Armed And Political

Commenter Beard reached out and asked me what I thought of the folks who are practicing open carry at healthcare townhalls and other political events these days.

Over the years, my position on gun rights has hardened somewhat; I’ve moved from “oh, there are a lot of reasonable restrictions…” to “no, there are very few reasonable restrictions.”

So looking at the phenomenon as purely a gun rights issue, I think the people are idiots and counterproductive but within their rights. They are idiots and counterproductive because what they intend to do is inflame reaction. We’re not talking about someone wearing a gun as a matter of course and showing up at a coffee house somewhere. We’re talking about someone (a black someone, by the way) who straps on a holster and handgun and then slings an AR15 shorty over his shoulder – and one with a magazine in it.

Folks, that’s exhibitionism, and while on one hand I get it that “Martin Luther King is only as powerful as the crazy nigger with the Molotov cocktail standing behind him” (as I believe Abbie Hoffman was quoted), on the other real progress in civil rights was made by men and women who dressed in their Sunday best and quoted scripture.

But this isn’t just an issue of gun rights.

It is an issue of many people’s insecurities about the role government intends to play in their lives, and their feeling that we’re at a “this far and no further” moment. There’s an obvious locus between people who believe passionately and seriously in gun rights, with all that entails – personal responsibility, individual empowerment – and people who don’t like the idea of a National Health Service and are worried that the current healthcare plans might take us there (just as there’s an obvious locus between people who don’t believe in gun rights and who do believe in a NHS).

So I’m not shocked by this.

But I do disapprove of it – strongly. And I do encourage my shooting friends not to do it, and when at events like this, to take the armed folks aside and talk to them, shooter to shooter.

Let’s have open-carry days and weeks as a way to firm up gun rights, and to demolish the notion that gun ownership is somehow abnormal or marginal. But I’d be very damn careful about bringing a gun to a political argument.

Why? Two strong reasons.

First, as a shooter I’m someone who considers the responsibility I take on by being armed to be massively significant. Bringing a gun to someplace where argument or even – god forbid – shoving might break out is asking for tragedy to happen. The worst possible place I can imagine being is armed and facing a situation that is emotionally heated and where shoves or fists are possibly going to be thrown. I’m not someone who is likely to get punched or shoved – but I can tell you that I’m not going to shoot someone for shoving me, period. There’s a reason states with CCW often forbid carrying into bars.

Second, as a citizen, because the point of being one of the few armed people in a larger group of unarmed people can only be – on some level – to intimidate. It’s not about defending yourself; you’re not really at risk in a public group setting like this. It’s about making a statement, and that statement is in part “don’t eff with me.” One point I hope I’ve been absolutely constant on is that anything that drives people out of debates is bad. And somehow I can’t see myself walking into a meeting with a M4 over my shoulder, a few magazines in a tac vest, and a handgun on my waist and sitting down and telling someone that I welcome disagreement – and being taken seriously.

Now the liberals who have their boxers in a bunch over this have absolutely no standing with me, and should have none more broadly on this issue; for where were they when the Jews are shut down at Concordia or UCSF by violent protest, and we were told “it’s just kids”. When conservative or right-wing speakers are forced offstage or their speeches canceled ‘to preserve order.’ that’s just fine. Sorry, no it isn’t…or, if you think it is, you don’t get to whine when the other side ups the ante.

50 thoughts on “Armed And Political”

  1. Well said. It’s legal, and should be, but it’s also stupid, and RKBA folks need to speak up and say so and why. The ‘this far and no further’ point can be made without asking for trouble on the spot.

  2. A.L., while I mostly agree with you, I think it’s fair to quibble about this statement:

    you’re not really at risk in a public group setting like this

    That didn’t turn out to be the case for Ken Gladney, did it?

  3. Well, my main point was objecting to your claim of “not really at risk”, not to speculate on whether Gladney shooting his assailants would have been justified.

    But in regard to the latter, I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as you apparently do: Gladney was assaulted by 4 people, who managed to knock him to the ground and kick him in the head, as well as elsewhere. In other words, not that materially different from the Westlake shooting in Seattle (which was ruled as justifiable by the prosecutor’s office–i.e. no charges were ever filed), or the murder of Kristopher Kime in Seattle a few years ago, where the assailant “merely” punched Kime in the head a few times.

  4. “Morally, I can justify taking a life to defend a life – but not to defend against a split lip or black eye or bruised dignity.”

    What about to defend the exercise of a basic human right: say, your right to free assembly?

    The SEIU was escalating its visible presence and aggressiveness up until the first “armed protestors” showed up. The armed protestors have all been polite and courteous; and mysteriously, there have been no more reports of aggressive counterprotests resorting to violence.

    It seems to me that “the Second Amendment protects the First” has worked out fairly well here. The White House doesn’t seem upset by it; the groups who carry have contacted the police in advance to let them know and to arrange for a liaison with the police department to ensure it goes smoothly.

    I was greatly concerned about the unions’ move to “drown out” the Tea Party protests, not because of any antipathy toward unions — I like unions, and union members are also citizens with a right to be heard. However, there is a certain winking at violence by unions on picket lines, as you know; and the SEIU has even fought other unions, not just capitalist pigs. Deploying experienced “picket line” union members as an organized counterprotest v. groups of largely unorganized citizens seemed to me a recipe for disaster.

    That’s doubtless how the guns look to the other side — like a recipe for disaster. Yet what we’ve got is a balance of power. That situation can lead to disaster: if lines are crossed, you get WWI. Or, it can lead to peaceful resolution of a very tense situation: if the lines are respected, you get the Cold War.

    This is a very tense moment, for a lot of reasons. So far, though, the system is holding. The Second Amendment is protecting the First; and we’re having the angry, frank, serious conversation that we might otherwise not be able to have if either side were allowed to drown the other out. The rights are being protected, by individual citizens who are making clear where their lines are drawn.

  5. _The SEIU was escalating its visible presence and aggressiveness up until the first “armed protestors” showed up._

    Any evidence of this?

    From the videos I’ve seen, people are stepping onto the stage & getting in the speakers face, or yelling until the speaker cannot be heard. The protesters are barely held in check at all (let alone by teamsters)

    “It seems to me that “the Second Amendment protects the First” has worked out fairly well here.”

    Why? Are you saying that if there was no gun your first amendment wouldn’t be followed? That seems silly, I’ve heard lots of people say whatever they felt at these meetings, gun or no gun. Crazy or Sane.

    AL, let me try one more reason why people are bringing their gun: Attention.

    Media loves to talk to the guy with the weapon on his back. Is he dangerous? Is he an old school patriot? Media loves a false sense of endangerment, (or the wacko who might say anything) and in these interviews, they might get both.

  6. Alchemist,

    Grim will hopefully show up soon to speak for himself, but in the meantime I took him to mean, not at that specific event, but in the overall course of the tea parties and town hall meetings. And from that perspective maybe he is onto something.

  7. Aside from the astonishing act of lunacy MSNBC exhibited by editing out the guy at the events race and then playing the angry-white man card, whats interesting to me is how little of an impact this story has had compared to times past.

    I agree it was a stupid act, but I have to agree with Glen Reynolds and others who have noted that the gun-grabber strategy of de-legitimizing the ownership of firearms is a complete backfire at this point.

    Maybe it takes an act of political idiocy to display the critical mass the nation has reached on firearms (at least outside the most-liberal enclaves). Its just not that big a deal anymore.

  8. _”From the videos I’ve seen, people are stepping onto the stage & getting in the speakers face, or yelling until the speaker cannot be heard.”_

    Specific to this event or in general? The clips I have seen tend to be tame until the speakers/organizers try to roll over the crowd or read them talking points. People don’t like being patronized.

  9. I was, as K. Parker says, referring not to a specific incident but to the trend. It looked for a while like there was a trend of escalation.

    It was an escalation to seek out the SEIU to counterprotest in an organized way. There’s no reason the SEIU shouldn’t protest, don’t get me wrong. I fully support their rights to organize and speak their mind, and I’ve never crossed a picket line. Nevertheless, it’s the first time I can recall a President approaching labor unions and asking them to come picket — not a corporation or conglomerate — but their fellow citizens. That was an extraordinary thing to do.

    It was a further escalation when we saw the assault happen. It might have been a further escalation when the White House held its phone call with the SEIU and praised them uncritically, not mentioning the assault or making any suggestion that the unions should take care to respect the rights of others. That, I think, was received as an escalation, but since it may be the White House didn’t know of the assault, I’ll not speak to the intent; just the perception.

    That was followed, as I recall, by a raft of stories in which the SEIU began receiving telephoned threats; and gun-rights advocates began to suggest on the internet that people should carry. That was a counter-escalation.

    What seems to have happened, though, is that everyone stepped back once the citizen-protestors with guns arrived on the scene. The SEIU is still counterprotesting; the Tea Parties are still rowdy affairs. But there’s been no more violence, and less talk of violence.

    It seems to me that the new tone has been set by these citizen riflemen. They’ve all given interviews, and rather than the rowdy, angry rhetoric the protest/counterprotests have generated, all the gun-carrying interviews have been polite and respectful.

    To me, that’s just what American democracy was always meant to look like. I think Jefferson would have understood. The rifle was always part of the yeoman farmer — the individual citizen, exercising his rights, and defending them as well.

  10. As an addendum:

    What I’m trying to say is that I’m proud of how these citizens have conducted themselves. They could have carried guns and then sought further conflict and excuses to use their guns; that would have been a disaster.

    What they’ve done instead is reinforce the space in which peaceful excercise of First Amendment rights is happening. It’s become more polite, and safer — for everyone, not just for themselves. They did not bring guns to drive the SEIU away, but only to assert that they also would not be driven away. Everyone is being allowed their rights, and the police and the President understand and support it.

    That’s something to be proud of. It would have been understandable if this had turned into a clash of factions. Doubtless, in most countries, that’s just what would have happened. It isn’t what happened here, and that is one of the awe inspiring things about our American heritage.

  11. Thanks for your post, Marc.

    It’s pretty clear to me that the people bringing weapons to these demonstrations are being extremely careful to stay just on the legal side of the line, to the point of alerting law enforcement in advance to avoid any misunderstanding. They want to make a public statement.

    But one plausible consequence of this sort of statement is that someone who is more of a nutcase, and less careful and responsible than these actual protestors, could decide that bringing guns to protests sounds like a fine idea. Suppose things get heated, and this nutcase decides to shoot, or even pretends that he might be about to shoot.

    Presumably the Secret Service is around to protect the President, and they would put a quick end to anything that might threaten him. However, this could lead to casualties and misunderstandings all around.

    Once shots are fired, or even visible threats are made, what are the other people with guns going to do? The argument has been made about the Virginia Tech shooter that armed students would have stopped him quickly. But what happens when shots are fired, several people are down, several people are armed, and no one quite knows who did what to whom?

    Specifically, in the midst of a heated political debate, if one side is known to be bringing guns as a protest, if shots are fired, are the folks with guns going to act to maintain the peace, or to support “their side”? Is everyone there with a gun going to have a cool enough head to make a responsible decision?

    Once such a situation starts, it is likely to go to hell very quickly.

    Now, suppose it has happened, and the situation is FUBAR.

    After it is all over, what do we imagine will be the impact of this event on the cause of responsible gun rights?

    Looking at this tree of possible futures, it seems to me that, as Marc has argued, the right strategy for those favoring responsible gun rights is to discourage getting into this situation in the first place. Which means avoiding bringing guns to heated political debates in the first place.

  12. Beard, so people should just “take one for the team” if SEIU thugs or someone comparable return to escalating (non-gun) violence on their end? I certainly do understand the need for caution and carefulness, but really what do you propose we should do?

  13. All I know is this type of atmosphere is ripe for some sort of false flag shenanigans. Sooner or later, somebody is going to fire a gun into the air at one of these things and people may get hurt.

  14. kparker [#14] asks what to do in the face of non-gun aggression.

    Here’s a suggestion. Remember that the whole point of this sort of protest is to draw attention to the justice of your cause (and the injustice of your opponents) in the eyes of the wider community, well beyond the set of people actually attending the event.

    So first, make sure to get good media coverage. If you can get coverage from branches of the media that are perceived to be unbiased, or perhaps even biased against you, all the better.

    Second, make sure that your people are thoroughly disciplined to behave with scrupulous courtesy and legality, even when being abused, arrested, or beaten. (So yes, “take one for the team”.)

    Third, whatever happens, make sure it gets on tape, and be prepared to follow up with interviews and quiet, polite, articulate statements to the press.

    This should sound familiar: it’s exactly what the gun-toting protesters actually did. I’m not warning you about those actual people, since they showed admirable discipline. I’m warning you about the wannabees and copycats who may well come after.

    Notice: if you do this with no guns, then idiot copycats just make asses of themselves, probably by getting into a brawl. If you have guns, and some idiot starts shooting, then you get a catastrophe, and it reflects particularly badly on the side of those favoring responsible gun rights.

    The key point here is that you are not playing to the local audience. You are playing to a wider national audience, and you want to look more mature and responsible than the other side. You don’t do this by shouting down speakers, and you don’t do this by carrying guns.

  15. I’ll concur with Beard here. Try a thought experiment; MLK Jr. with a M14 standing on the Mall giving his “I have a Dream” speech. Doesn’t play as well, does it?

    Yes, I’m intimately familiar with the history of armed black households in the Jim Crow south.

    But as a national movement – as one that reframed the beliefs of the majority of Americans – civil rights wasn’t going to happen ‘at the barrel of a gun’ no matter what Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown may have believed.

    When armed union thugs start clubbing protesters, OK, the rules have changed. But, to be blunt, when that happens and the pictures get out – the union’s cause will be kaput regardless.


  16. _Try a thought experiment; MLK Jr. with a M14 standing on the Mall giving his “I have a Dream” speech._

    Dr. King’s point was that his people were long abused: he wanted to force mainstream society to look that abuse in the eye, and account for it. A rifle would have been counterproductive to that symbolism.

    The Tea Party movement is a movement that harkens back to the Revolution, and the sentiments of the Founders. That’s why it’s called “the Tea Party movement.” A movement that draws on that sentiment won’t find rifles to be problematic as symbols. Indeed, if anything, it’s hard to think of many things that would be _more_ appropriate as symbols.

  17. Grim [#18],

    The actual Boston Tea Party (1773) was a non-violent protest against a tax on tea. Partly because of the non-violence, it had a major impact in setting the stage for the Revolutionary War. Rifles had nothing to do with the Boston Tea Party.

    They did, of course, have quite a bit to do with the Boston Massacre (1770), which also helped set the stage for the Revolutionary War, but the rifles were used only by the British soldiers. Five colonists died. After the resulting furor, the British removed their troops from the city, and the soldiers and their commander were indicted for murder.

    Based on these examples, it sure looks like the people without the guns end up with the stronger impact, and the people with the guns end up making mistakes that they pay heavily for.

  18. I’m aware of the history, Beard, although I object to your characterization of the Tea Party as nonviolent. Breaking, entering, and destruction of property is violence. The fact that they didn’t also kill people is good, but the protest was certainly violent.

    The Boston Massacre was also violent. Lexington and Concord were violent. I had an ancestor who served at Valley Forge, where there wasn’t any fighting, but it was still violent — an army deployed in a brutal winter encampment, trying to survive and train for the fight.

    The point is that, from the perspective of symbolism, Dr. King wanted to present his people as innocent victims of cruelty and oppression. The Tea Party wants people to remember their heritage as revolutionaries who stood up to oppressive taxes, and beat the powers that be.

    Mark’s thought experiment doesn’t provide a useful analogy, then. Rifles as _symbols_ clearly undermine the one message; but they positively reinforce the other.

  19. Sorry, Grim, but I have to rise in defense of the poor long-suffering language. Breaking, entering, and destruction of property are crimes, but they are crimes against property. They are not, strictly speaking, violence. Assault, battery, rape, and murder are violence.

    People always love to extend the meaning of a loaded word to suit their purposes, and “violence” is a favorite, but someone has to hold the line for words meaning what they mean. Likewise, the winter at Valley Forge was a terrible hardship, and many people died, but that doesn’t make it violent. (Surely, during that winter, some soldiers had fist-fights, and those were violent, to be sure.)

    The word “hero” is another one that gets grossly over-used. Just because someone serves in the military, even in combat, doesn’t make them a hero. They are doing something admirable; they may well be a patriot; they are certainly serving their country; but that service, in and of itself, even in the face of danger, doesn’t make them a hero. To be a hero, you have to do something heroic. Not everyone who serves gets that chance.

    End of language rant. I’ll address the symbolism in my next message.

  20. Grim [#20] defends the use of rifles as appropriate symbols of revolution.

    Is that actually the message you intend to convey? Are you arguing that the American people have reached the point when “it becomes necessary . . . to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them . . . “? That’s the message that the symbol of the rifles conveys.

    If that’s what you mean, so be it, but then say it out loud and defend your position.

    I think it’s a pretty extreme position to take, in order to defend the rights of large insurance corporations to overcharge the American people for inadequate health care coverage, and then to pay their leaders unimaginably princely salaries.

    Personally, I think you’ve been hornswoggled.

    It should be uncontroversial that, in the health care marketplace, the American people are paying too much and collectively getting too little. The numbers on this don’t lie. Furthermore, those numbers are getting worse rapidly, in a way that is unsustainable.

    So, we need to save money on health care. Ideally, we also need to get better health care. But someone (well, some group of corporations) is currently getting a lot of that extra money, and they certainly don’t want to give it up.

    So, how can they defeat this attack on their fortunes? Well, how about if they inflame the population about a bunch of irrelevant and even bogus ideas (nobody is pulling the plug on Grandma!), and mobilize the folks who will do anything, as long as it makes Obama fail.

    Fan the flames on this for a while, and pretty soon, everyone has forgotten that you’re picking their pockets.

    Now, I certainly don’t know whether you are actually advocating violent revolution or not (though I have asked you to clarify that point). But it’s clear that you and a lot of other people are getting pretty steamed. And it looks to me like you’re being manipulated by people and corporations who want you to be angry, but don’t want you to look at what they are doing. Once you are angry enough, at someone else, they have free reign.

    I know that my argument here won’t convince you. But act like a scientist, and treat my position and your current one like competing hypotheses. Carry them both around for a while, seeing how well each of them explains the evidence. Look for ways to test each of the hypotheses. Keep an open mind.

    Good luck.

  21. bq. “So first, make sure to get good media coverage. If you can get coverage from branches of the media that are perceived to be unbiased, or perhaps even biased against you, all the better.”

    Beard, this is where overt media dishonesty becomes a push toward violent outcomes. The editing-out of consequential footage during an act of violence destroys any belief that if one is seriously hurt or killed, the media will report it. Rather, you’re a problem for their candidate. Which means you’re inconvenient and expendable.

    People who believe that if they’re hurt or killed, it will be covered up or widely lied about, are going to look for other forms of protection. The jim Crow South being a fine case study.

    Marc makes some very good and valid points about the way this is being done at the meetings, and the risks. Grim also makes some very good points, however, about the practical outcome that has checked the brownshirts and created more peaceful events.

    The question is whether that peace will hold. And whether it would hold if the guns were all removed, and people took Marc’s advice. I don’t know the answer to either question.

    bq. “Third, whatever happens, make sure it gets on tape, and be prepared to follow up with interviews and quiet, polite, articulate statements to the press.”

    Can having your own video help? Yes. Assuming the videocamera you’re using doesn’t simply become a target for destruction. But even if it does survive, its use doesn’t undo the damage of the lying coverage – and what we know from experience is that many in the media will blatantly continue to lie and stonewall for a very long time when presented with contradictory evidence.

    A fair media that is not a conscious political player, and wants to tell the truth, is more than just a convenience. When tempers flare, it is a form of security that can indeed make guns unnecessary. A media determined to Dowdify even violence in support of its political goals, on the other hand, is a spur to potential violence rather than a check on it.

    Especially when the President of the United States, whom they have worked so hard to put in office, begins the escalation to violence:

    bq. “It was an escalation to seek out the SEIU to counterprotest in an organized way. There’s no reason the SEIU shouldn’t protest, don’t get me wrong. I fully support their rights to organize and speak their mind, and I’ve never crossed a picket line. Nevertheless, it’s the first time I can recall a President approaching labor unions and asking them to come picket — *not a corporation or conglomerate — but their fellow citizens.* That was an extraordinary thing to do.”

    Emphasis mine. Extraordinary doesn’t begin to describe it, given the violence that had to be expected once this request was made. The term you’re looking for, Grim, is “brownshirts.” Nothing less fits. That doesn’t make Obama Hitler – he’s hardly the only leader to ever use brownshirts this way, vid. Hugo Chavez and many, many more. But it is not the act of a democratic leader, let alone a post-partisan.

    By the way, how much media coverage has focused on that little wrinkle? Mmm hmm.

    It will be noticed by many on the other side, however, which is why it’s difficult to express the depth of stupidity involved in using that tactic against a movement that consciously hearkens back to the American Revolution. Unless the intent is to deniably sow the seeds for serious violence, and then “not waste a crisis”?

  22. Gentlemen:

    Some replies, to each of you.

    A) Joe: I don’t think that “brownshirts” is the right word, though I appreciate what you’re trying to say. Brownshirts, however, was specifically Nazi; there were fascist “shirt” movements elsewhere, but not brown. Italy had black shirts, Ireland had blue shirts, and I gather there was a black shirt movement in Atlanta, GA, that was quite popular in the 1930s.

    I don’t want to draw a line between the union members and fascists, though.

    Unions have a history of their own, and you’re right to say that violence is implicit when you call them out in this way. In a sense, though, that’s my answer to Beard’s question about whether I think rifles imply ‘dissolving political bonds.’ That’s not what I think at all, and unions are a good example of how Americans have fought — their employers, the police, and even the US Army (whose primary job between the Indian Wars and WWI was putting down strikes).

    They used rifles, at times, and bombs, and so forth; and others used those things against them. Some good came out of it, in times much more violent than these.

    So far.

    In any event, the point is that our system is strong enough to handle some pressure. As alarmed as I was to see the unions called out against other citizens, yet I am also pleased to see the other citizens responding in this way — not against the unions, but merely to reassert their own rights. There’s no guarantee that the good situation will continue, but I am glad to see it has gone as it has. No one is being driven off, and the armed citizens have behaved with honor and courtesy.

    B) Mr. Beard: See my partial answer to you in Joe’s reply.

    I do think that the crimes of breaking and entering, and destruction of property, are both “crimes against property” and “violent crimes,” because they involved violent acts — i.e., “breaking” and “destruction.”

    The contrast is, say, with shoplifting: there a man enters freely and is welcome, but takes by stealth an item he does not own and slips out with it. If he had entered freely, but then produced a crowbar and smashed the item, he’d be guilty of violence; but since he steals it for his own enjoyment, he is guilty merely of theft.

    I congratulate you, however, on your use of the term “hornswoggled,” which is appropriate to a progressive in the old Southern sense of the term.

    That said, I’m not sure what you mean by it. I believe I understand my relationship to my insurance company, which (as it is Blue Cross / Blue Shield) is in most respects like the government-backed co-ops Obama currently trumpets as the solution. They view my health as a business proposition: specifically, they are willing to convert my uncertainty into their _risk_. Uncertainty means that no one knows what may happen; risk means that there are computable probabilities. So, you can know that the likelihood of my requiring a large payment is X, and that such a payment (if it does occur) is capped at Y.

    This is an extremely useful thing to be able to do, not only in health care but in every section of the economy, as it is impossible to plan for uncertainty, but quite possible to plan for risk.

    The way this is done is by determining a likely level of risk (using actuaries), and then capping the risk (such as by lifetime maximum payments on the contract), and then setting a price for being willing to absorb the uncertainty. I agree to the price, and thus am covered to that degree in the case of the risk playing out.

    The reforms being suggested by the government undermine that model. For example, one of the things they would like to do is to remove lifetime maximum payments. Doing just that one thing means that you can no longer change the uncertainty to risk; you’re now being asked to place bets on uncertainty. My likelihood of requiring a payment may still be X, but Y is no longer knowable.

    You can understand what I mean by viewing it as a poker analogy. There is a great difference between betting $50 on my pair of aces, and betting ‘an amount to be determined later.’ You see what I mean? Even though I know the odds of winning with a pair of aces quite precisely, because my potential loss is no longer capped, I can’t judge whether or not it is wise to take the bet.

    The government’s suggested reforms seem to me to be designed to break the model under which private health insurance is available. Since several of the reformers have stated, at various times, that they intend to do precisely that, I’ll take them at their word.

    C) Marc: I’ll agree that ‘something needs to be done,’ but not that it should be just _anything_. We’ve gone from “let’s do this before we read it” to “the public option” to “co-ops” that — as mentioned — are roughly what I have now anyway, except without a sustainable business model. People are right to be outraged at this attempt to play three-card Monte, in a hurry, with something so critical to their lives.

    But I think you understand what I’m trying to say.

  23. Marc, Joe, and Grim,

    First, I just have to say this this sort of discussion is exactly what I enjoy about Winds of Change: courteous, thoughtful, informed discussion among people who may have significant disagreements.

    Just a couple of quick points on insurance. More later, I hope.

    It’s no more difficult for actuaries to collect data on the cost of treatment, given the disease, than it is to collect data on the likelihood of the disease, given demographic variables. So the “unbounded cost” argument is (IMHO) a red herring.

    Also, the key to insurance is to spread risk over the whole population. It’s an obvious strategy for insurance companies to maximize profits by excluding the higher-risk portions of the population. It’s also an obvious strategy for customers to minimize costs by only buying insurance when they believe they are at risk. To minimize the overall cost of insurance for the society, the pool has to include the entire population. We may disagree about this one.


  24. So, I was out of country for a few weeks, may have missed the SEIU connection. But still, googling around, I cannot find a good article (short of Malkin, whom I don’t trust) that illustrates Obama calling for counter protests, or the SEIU using organized suppression tactics.

    Now, I can find a few scattered incidents of violence here and there, but this seems more like people who got too hot-headed and did stupid things, and those people were all arrested. This does not look like the large scale brownshirt suppression tactics that has been alleged.

    Links please.

  25. I agree completely with Joe [#24] about the importance of the media in a free society. The Founders were very explicit (and very wise) about the value of a free press and free speech to make things uncomfortable for those in power.

    For the media as a whole to be unbiased is too much to hope for. I would imagine that there is a market for apparently unbiased news coverage. Certainly Fox News’ slogan, “Fair and Balanced”, is intended to appeal to a market hungry for unbiased news. Unfortunately, it appears that Fox News is pretty egregiously biased toward the Right. Presumably many of you would argue that other news sources are biased toward the Left.

    How can we evaluate those claims?

    Let’s start with the assumption that there are a number of different news sources out there, and that few (if any) of them are without bias. Furthermore, almost every individual observer will be much more aware of the distortion or suppression of stories that favor their side, than they are of distortion or suppression of stories that favor the other side.

    So, a group of political conservatives is likely to be unhappy about seeing little or no coverage of this SEIU incident (of which I am unaware, by the way). A group of political liberals is likely to unhappy about the media uncritically repeating claims about Obama unplugging Grandma. If everyone is about equally unhappy, then perhaps, on balance, we are fine. Or is there a preponderance of bias in one direction? And who should we trust to judge this?

    There are various non-profit and university-based groups that claim to put serious effort into being unbiased. Or are they not to be trusted either, because universities and the non-profit sector are already known to be hotbeds of (gasp!) liberals?

    In the short run, I think that Alchemist [#27] has the right idea. If you claim that some story is being distorted or suppressed, provide a link to the correct story. This assumes that the news is not so completely dominated by the Government that no outside news can be found. Then pass it around. Those of us who want to know the news, and don’t want it passing through an ideological filter will put pressure on our news organizations.

    In the longer run, perhaps market forces will allow a genuinely
    balanced presentation to arise and grab market share. (But I’m not holding my breath on that one.)

  26. Beard says:
    “For the media as a whole to be unbiased is too much to hope for.”

    I agree with that. On the other hand, it is quite possible to insist on a simple standard of truth. The media must not blatantly lie about the things they see – and I don’t mean difference of opinion, I mean editing people and situations in ways that are plainly disingenuous and false (appropriately labeled “Dowdifying”).

    Multiply the effects by 10 if violence is involved during the event in question. This will indeed result in pressure over the long run on the “news” organizations in question – and it will also create reactions designed to work over a timeframe shorter than years.

    I will add that for the media as a whole to be deeply unrepresentative of the population, and take steps to consciously exclude part of that population, creates problems. Which we can see in their coverage, and in their businesses. I add this because it’s the root cause of their declining credibility, and also of the problems being discussed here.

  27. “It is quite possible to insist on a simple standard of truth.” [Joe, #29]

    But who will bell the cat? More on point, who will have the right to “insist” that the media behave a certain way, and would we want any person or agency to have that power? (See the First Amendment.)

    I fear that freedom of speech and of the press pretty much implies a lot of irresponsible speech and journalism. The price is not cheap, but it appears to be worth it, in terms of being able to make life more difficult for those in power.

    Unless, of course, that we the people find a way to insist on this standard. Unfortunately, people from P. T. Barnum to Rupert Murdoch have made fortunes by appealing to the lowest common denominator.

    On the other hand, what could be more representative of the population than the blogosphere? Furthermore, there is a huge amount of ferment and active competition for eyeballs and for respect. (You can probably maximize eyeballs by appealing to the lowest common denominator, but in the long run, some people prefer respect. And when things get tough, people turn to those they respect for help and advice.)

    How do you get respect? Primarily, by making it clear that you stand for something, particularly things like truth, fairness, and justice. Most importantly, showing that you will continue to stand for those things over the long term, even when the shoe is on the other foot, when standing for those things is not the same as following your own immediate best interest.

    I believe and trust that there is a place in the media ecology for respected sources of information that can settle at least some questions of who is lying and who is telling the truth. We are in a time of ferment, and it may take a while to see who ends up with a respected position.

    Winds of Change is a discussion site, not a news site, but I respect the way you run this site, and the level of the discussion. On the liberal end of the spectrum, I respect the work Josh Marshall does at Talking Points Memo, because they seem to have a higher allegiance to the truth and good journalism than to pushing their admittedly liberal agenda (to which I am very sympathetic).

    Does anyone here have a nomination of a news and comment site on the Right that deserves similar respect? I’d appreciate it.

  28. Beard, I’d appreciate an example of Josh Marshall demonstrating an allegiance to the truth in anything beyond the name of his site.

  29. That’s a reasonable challenge, bgates [#31]. But first, a bit of framework.

    There’s nothing unreasonable about Josh Marshall having strong leftward leanings, and using his blog to publicize news that he believes deserves special attention from that perspective. He’s not advertising himself as an unbiased news site. The question is whether he has a strong allegiance to the truth.

    A significant part of his reputation rests on the investigative reporting that he and his team do, picking up threads of evidence from here and there, and putting them together to demonstrate something important. If you want to build a national reputation at that business, then having your statements hold up as true on skeptical examination is extremely important. Whether genuine personal integrity and an allegiance to the truth is a prerequisite for professional success in that area, or whether a person wanting professional success in that area has to demonstrate an allegiance to the truth to achieve his ambitions, is a chicken-and-egg question that needs other sorts of evidence.

    One of the major breaks that led to his prominence was revealing the organized process of firing the U. S. Attorneys. Regardless of how you feel about the rightness or wrongness of politically-motivated firings of U. S. Attorneys, he and his team pulled together obscure bits of information from local news reports, broke the story on the national scene, and their claims have been borne out so far by subsequent investigations, still ongoing.

    However, I don’t suppose you are convinced by evidence that he has been truthful in reports that support the Left and attack the Right. So the convincing answers to your challenge are presumably when he defends the truth at the expense of the Left. It won’t be surprising, given his agenda, that these are significantly less common than stories that criticize the Right.

    Here is a post where he criticizes a Democratic congressman’s criticism of Sen. Grassley.

    And here is one where he rebukes one of his commentators for being overly harsh on the gun-toting demonstrators. (Certainly, he goes on to his own serious criticism.)

    Those are from skimming over the past couple of archives. I recall a number of others where Democratic corruption has been called out and reported on in detail. I’m sure you can find them.

    Meanwhile, let me point out that, in this very thread, Alchemist [#27] appealed for links backing up the claim that Obama had called for SEIU to use organized suppression tactics. Nobody seems to have replied on that one. Is there anything out there?

    If you want allegiance to the truth, you have to ask for backup, and inspect it, when someone says something you are skeptical about. And you have to provide it when someone asks you.

  30. Beard,

    It’s no more difficult for actuaries to collect data on the cost of treatment, given the disease

    Sorry, it actually is difficult: unlike the case with insuring one’s home or auto, in health care we frequently have the situation of new, expensive, but potentially more effective treatments being developed that were unknown at the time the policy was originally issued. Would you like to propose we put a hard upper limit on your life’s value, and just “total” you if the cost-to-repair exceeds that figure?

    Now, back to your overall point about openly carrying guns at political events. I would like to clarify that I don’t necessarily disagree with your point (and Marc’s) as to it being bad “marketing”; I’m pretty much on the fence here and so appreciate the debate here–somebody might even convince me to move to their side!

    Where I vigourously part company with you two is specifically on the assertion that you can tell, when an assault starts, that it will not turn out deadly. It’s one thing to willingly undergo a bloody nose “for the team”, and quite another to undergo a fatal assault–especially when there’s no assurance your little encounter will even be seen by one of those magic media cameras in the first place, much less how the footage will be spun.

  31. By the way, I’m not really against guns at protesting. I don’t think it’s a particularly brilliant idea, but as long as the weapon is never actually used, I think it’s only a distraction (at worst).

    I just don’t think it has intrinsic benefit either.

  32. “Would you like to propose we put a hard upper limit on your life’s value, and just “total” you if the cost-to-repair exceeds that figure?” [kparker, #33]

    This seems to be a favorite scary scenario among those arguing against health care reform. Often applied to Grandma, whose life’s value is somehow presumed to be very low.

    This raises a few questions.

    First, is anyone actually proposing this? Or is this presented as the “obvious” consequence of getting on the slippery slope of (even partially) publicly funded health care?

    Second, how do the high-cost-to-repair folks fare under our current system? In answering this question, you don’t get to ignore the people who can’t afford health insurance in the first place, or those who could afford it at normal rates but are denied as being high-risk, or those who believe they have good health insurance but discover it doesn’t cover their high-cost-to-repair. But if you are comparing a proposed policy with the existing one, certainly you must do the actual comparison, and do it fairly.

    Third, how do high-cost-to-repair folks fare in our current private insurance marketplace, versus those who are covered by our current existing public options: Medicare and the VA System? Neither of these public options are perfect, certainly, and their users have plenty of complaints. But I’ll bet that only a vanishingly small portion of those users favor abolishing that system and letting them take their chances with the private insurance marketplace.

    Let’s see some real apples-to-apples comparisons, not just this scary “Grandma’s going to die!” stuff.

  33. Good grief, Beard, it’s just an example of why health-insurance is actuarially more difficult than other kinds of insurance. Try not reading into it more than I wrote, OK?

  34. “Where I vigourously part company with you two is specifically on the assertion that you can tell, when an assault starts, that it will not turn out deadly.” [kparker, #33]

    Did either one of us make that assertion? I doubt it.

    There’s not much certainty anywhere in life, much less when confronting people who strongly disagree with what you stand for. For any course of action, whether you are crossing the street at home or planning to attack a military enemy, you assess the degree of risk, you assess the costs and benefits, you make your decision, put it into action, and deal with the consequences as they unfold.

    No one goes into combat, or even on a routine patrol, with the assurance that it won’t turn out deadly, and perhaps for them. Why should you require perfect assurance for a non-violent confrontation? My argument is that carrying deadly weapons to a political rally increases the risks and decreases the benefits, for you and your side. This is certainly true in the long and medium term, and probably true even in the short term, when you may be able to defend yourself more effectively from attack, but you are certainly perceived as a greater threat, thereby increasing the likelihood of an attack and its severity if it comes.

    Planning and carrying out a successful non-violent confrontation can require as much skill and discipline as combat. As I’ve said before, the gun-carrying protesters have shown admirable skill in planning and discipline in execution of their non-violent protest. My big problem is with the copycats and wannabees who are likely to be attracted by the strategy, but don’t understand what it takes to make it work. There’s a very nearby failure mode, and it will seriously damage the causes these protesters favor. If you also favor those causes, you should be advocating caution and restraint.

  35. “Good grief, Beard, it’s just an example of why health-insurance is actuarially more difficult than other kinds of insurance. Try not reading into it more than I wrote, OK?” [kparker, #36]

    Point taken. But you really did make the statement [#33] that I responded to [#35]. Admittedly, I did take this as a convenient example of a larger class of argument that I have been hearing, and that I find particularly annoying. Hence the more-elaborate-than-necessary argument. It was aimed at that entire class. If you don’t advocate that position, no problem. Consider it aimed at those other folks.

    Responding to your specific point here, though, I think you are giving too little credit to how good the actuaries are. In addition to historical data about prevalence of diseases and accidents, and the costs of treatment for them, they have access to lots of information about the introduction of new treatments. These things don’t take them by surprise: it takes years for a new treatment to make its way through the FDA, and these guys can track it the whole way. Part of that process is knowing how many people each treatment might apply to, and how the cost of the treatment itself relates to things like mortality rates, lengths of hospital stays, subsequence complications, and things like that. It’s not for amateurs, but these guys are professionals, and they have professional tools.

    Note that, if the insurance companies really wanted to reduce their risk of high-cost-to-repair problems, they would favor socializing very inexpensive preventative medicine: inoculations, annual checkups, and early simple treatment.

  36. _First, is anyone actually proposing this? Or is this presented as the “obvious” consequence of getting on the slippery slope of (even partially) publicly funded health care?_

    Actually, it’s the situation that exists right now. My health insurance policy with BC/BS has a “lifetime maximum benefits” clause.

    What’s being proposed, as I understand it, is to eliminate the “lifetime maximum benefits,” and require insurance companies to insure you without regard to how much it might eventually cost them.

    The problem with that is that it moves them out of the realm of “risk” and into the realm of “uncertainty,” as we were discussing above. You can’t run a business sustainably under this model.

    That means that the government-backed co-ops will eventually go out of business: either because they are bankrupted by being forced to pay costs they can’t pay; or because they have to raise their rates so high that no one can afford the insurance.

    That situation leaves us without a private insurance market. That is, of course, precisely what is intended by many reformers: to force us into a situation where you get single-payer, because the business model is destroyed by what they are calling “competition.”

    Now, if that single-payer model ended with everyone receiving endless benefits, with no lifetime maximum, and the rest of the economy humming along merrily, that would be fine.

    However, we can see from every government-run health system that (in fact) you can’t escape scarcity by turning things over to the government. You do end up with government rationing, for the same reason that you end up with market rationing. We just can’t pay for everything that every individual could possibly use in terms of health care.

    Even if we swapped our entire society over to the business of health care — so that none of us were doing anything but taking care of each other — there just aren’t enough resources. The rationing comes in _here_, or it comes in _there_. There is no alternative.

    The superiority of the market system is that it avoids concentration of power. The government already has quite a bit of power over my life; it doesn’t also need to control the question of whether or not my son gets treatment. The insurance company may have a say in that; it doesn’t also need to control the police, the courts, and the armies.

    Liberty can only exist where there is a tension between opposing powers. You can’t rely on the law, or goodwill, or moral behavior: those things get swept aside by human interest. You need tension between powers. Concentrated power leads to tyranny.

    That’s why we have a Congress balanced against an Executive and a Judiciary, or a Federal government balanced against the States; or the state’s District Attorney backed by an opposing attorney; etc. I’d like to defend the private-insurance model, not out of love for the insurance companies, but because it maintains one of those crucial balances of powers: a private power versus the public power. I don’t love either the insurance co-operative or the government bureaucracy: rather, I want to see each of them opposed by an equal, opposite power.

  37. _”Or is this presented as the “obvious” consequence of getting on the slippery slope of (even partially) publicly funded health care?”_

    I think it is the inevitable consequence and I think that your questions about the current system prove that.

    As many have pointed out, health-care is an essentially infinite demand based on a limited supply. It is physically impossible to provide unlimited health care at maximum levels to everyone under any system. It becomes more so every single day as the population ages and as technology advances with more obscure and expensive treatments that often as not provide only marginal or temporary effects.

    The question of: ‘Will you spend 1 or 5 or 10 or 100 million dollars for an extra 6 months or 1 month or 3 days of life’ isn’t just a theoretical mind game. Its very much a reality.

    I think where people are balking isn’t that this decision will be made- its the idea of _the government_ making it. Big government advocates have supplied their own rope by noting that the public sector already ‘rations’ care. But that twists the word ‘ration’, which by definition isn’t a market driven event. This begs the question of what rationing actually means, and people come to realize that yes indeed, when the government makes a decision by fiat it is indeed a horse of a far different color than when the market does it.

    The reason for this is clear- the government is an agency that uses force to impose its decisions. Our entire system of government was painstakingly crafted to put checks and balances against that power. Now suddenly this president wants to rush through legislation in a matter of weeks that would massively upset that apple cart in the most fundamental area of freedom- life. If the government decides not to pay for my kidney transplant, who do I appeal to? What court can I sue the government in? What branch can I appeal to?

    The market making these judgments isn’t perfect, or even very good. Because when it comes to living and dying and scarce resources there ARE no perfect solutions. But the idea that the government, with little pains of forethought, can suddenly jump in and provide the judgements on these matters in a fair, transparent, and efficient manner is beyond ludicrous. It flies in the face of any agency in existence. And it hands government a tremendous amount of power over our lives that the founders worked very hard to protect.

  38. Guys, if I can gently push the thread back onto the topic of the post…

    …I’m working on a health insurance post that I’m confident will annoy all of you enough to generate a good discussion…


  39. Folks,

    I will eagerly await Marc’s promised annoying post on health care for detailed arguments on this topic.

    However, I do want to respond to Grim [#39] that I am just as enthusiastic as he is about the principle of Checks and Balances, and its importance to our system of government. We may have some differences of opinion about the details of its application, though. 😉

  40. In deference to Marc [#41], let me summarize why I think health care and guns at political demonstrations are intimately linked.

    I believe that the passions of many people on the Right are being fanned into flames deliberately by various corporate fat cats whose fortunes are being threatened by the prospect of health care reform. They believe (correctly, perhaps) that they can use fear and anger about potential government control to drain the momentum from any attempt to change the current system.

    Follow the money. If we find ways to save money on health care, someone gets less. They won’t like that, so they will try to block reform.

    BTW, when I speak of “corporate fat cats”, some of those fat cats are corporations, while some are individuals with powerful and well-paid positions within corporations. It’s not just individuals.

  41. Beard – I just want to point out that the thrust of your statement is that you don’t take the opposition to Obamacare seriously, either in terms of their moral stance or their depth of opposition. If only they can be shown the perfidy of the hidden manipulators, the scales will fall from their eyes.

    The relevance to the OP is this: Incorrect assessment of the intent and capability of one’s potential opponents can be downright dangerous. Especially if it turns out that they are in deadly earnest.

  42. Tim [#44]: I’m sure that opposition to health care reform is a multi-facetted thing, where some facets deserve to be taken seriously, and others not. The “death panels/pulling the plug on Grandma” meme pretty clearly falls in the latter category. Nobody is advocating that, and what the proposals actually support — end-of-life counseling for patients and families — seems to be a Good Thing that many on the Right also supported until recently.

    On the other hand, the notion that health care resources are not infinite, and therefore some sort of control on spending is and will be necessary under any policy choice, is certainly a serious issue to be discussed seriously, with mature consideration of the alternatives.

    Finally, I presume it’s just rhetorical flourish, but in the context of this thread, the phrases “downright dangerous” and “in deadly earnest” are a bit worrisome.

    Marc [#45]: I agree that there are fat cats on both sides, licking their chops for various bonanzas, past and/or future. This is actually one of my disappointments with the way the Obama administration has handled the politics of health care reform. Even if they get something through, it may end up being a pale reflection of “reform”.

    For better or for worse, and perhaps because of this, the “passions” on the Left don’t seem to be burning quite as hotly as those on the Right.

  43. I will likewise grant Marc’s wish, if I may beg one last indulgence.

    Beard (I believe) asked for a conservative blogger who was striving to perfect honesty on the subject of healthcare. I do know one, though she gets little readership. Nevertheless, I treasure her input.

    You’ll find her writings on section 1233 of the House Bill cited in Snopes. It doesn’t seem to have increased her readership, which is a shame; but her honesty, and her diligence, I cannot fault.

  44. I wish the right had the imagination of the left, or at least the chutzpah. Imagine a Republican dismissal of concerns over tightening immigration rules with the line, “no one is advocating making life more difficult for visitors to this country.” Sure enough, if you search the record, you won’t see a single Republican saying, “we ought to make life more difficult for visitors, and stir up hostility to ourselves abroad.” Not one. Democrats could claim only that such would be the unavoidable consequence of the policies Republicans were advocating.

    The “death panel” concern didn’t arise in the context of end-of-life counseling. Did you even read Palin’s essay, Beard? If you did, she went over your head. It’s a question of rationing, exactly as mark described at #40. It’s true that you can’t find the phrase “death panel” in the bill or in Obama’s stump speech, just as you can’t find him using the line “let’s jack up the deficit by a trillion dollars”. And yet….

  45. Grim [#47]: Thanks for pointing me to Firebrand. I just read the first page of her blog, which is quite a lot of text. I enjoy her writing and her style of thinking.

    In “her discussion of death panels”: she makes the important distinction between three different technical assessments: CER, CEA, and QALY (or CUA). [Read her article for the definitions.] The first two are fine and useful, while formulaically applying the last is abhorrant. That’s a useful contribution to the discussion.

    But that’s a long way from the simplistic claim that health care reform = death panels, which seems to be a major argument I keep hearing.

    If everyone were as clear-thinking as Elise (Firebrand), I expect we could have a productive discussion, quite possibly change a few minds, and figure out the compromises, trade-offs, and protections that would make health care reform possible.

    Again, thanks. Everyone else here should read her too.

  46. See, now you’ve drawn me into the tangent and I want to comment. I’ve saved the post, and may use it when the AL’s larger post is up.

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