June 23, 2016

Election 2016: Trump's "Business Acumen"

Trump has claimed that he's a self-made made who received "a very, very small loan" of $1 million from his father and "built that into a massive empire." That statement is extraordinarily misleading. The truth is that Trump's father was one of the wealthiest men in American, and Trump started working for him after college. Trump received a $1 million loan from his father in 1978 to help build the Grand Central Hyatt, but "that loan was only a small part of the father’s involvement in the deal." Trump's father was "an essential silent partner" in the venture, and with the Hyatt chain he jointly guaranteed the $70 million construction loan needed to build the hotel. At the time Trump was also benefited from three family trust funds[1]

Over the years Trump has bankrupted six companies, including three casinos in the early 1990s.[2] Trump claims that his casinos were hurt by the same economic conditions which hurt other Atlantic City casinos, but "in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing." Trump built his casinos by taking out loans with exorbitantly high interests rates, and consequently, during a time when other Atlantic City casinos "thrived," Trump's "lagged, posting huge losses year after year." He eventually made the companies public and thereafter "shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors," who ended up losing more than $1.5 billion.[3] During this time, Trump also borrowed from his future inheritance, taking $10 million in 1993 and an undisclosed amount later.[4]

Max Ehrenfreund provides other reasons to question Trump's business acumen. Ehrenfreund notest hat Business Week put Trump's net worth at $100 million in 1978. Had Trump quit the real estate market and "put his money in an index fund based on the S&P 500 and reinvested the dividends, he'd be worth twice as much -- $6 billion -- today, according to the calculator maintained by the blog Don't Quit Your Day Job."[5]

A 2011 investigation by the LA Times found that Trump "built his empire in part through government largesse and connections." Beginning in the 1970s, the article stated, "Trump has displayed a consistent pattern. He courted public officials, sought their backing for government tax breaks under extraordinarily beneficial terms and fought any resistance to deals he negotiated."[6]

* * * * *

[1] Glenn Kessler, Trump's false claim that he built his empire with 'a small loan' from his father, Washington Post, March 3, 2016.

[2] Linda Qiu, Yep, Donald Trump's companies have declared bankruptcy...more than four times, Politifact, June 21, 2016.

[3] Russ Buettner, How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions, NY Times, June 11, 2016.

[4] Glenn Kessler, Trump's false claim that he built his empire with 'a small loan' from his father, Washington Post, March 3, 2016.

[5] Max Ehrenfreund, The real reason Donald Trump is so rich, Washington Post, September 3, 2015.

[6] Geraldine Baum, Tom Hamburger, and Michael J. Mishak, He built his empire in part through government largesse and connections, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2011. 

January 3, 2013

The Gun Debate Is Not About Disarming 'Good Guys'

Since the Newtown shooting, many individuals, liberal and otherwise, have argued for stricter gun laws. These individuals, at least the ones of whom I’m aware, have not argued that we need to ban all guns. Rather they’ve argued that we need more sensible gun laws, laws that, for example, make it more difficult for criminals and schizophrenics to obtain firearms.

But instead of dealing with these specific arguments, many self-proclaimed gun-rights advocates have been attacking straw-man arguments. In a recent article in The American Conservative, for example, Rand Paul’s media director, Jack Hunter, writes that “[t]he calls for increased gun control after the Newtown shooting” are “demonstrably wrongheaded—and potentially deadly” and that they best way to prevent future Newtowns is to make sure that good guys have access to guns. As evidence for this, he adduces several armed citizens who have stopped gunmen[1] and then concludes:

“Banning knives would not have stopped Jack the Ripper. Banning guns will not stop the crazed few who seek to open fire on the public.

“To the degree that liberals get their way on gun control, there will be more deaths of innocents. I’m not saying that liberals would want the potential murders implied in the examples here to occur. But what they want legislatively would only—inevitably—lead to more killing.”[2]

But again, the liberals I’ve read and listened to over the past few weeks haven’t been arguing that we need to ban all guns. Most liberals seem to recognize that, even if desirable, that’s simply not going to happen, and they have consequently focused their energy on advocating specific, restrained measures, namely:

1) Banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.[3], [4], [5]

2) Requiring everyone to pass a criminal and mental health background check before being able to purchase firearms.

3) Making gun trafficking a felony.[6]

4) Abolishing the Tiahart Amendments, which, among things, largely prohibit states, cities, and local police forces from accessing the ATFs gun-tracing database.[7], [8]

Liberals after Newtown have been focusing on measures like these, not measures that would prevent “good guys” from having guns. If people like Jack Hunter would like to explain why these measures are so bad, then I’d be happy to listen. But they refuse to do this for the simple reason that these measures seem like no-brainers and have consequently gained the support of most Americans.[9]

Which is why extremists like Jack Hunter won’t debate these proposals. They know they’ll lose.

* * * * * 


[1] Not all his examples, I should point out, are valid ones. For instance, he writes: “On December 11 a man opened fire in a mall in Portland, Oregon—that is, until he was confronted by another armed man who had a carry-and-conceal weapon. The gunman who had fired on shoppers then took his own life.” Once you research what actually happened in the Clackamas Town Center, however, you realize that it’s not at all clear that the concealed-carry holder caused the gunman to kill himself. After the shooting started, 22-year-old Nick Meli pulled out his own weapon, but he refrained from firing, afraid that he might hit a bystander. Meli believes that the killer saw him and that he didn’t fire any more shoots, save the one that ended his life, after their encounter (Mike Benner, “Clackamas mall shooter faced man with concealed weapons,” KGW, December 17, 2012). Police were on the scene within a minute after the shooting began and believe that their presence might have impelled the killer to shoot himself (Mariano Castillo and Holly Yan, “Details, but no answers, in Oregon mall shooting,” CNN, December 13, 2012). From everything we know, it’s not clear why the killer shot himself (Anna Griffin, “Clackamas Town Center shooting: 22 minutes of chaos and terror as gunman meanders through the mall,” The Oregonian, December 15, 2012.)

[2]How Gun Control Kills,” December 27, 2012.

[3] The Brady Campaign offers what seems like a pretty reasonable definition of assault weapons (Federal Gun Laws: Assault-Style Weapons: Frequently Asked Questions.”)

[4] In response to those who claim that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban didn’t work, I would just point out, first, that the ban contained numerous loopholes that greatly hindered it. Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines manufactured before 1994 were exempted from the ban, meaning that more than 1.5 million assault weapons remained in circulation. In addition, the country’s stock of large-capacity magazines actually continued to grow after the ban, because it remained legal to import them as long as they had been made before the ban. The law also inadequately spelled out what constituted an assault weapon, allowing “the industry to continue manufacturing guns similar to those that had been banned.” Second, a 2004 study financed by the Justice Department concluded that the ban did lead to a small reduction in gun crime (Michael Luo and Michael Cooper, Lessons in Politics and Fine Print in Assault Weapons Ban of 90s, New York Times, December 19, 2012).

[5] As proof that assault weapons can have defensive purposes, some have pointed out that during the LA Riots some Korean store owners used semi-automatic rifles to defend their grocery stores. Three points here. First, it’s not clear that assault weapons were used. In the following news clip, for instance, one individual (presumably a store owner or friend) can be seen with a more traditional hunting rifle and another with a handgun: Korean store owners defend their businesses during the 1992 LA riots. Second, it seems clear that assault weapons were not needed for defense. Evidently just displaying traditional rifles and handguns and firing them into the air was enough to deter looters (Ashley Dunn, Looters, Mercants Put Koreatown Under the Gun: Violence: Lacking confidence in the police, employees and others armed themselves to protect mini-mall,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1992). Third, even if assault weapons were in fact needed to keep back looters, it doesn’t follow that the benefits of allowing such weapons to remain legal outweigh the costs. As recent events have made clear, assault weapons allow deranged gunmen to murder large numbers of individuals in a relatively short period of time. Making it harder for would-be killers  to acquire such weapons would most certainly save lives, and achieving this goal makes a ban worthwhile, even if every few decades or so such a weapon might be used to keep a group of looters at bay.

[6] Michael Bloomberg, “6 ways to stop gun madness,” USA Today, December 19, 2012. See also Demand A Plan to End Gun Violence

[7] Tiahart Amendment Facts,” ProtectPolice.org.

[8] Another action that seems sensible to me: creating a nationwide database to track gun and ammunition purchases (Marc Parrish, “How Big Data Can Solve America’s Gun Problem,” The Atlantic, December 27, 2012).

[9]Poll: More see societal problems in Sandy Hook shooting,” Washington Post, December 20, 2012.

January 2, 2013

Some Things to Consider Before Buying a Gun (An Open Letter to a Friend)

So I hear you’re arming up.

I have to admit that I’m surprised. You’ve always struck me as something of a hippy. And I mean that as a compliment. I’ve always seen you as a Jesus-loving, pot-smoking (yes, I know you’ve been trying to stop) type of guy. Someone who isn’t above retweeting cute kitten photos. Again, I mean that as a compliment.

I understand that the Newtown tragedy has you rattled. I’m rattled, too. And I understand your reason for wanting to buy a gun and apply for a concealed-carry permit. I just hope you fully understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Along with its potential benefits, owning a gun comes with many risks. People with guns sometimes have accidents. Sometimes they mistakenly shoot themselves or others. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are around 15,000 accidental firearm injuries each year, around 600 accidental deaths.[1]

When you own a gun you also run the risk of your gun getting into the hands of someone who shouldn’t have it, for example, a child or criminal. Statistically speaking, when you purchase a gun you also increase your chances of committing suicide.[2] I know that your struggles with depression aren’t all that frequent, but at the same time I worry that during your darker moments it might not be good having a handgun so available.[3]

Of course, guns can also save lives. That’s why you want one. I get it. But I think you should know that the odds of this happening are infinitesimally small. You’re just not likely to ever find yourself confronted with a deranged gunman. This country is not nearly as violent as the media would have us believe. Senseless violence sometimes occurs, but the violent crime rate is actually at a 40-year low. The murder rate is lower than it’s been at any point since 1963.[4]

And even if you found yourself in the middle of a Newtown- or Aurora-like situation, it’s highly unlikely that you’d be able to save any lives. You just don’t have the necessary training, experience, and ability. Imagine that you’d been in that Aurora movie theater last year: it’s dark, smoke bombs going off, a gunman in full body armor firing an assault rifle. You really think you would have had any chance of taking him out?[5]

On those rare occasions when armed citizens have taken out gunmen, they’ve usually been individuals with sufficient combat training, usually off-duty police officers or retired soldiers.[6] According to Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a gun violence expert at the Medical College of Wisconsin, armed civilians in such situations are more likely than not to inadvertently “increase the bloodshed.” Even those individuals with the necessary training often fail to respond properly. Take the New York police officers who, while trying to take out a gunman near the Empire State Building last year, inadvertently shot nine bystanders.”[7]

None of which is to say that a gun might not end up saving your life. It might. I’m just not sure that the potential benefits of having a gun outweigh the potential costs.[8] In addition to the problems I’ve described above, having a gun has a way of changing one’s mindset. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, puts it, “If all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target.”[9] Having that piece of cold metal strapped to your ankle can engender an inflated sense of fear and paranoia.[10] It can cause you to lose trust in others. (In this beautiful yet tragic world, we need to do all we can to increase, not decrease, our trust in others.) It can cause you to make foolish decisions that you wouldn’t have otherwise made. Indeed studies show that most purported defensive guns uses occur in “escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal.”[11]

Anyway, I’m done. I’ve given you my two cents. For the record, I think that you, and other mentally-stable, law-abiding individuals, have the right to own guns. I just ask that you carefully think through this issue before proceeding. And if you decide to go ahead with it I ask that you get the proper training, that you keep your gun secure, and that you always follow the four basic rules of gun safety as though your life and the lives of those around you depend on it, for they very well might.[12]

* * * * * 

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Injury Prevention and Control: Data and Statistics.”

[2] Linda L. Dahlberg, Robin M. Ikeda, Marcie-jo Kresnow, “Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study,” American Journal of Epidemiology, 160 (10), 2004.

[3] Over 19,000 Americans killed themselves with a firearm in 2010 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Injury Prevention and Control: Data and Statistics”).

[4] Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, “State and national crime estimates by year(s).” See also Andrew Mach, “FBI: Violent crime rates in the US drop, approach historic lows,” NBC News, June 11, 2012.

[6] Forrest Wickman, “Do Armed Citizens Stop Mass Shootings?” Slate, December 18, 2012.

[7] Mark Follman, “More Guns, More Mass Shootings—Coincidence?” Mother Jones, December 15, 2012.

[8] Some will tell you that citizens use firearms in self-defense over two million times a year, but as far as I can tell this claim has been entirely debunked. See David Frum, “Do Guns Make Us Safer?” CNN, July 30, 2012.

[9] Alan Jacobs, “A Christmas Thought About Guns,” The American Conservative, December 26, 2012.

[10] Alan Jacobs, “Guns, Risks, Safety,” The American Conservative, December 17, 2012.

[11] Harvard Injury Control Research Center, “Gun Threats and Self-Defense Gun Use.”

[12] From Jeff Cooper: Rule #1: All guns are always loaded. Rule #2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Rule #3: Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. Rule #4: Identify your target and what is behind it. 

December 21, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Newtown Shooting and Gun Control

Our 300 Million Guns Aren’t Making Us Safer

Ezra Klein points out that “[m]ore guns tend to mean more homicide.” The Harvard Injury Control Research Center, he writes, has “assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders. This holds true whether you’re looking at different countries or different states” (“Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States,” Washington Post, December 14, 2012).

Lynn Stuart Parramore: “Consider a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers sought to determine whether having a firearm increases the risk of a violent death in the home and whether risk varies by storage practice, type of gun, or the number of guns in the home. Among the findings:

  • “People with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home.
  • “They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide (risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death).
  • “The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home.
  • “People with guns in the home were more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from suicide using a different method.

“Bottom line: Researchers found that no matter what kind of storage was used, no matter the type or number of guns, having a gun in the home increased the risk of firearms homicide and suicide” (“Does Having a Gun in the Home Put Your Life at Risk,” AlterNet, December 17, 2012).

Smart Gun Control Measures Do Work

The New York Times: “In 1996, a ‘pathetic social misfit,’ as a judge described the lone gunman, killed 35 people [in Port Arthur, Australia] with a spray of bullets from semiautomatic weapons. Within weeks, the Australian government was working on gun reform laws that banned assault weapons and shotguns, tightened licensing and financed gun amnesty and buyback programs.

“At the time, the prime minister, John Howard, said, “We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.’ The laws have worked. The American Journal of Law and Economics reported in 2010 that firearm homicides in Australia dropped 59 percent between 1995 and 2006. In the 18 years before the 1996 laws, there were 13 gun massacres resulting in 102 deaths, according to Harvard researchers, with none in that category since.

“Similarly, after 16 children and their teacher were killed by a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, the British government banned all private ownership of automatic weapons and virtually all handguns. Those changes gave Britain some of the toughest gun control laws in the developed world on top of already strict rules. Hours of exhaustive paperwork are required if anyone wants to own even a shotgun or rifle for hunting. The result has been a decline in murders involving firearms.

In Japan, which has very strict laws, only 11 people killed with guns in 2008, compared with 12,000 deaths by firearms that year in the United States—a huge disparity even accounting for the difference in population” (“In Other Countries, Laws Are Strict and Work,” December 17, 2012).

Ezra Klein points out that “[s]tates with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence”: “Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive” (“Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States,” Washington Post, December 14, 2012).

One Gun Control Measure That Would Make Us Safer: Banning Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines

There really isn’t a legitimate civilian use for military-style assault weapons (for instance, the rifles used by the Sandy Hook and Aurora killers). Nor is there a legitimate civilian use for high-capacity magazines, which enable such killers to inflict far more damage than if they were forced to reload more often (William Saletan, “The Volume Killers,” Slate, December 18, 2012). Robert Wright writes: “Imagine the following world, which it’s within our power to create: It’s illegal to sell or possess a firearm—rifle or pistol—that can hold more than six bullets. And it’s illegal to sell or possess a firearm with a detachable magazine. In other words, once a shooter exhausted the six rounds, he couldn't just snap in another six-round magazine; he’d have to put six more bullets in the gun one by one.

“In this world, a significant number of those 20 Newtown first graders would almost certainly be alive. Lanza reportedly fired six bullets from his AR-15 just to get inside the locked school. So, in the alternative universe I just described, he would then have to more or less exhaust one of his two pistols to kill the principal and school psychologist he encountered after entering. At that point, as he headed for the classrooms, he’d have six more rapid-fire bullets left, after which he’d have to reload his guns bullet by bullet.

“Is there a single legitimate use of firearms that requires more than six rounds of continuous fire? Certainly not hunting. And not any sort of self-defense that’s realistically imaginable, unless you’ve recently antagonized a Mexican drug cartel” (“A Gun Control Law That Would Actually Work,” The Atlantic, December 17, 2012).

Another Gun Control Measures Would Make Us Safer: Requiring Mandatory Background Checks

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg points out that “nearly half of all gun sales in the U.S. are conducted without a background check. Criminals, the mentally ill, minors and domestic abusers are all prohibited from purchasing guns, but they all can do so as easily as attending a gun show or going online. The check takes only a few seconds, and it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights. That’s why polls show that more than 80% of gun owners support a change in law to require background checks for all gun sales.

“Fixing the background check system also requires the federal government to compel states to submit all necessary records on felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and others to the background check system. Right now, far too many records are not in the system, which allows dangerous people—including the Virginia Tech shooter—to pass the background check and buy guns” (“Michael Bloomberg: 6 ways to stop gun madness,” USA Today, December 19, 2012).

Even Most NRA Members Support Many Sensible Gun Control Measures

Most NRA members, for instance, support closing the gun-show loophole. Most NRA members support prohibiting people on the terror watch list from purchasing firearms (Yes, it’s legal for people on the terror watch list to buy firearms, and the NRA supports this “right” of theirs.) Also contrary to the organization’s leaders, most NRA members think people should be required to report lost or stolen guns. And most NRA members support Mayor Bloomberg's plan to update the background check system (Cliff Schecter, 5 Issues that Divide Gun Owners and NRA Leadership,AlterNet, July 22, 2012).

The 2nd Amendment Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Robert Parry: “Indeed, when the Second Amendment was passed in the First Congress as part of the Bill of Rights, firearms were single-shot mechanisms that took time to load and reload. It was also clear that Madison and the others viewed the “right to bear arms” in the context of “a well-regulated militia” to defend communities from massacres, not as a means to enable such massacres…

“The intent of the Second Amendment was clarified during the Second Congress when the U.S. government enacted the Militia Acts, which mandated that all white males of military age obtain a musket, shot and other equipment for service in militias.

“The idea was to enable the young country to resist aggression from European powers, to confront Native American tribes on the frontier and to put down internal rebellions, including slave revolts. There was nothing particularly idealistic in this provision; the goal was the “security” of the young nation…

“But does anyone really believe that Madison and like-minded Framers would have stood by and let deranged killers mow down civilians, including children, by using guns vastly more lethal than any that existed in the Revolutionary era? If someone had wielded a single-shot musket or pistol in 1791, the person might get off one volley but would then have to reload. No one had repeat-firing revolvers, let alone assault rifles with large magazines of bullets” (“How the Right Has Twisted the 2nd Amendment,” AlterNet, December 15, 2012).

* * * * * 


After reading the study cited by Parramore, I feel the need to point out that things are more nuanced then she implies. It’s true that those who have a firearm in their home are more likely than those without a firearm of being murdered. As Linda Dahlberg, et al. concluded in their study, “Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.” However, it’s important to keep in mind that the study merely showed a correlation, not a causal relationship, between owning a firearm and being murdered. As the authors conceded: “it is possible that the association between a gun in the home and risk of a violent death may be related to other factors that we were unable to control for in our analysis. For instance, with homicide, the association may be related to certain neighborhood characteristics or the decedent’s previous involvement in other violent or illegal behaviors. Persons living in high-crime neighborhoods or involved in illegal behaviors may acquire a gun for protection. The risk comes not necessarily from the presence of the gun in the house but from these types of environmental factors and exposures” (Linda L. Dahlberg, Robin M. Ikeda, and Marcie-jo Kresnow, "Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study," American Journal of Epidemiology, 2004, 160 (10): 929-936.

November 26, 2012

If the 'pro-life' movement really cared about life...

The “pro-life” movement has become a joke. I simply can’t take it seriously. Case in point: Liberty University is again taking the Obama Administration to Court. Fox News reports:

“The school is challenging the constitutionality of the part of [the Affordable Care Act] that mandates employers provide insurance and whether forcing insurers to pay for birth control is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause.[1]

If abortion is murder, as the Liberty crowd believes, then it should be doing all it can to support the administration’s requirement that insurers pay for birth control. Simply put, when women have free access to birth control, they have fewer unwanted pregnancies. And when women have fewer unwanted pregnancies, they have fewer abortions.

A recent study concluded that—quoting an AP story reprinted by none other than Fox News—“[f]ree birth control leads to fewer abortions.” The study tracked 9,000 St. Louis women who were offered free birth control. In what should have come as no surprise, these women had a significantly lower rate of unintended pregnancies than the general population. Teens in the study had especially low rates: “There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. Compare that to a national rate of 34 per 1,000 teens in 2010.”[2]

The study further found that there were “substantially lower rates of abortion, when compared with women in the metro area and nationally: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region” and “almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women” nationally.

Sarah Kliff recently argued that better birth control methods—namely, intrauterine devices (IUDs)—are the most likely reason that the abortion rate has been falling. (Yes, the abortion rate has been falling.)[3] In the above study, women who used IUDs were 22 times less likely to have an unintended pregnancy than women using the pill. All of which led one of the study’s authors, Dr. Jeffery Peipert, to conclude that if women were given access to free IUDs the national abortion rate could very well drop by half.[4]

Which is why I can’t take so much of the “pro-life” crowd seriously. If they really cared about saving human lives, then they would take actions that would actually save human lives.

* * * * *

[1] “Supreme Court orders new look at Liberty University’s health care coverage,” November 26, 2012.

[2] Lauran Neergaard, “Study: Free birth control leads to few abortions,” Associated Press, October 5, 2012.

[3]Surprise! The abortion rate just hit an all-time low,” Washington Post, November 23, 2012.

[4] Darshak Sanghavi, “Why Have Teen Pregnancy Rates Dropped?” Slate, July 31, 2012.