Monday, January 11, 2016

Guns and Stocks

Two recent articles grabbed my attention, preaching to the choir in my case. 

First, the endless posturing of Republican candidates as to who loves God and Guns the most, or is it Guns and God?  Ted Cruz is particularly blunt on these topics, saying something to the effect that no person is fit to be President who does not get down on his (or her) knees each morning to pray and his contention that all us “good guys” need guns to take care of the “bad guys.”  In regard to the latter, the Canadians see it for what it is, a spot on article in their National Post: More guns aren’t the answer. For Canadians, America’s gun cult looks like a collective suicide pact:  The America of the NRA’s imagination is a mythic, death-match arena populated by “good guys” and “bad guys,” “monsters” and “patriots.” As in a videogame or superhero comic book, everyone apparently falls into one category or the other. And since the patriots are more numerous, the theory goes, life is arithmetically safest when Americans are all armed to the teeth, ready to rake others with gunfire at the slightest provocation  

It goes on to conclude that when pro-gun activists and politicians make their case, they often regress into adolescent fantasy worlds — where ordinary Joes and Janes are transformed into heroic commandos. In real life, ordinary people faced with a mass-shooter situation are more likely to wet their pants. [Emphasis, mine – and this conclusion is documented in the article]

I’ve written about this so many times that I’m afraid of repeating myself, so instead I paste below just some excerpts. They certainly explain why the National Post article speaks so directly to me.  Read the National Post’s article though, it’s how we’re seen from our neighbor’s viewpoint.  We are so often chasing our own tails that we lack the necessary perspective.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015
It Can’t Happen Here?

Unfortunately, the horror in San Bernardino has fed into all of this, “legitimizing” such dangerous rhetoric and escalating it to personal attacks on President Obama (who now has low polling numbers about keeping America “safe,” the exact inverse of what those numbers were after bin Laden was nailed) - and subsequent accusations that any call for stronger gun control laws is merely politicizing the San Bernardino tragedy.

But such calls have gone on for years with fierce Republican and NRA opposition.  I do not naively believe that better gun control laws and enforcement would magically eliminate such tragedies, especially in the short term.  But I do believe that the Second Amendment, which was written in the days of musket rifles and flintlock pistols, needs serious updating.

At that time, we needed an armed militia and also the founding fathers believed that an armed citizenry would be deterrent to the rise of a despotic government.  The world has changed since then, weapons of war unimaginable to our forefathers, and, now, mostly in the hands of the military and law enforcement.  To make some of the same weapons legitimately available to the citizenry no longer serves the purpose of protecting us from a despotic government as the military will always have superior weaponry (is an converted AR-15 adequate protection against a tank?). The proliferation of automatic weapons just further endangers us all, giving us a false sense of security by just having one in our closet.

No, this is a country of laws and checks and balances and we have to depend on our tried-and-true institutions as well as the much maligned (by Trump in particular) fourth estate to keep our government transparent and trustworthy. If some fringe element threatens us in our homes and public places, we need better intelligence to prevent it and rapid response law enforcement to protect us.

Fully automatic weapons (ones that operate as a machine gun) need to be banned, and guns should be registered just like a car, an equally dangerous thing.  That means getting a license, passing a rigorous background check and license renewals (a gun owner having to report if it is sold, just like a car).  Guns for self defense, hunting and target practicing are understandable but how can one argue that an automatic weapon is needed?  Certainly not for hunting (where is the sport in that?).  Do we really want our neighbors to be totting an automatic weapon citing Florida’s ambiguous “stand your ground” law as a justification?

Will that keep guns out of the hands of the “bad guys” as the Republicans like to call them?  No, but it’s a start and of course the devil is in the details of how such gun control is administered.  Senseless to get further into it here – I’m merely expounding an opinion.

Friday, October 2, 2015
Carly Sidesteps

Switching gears to one of the major issues of our times, gun control.  I’ve written about this topic before and it is sad that we make no progress in this area and now, still, another mass slaughter, this one at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon.  CNN now reports that the police have identified thirteen (!) weapons connected with the murderer.

As President Obama wearily declared in his news conference, these incidents have become routine in this country and our response is routine:  commiserate with the families and do absolutely nothing to diminish the problem.  Thank you NRA and its obedient congressional cronies.  

I’m no Pollyanna when it comes to this subject.  People should have the right to have registered weapons for target practice and hunting, and for self protection (with licensing akin to getting a driver’s license, testing etc.), with stringent background checks before any weapon could be bought.  Assault weapons should be banned.  Would those steps eliminate the problem?  No.  But it’s a start.  On a macro basis, it is a cultural problem (just look at popular culture which glorifies violence and guns), as well as educational and income equality feeding the problem. 

Monday, January 20, 2014
"Existential Illegitimacy"

There have been twenty mass shootings since Obama became president and he is helpless to do anything about it without the complete cooperation of Congress.  After the shooting in Newton, Connecticut, only a few miles from where we lived for twenty plus years, there was a ground swell (verbal only) in Congress to do something to control the sale of certain automatic weapons, but by the time the NRA got finished with their lobbying campaign, that effort was AK47ed to death.  Explain that failure to the parents of the children slaughtered.

Thursday, January 17, 2013
You Call That a Gun?

Florida airwaves are chock full of reports of surging gun sales and crowded local shooting ranges before the sword of Damocles (Obama) comes swiftly down.  Interestingly, or tellingly, it is the sales of the AK47 type of military weapons that are selling most briskly and at record prices, soldier citizens plunking down $1,000 or more for their favorite assault weapon.  Apparently, their rationalization for needing a military weapon is, well, for their inevitable confrontation with the US Military.  These particular stalwart supporters of the Constitution (a.k.a. conspiracists) "know" of clandestine government plans to send troops door-to-door to confiscate their booty.  The problem with that is if they are harboring AK47s, perhaps the military might come knocking on their doors with a tank?  Now that's a gun!

In a more serious vein, it's about time after all the empty talk that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is brought into the 21st century.  The framers of the Constitution could never have envisioned what now constitutes the word "arms."

Then my favorite blogger, Barry Ritholtz wrote a sobering article for the Washington Post on the first week’s slide (crash?) of the stock market. 

The essence of it is – well, these things happen; ignore the swings and stick to your “strategy.”  While I of course defer to Ritholtz’s expertise and mostly agree, I would suggest that it may not be that “easy” this time. Tried-and-true asset allocation models no longer seem to be valid.  Governments manipulated the markets to such a degree on their way up that the unwinding of those actions (particularly evident in China) have resulted in asset categories becoming highly correlated.  I will not quote the piece here, but I wrote about this a couple of years ago in Reflections of a Relic Investor

I agree with Ritholtz though that acting on investment decisions while emotions are running high is hazardous to one’s financial health.