily allows us to forget. Citizens everywhere—many of them viewing these incidents as part of a growing trend in mass shootings—have called for an end to the violence; and as politicians promise “meaningful action” to prevent further attacks of this sort, a flurry of political debates has enveloped the nation.

In the wake of these catastrophes, emotions run hot, and people seek answers. They scapegoat, and they create demons, and those demons often reinforce their long-held beliefs. For some, the availability of guns is to blame. For others it’s the prolific violence in TV and video games. To be honest, we simply do not know what drives people to commit these atrocities, and even if we did know, it is not clear that we could do anything to stop it. The advances in science which have allowed us to understand the causes of volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes have yielded no prescriptions for their prevention. They have, however, helped us develop ways of dealing with these phenomena, and minimizing the damage they cause.

We must treat mass murderers the same way. Given our limited knowledge of psychology and criminology, we must, for the foreseeable future, assume that the people who are predisposed to commit such crimes will indefinitely be a facet of our society. Given that understanding, the question then becomes how to deal with them, and how to minimize their damage.

One solution which has been offered repeatedly throughout history, though in many different iterations, is gun control. Gun control, generally speaking, is the implementation of systemic, legal restrictions on the distribution and ownership of firearms. Notwithstanding proponents’ incessant drumbeat to strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights, we should first ponder both the feasibility and the morality of gun control.

One problem with gun control is that it is simply impractical. Concordant with our observations on the prohibitions of other goods and services like alcohol, drugs, and prostitution, it seems safe to say that people will always find ways to obtain guns. Black markets inevitably emerge, and the importation of guns from other jurisdictions outside of the United States presents an insurmountable hindrance. Indeed, a prohibition on guns may prove more costly and unfeasible than other prohibitions because those gun owners who would resist firearm confiscation are inherently more apt to cause damage while doing so, simply because the product being confiscated is a weapon.

That said, the enforceability of a law should not be the only criterion for judging its validity—no prohibition can ever be completely effective. If we were willing to live in a police state, we could probably achieve a near-perfect enforcement of some laws, though most people would probably view the costs of that approach as outweighing the benefits.

But aside from its impracticability, the main problem with gun control is its immorality. Gun control betrays the main purpose of owning a gun in the first place. The gun, like all other weapons, works as a power-equalizer between those who are naturally weak and those who are naturally strong. If no person ever transgressed against another, then natural inequalities in power would be inconsequential. Unfortunately, criminals exist, and so there is a need to be mindful of these power differentials, and to take precautions which diminish them. This understanding of human relations is greatly damning of gun control. There is no reason to believe that the same criminals who perpetrate violence against their fellow citizens would suddenly follow the laws with respect to gun possession. The only logical result of gun control, therefore, is the minimization of law-abiding citizens’ power relative to that of criminals, and a placement of the former perpetually at the mercy of the latter.

Empirical evidence supports this criticism. Every mass shooting in the United States since 1950, with the exception of one, has taken place in areas where citizens are banned from carrying guns.

One other problem with gun control is that guns do not kill people—people kill people. A gun is one particular tool for doing so, but any individual who is predisposed to kill another will carry out his intentions using whatever tool is at his disposal, whether that tool be a knife, a baseball bat, or a car. Therefore, laws should focus on the violent act, not the tool(s) used in carrying it out.

This argument is often countered by pointing out that guns, unlike other tools used in murder, are unique in that they only serve one purpose: the exercise of deadly force. Since a gun, conversely, can serve no other purpose, the benefit of banning guns (if it were feasible) is therefore infinite compared to the cost.

But deadly force is, in itself, not a purpose. It is a means to an end, and the legitimacy of an end determines the legitimacy of the means required to achieve it. If the desired end is defense for oneself or other innocent people, then deadly force may be entirely appropriate. If the end is unprovoked harm or coercion, then deadly force is rightly prohibited, and we should implement criminal laws to deal with actions of that character. Gun control only works to ensure that a legitimate end is impossible, and an illegitimate end is more likely.

As discussed earlier, gun ownership creates a balance of power between the weak and the strong, and it deters the exercise of force by one against the other. Force can manifest in the actions of common criminals, but force can also be perpetrated by government. When government acts legitimately, its use of force is not a problem. When it acts illegitimately, or tyrannically, it must be controlled using a comparable amount of force. This principle was the primary impetus for the framing and adoption of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Framers included the prefatory clause, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state[…]” because the individual right to keep and bear arms is a necessary safeguard against tyrannical government. Gun control, in addition to placing law-abiding citizens at the mercy of criminals, also places individuals at the mercy of government, and removes any incentive for government to act within the confines of law.

On the whole, it would seem that the arguments against gun control are fairly strong, but there still exists a problem (at least a perceived one) of violence in the United States, and a need to ensure that harm does not befall innocent citizens, while at the same time preserving their liberties.

One set of solutions involves prevention. This means putting the teeth back in our psychiatric institutions, which could keep violent people off of the streets. Bolstering law enforcement efforts, and imposing harsher sentences for convicts would also be entailed. Theoretically, this would increase the deterrent effect of law, and improve the ability of police to intervene in ongoing crimes. Unlike gun control, these solutions certainly will not worsen the problem.

However, individuals who are insane, disgruntled, evil, etc., are not likely to be deterred by these changes, and no matter what, the police can never be omnipresent. We must accept a certain possibility that harmful individuals will enter our public venues, and we must also accept that their presence is so dangerous as to warrant an immediate and pacifying response.

Professional armed security guards, stationed in our public venues, could provide this response. Ultimately, though, the decision to employ armed security would be up to the governments who provide the funding. There is a possibility that governments may choose not to install armed security guards on the premises of schools or other buildings, and even if they do, it is possible that murderous gunmen may kill or slip passed them. If this occurs, self-sufficient, everyday citizens need a way to protect themselves and other innocents that doesn’t require security guards, police, or sheer dumb luck.

The only feasible and moral solution to this problem is to allow the carrying of firearms by any/all individuals in any/all public venues. This means that anyone who wishes to take precautions which balance their own power against that of an aggressor would be allowed to do so. Also, if a law-abiding citizen with a gun neutralizes an aggressor in public, this will produce a positive external effect for other innocent civilians in the area.

It has been asserted that such a scenario would amount to a “wild west” in which the ubiquity of guns would somehow incite extra violence. However, the logic simply does not pan out: Presumably, the criminals—the only ones who would ever be violent—will already have guns, regardless of whether or not there is gun control. The legal carrying of a gun by a law-abiding citizen—one who is not predisposed to violence—will cause no more harm than a scenario in which guns are banned. In fact, overall violence may decrease, as criminals become less bold in their transgressions, and those who remain bold enough to commit crimes will become less successful, as they will more-likely be stopped.

Though many have promised meaningful action in the wake of Sandy Hook and other shootings, gun control inevitably fails to hit the mark. Gun-control advocates, stuck in the “never let a serious crisis go to waste” mentality, unfortunately use incidents like Sandy Hook to advance their own agenda, which not only does a disservice to the memory of the victims, but it does nothing to ensure the safety of our citizens. More guns make us more safe, not less, and so the proper solution is to expand freedom, not restrict it.