Frank Miniter

Canada Is Balancing Its Budget

Canada's Conservative Party have gotten their country to a balanced budget.

Canada’s Conservative Party have gotten their country to a balanced budget.

Our quiet neighbor to the north is set to balance its budget this fiscal year. To reach this goal Canada’s Conservative-led government has been outmaneuvering its liberal opponents. They’ve taken on their public unions, used private-sector ideas in the federal bureaucracy and streamlined government agencies. There are a lot of lessons here Republicans now running both houses of Congress should hear. For the answers I contacted Tony Clement, an elected member of the Canadian Parliament who has been serving as Canada’s President of the Treasury Board since 2011.

First, a little background on Clement will help to put what they’re doing in perspective. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in political science (1983) and in law (1986), Clement worked in the private sector before becoming a central part of Ontario’s “Common Sense Revolution.” (If only Republicans had such simple catchphrases for their political movements.) The main goal of Canada’s Common Sense Revolution was to lower taxes while balancing the budget. Their strategy for achieving this was basically to shrink the size and role of government. Mike Harris, a Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002, led this movement. While Newt Gingrich had his “Contract with America,” Harris, Clement and other Canadian Conservatives repeated the slogan: “Work for Welfare, Scrap the Quota Law [Affirmative Action] and Tax Cuts for Jobs—Common Sense for a Change.”

After Conservatives gained a majority in the Canadian Parliament in 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Clement as the President of the Treasury Board and tasked him with leading a government-wide spending review. In Canada, the President of the Treasury Board is comparable to a company’s chief operating officer. Whereas Canada’s Minister of Finance sets the budget—making him the Santa Claus of the Cabinet—Clement’s position is closer to the Scrooge.

Since being placed in this penny-pinching position, Clement’s goal has been to find ways to contain and reduce government spending. For example, on November 2, 2013, Clement backed a motion at the Conservative Party’s national convention to find ways to get public-sector pay and benefits under control. At the convention he vowed, as the minister responsible for negotiations with the civil service, to “alter the dynamics of collective bargaining as it has been done in this country over the last few decades.”

Now, a central part of the Common Sense Revolution was to do “exactly what I say I will do.” Clement is still following this mantra.

When asked about overall federal spending in Canada, Clement said, “We’ve made a major impact on wasteful spending. We’ve cut the budget by an average of 7.9 percent per department. In the process we’ve broken the spending culture by targeting back-office operations. By ‘back-office’ I mean the bureaucracy. For example, we found that every government agency had its own IT department that often ran different software on systems that weren’t always cross compatible. Fixing that issue alone reduced expenditures by 15 percent.”

Click here for the rest of my article at Forbes.com.

Why Hipsters are Really Conformists

hipster1The mathematician and neuroscientist, Jonathan Touboul, wanted to know why all hipsters look alike. He did some research and published “The hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same.” The key insight his mathematical model unearthed is there is a delay in fashion and lifestyle and that hipsters get caught in the delay as they try to stay ahead of the other hipsters. What results is a vicious cycle of dress and likes that is forever caught behind the mythical few and real nonconformists. In other words, they’re following fashion and are caught up in this year’s attire when what they really want is tomorrow’s.

Maybe so, but that theory presupposes that all hipsters with those under-sized Fedora’s, tight jeans and lattes really do want to be ahead the pack; certainly some do, but aren’t a lot of them more likely trying to fit in with the cool crowd?

The truth is hipsters have really been chasing each other around since at least Ernest Hemingway’s “Lost Generation.” Hemingway actually called them the “weird lot” in a 1922 article titled “American Bohemians in Paris.” He wrote: “The scum of Greenwich Village, New York, has been skimmed off and deposited in large ladlesful on the section of Paris adjacent to the Café Rotunde. New scum, of course, has risen to take the place of the old, but the oldest scum, the thickest scum, and the scummiest scum has come across the ocean, somehow, and with its afternoon and evening levees has made the Rotunde the leading Latin quarter show place for tourists in search of atmosphere. It is a strange-acting and strange-looking breed that crowd the tables of the Café Rotunde. They have all striven so hard for careless individuality of clothing that they have achieved a sort of uniformity of eccentricity.”

Why Police Officers Need Cameras

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 1.32.30 PMShawn R. Glans, a now former Saratoga County, N.Y. sheriff, was forced to resign after a video of him went viral on YouTube. In the video you can hear what sounds like Glans slapping a man named Colin Fitch. Fitch had refused to let the officer search his car for a gun without a warrant. The officer said he’d get a search warrant and Fitch calmly replies, “If you want to take that route.” The officer then seems to strike Fitch. The apparent slap can be heard on the video at the 30-second point. It can’t be seen. The person filming the traffic stop was keeping his cellphone hidden. After the possible slap, the officer threatens Fitch with expletive-filled tirade during which he says he’d “rip [Fitch’s] head off and s— down [his] neck.” The video has now received over 600,000 views on YouTube. The officer reportedly told the Times Union he would have acted differently had he known the incident was being recorded.

Most cops, of course, are not like Glans. Most, however, do have to deal with the worst in society on a daily basis. For their protection—and for ours from cops like this—more officers should wear cameras. I’ve also argued in Forbes that police officers’ guns also need cameras.

Should the SEAL Who Shot Bin Laden Be Stepping Forward?

The former SEAL Team Six member who allegedly shot Osama bin Laden—called “the shooter” in an Esquire Magazine article—will appear on Fox News on November 11 and 12. This has brought a blunt and critical letter from the SEAL’s master chief of Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC). The letter said SEAL’s should live as “quiet professionals” when serving and after leaving the teams. The letter points out: “At Naval Special Warfare’s core is the SEAL Ethos. A critical tenant of our Ethos is ‘I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.’ Our Ethos is a lifelong commitment….”

The Seals—like other elite forces—live a quiet, tough and stoic creed. The criticism from NSWC resonates because it’s designed to protect individuals still taking risks for our nation and way of life and because they are protecting operational secrets that could benefit our enemies. Also, a lot of people were a part of the hunt for Bin Laden, the SEAL team that killed him was simply the tip of the spear, so why should a particular person get all the public credit?

The argument from the few individuals who’ve written books, such as No Easy Day, is that generals and former CIA directors write books and so get fame and potential money, so why can’t those who risked their lives do the same?

There are other arguments to be made for the soldiers who write books and appear on news broadcasts. Just consider that the Ancient Greeks would have carved statues for these heroes and would have written and put on plays in their honor. The Ancient Romans would have had them ride chariots down streets filled with applauding people. These celebrations of heroes created role models and real heroes for young adults to look up to. We are now in a society where the most famous people are actors, singers and reality show exhibitionists. Wouldn’t a few heroes who served provide good balance in this society?

For these reasons I think some heroes should come forward, but that they should clear their books and more through the Pentagon. Meanwhile, our military and other branches of government shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth about our heroic figures. Our government too often attacks whistleblowers and others who do the right thing for our country. We need more stand-up examples of what a good U.S. citizen should be.

Should the IRS Be Able to Silence Priests Who Talk Politics?

Many of the framers of America’s founding documents had likely studied the writings of the French political philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), who wrote:

“A more certain way to attack religion is by favor, by the comforts of life, by the hope of wealth; not by what reminds one of it, but by what makes one forget it; not by what makes one indignant, but by what makes men lukewarm, when other passions act on our souls, and those which religion inspires are silent. In the matter of changing religion, State favors are stronger than penalties.”

Despite the fact that the Bill of Rights was designed to be restrictions on the federal government, not the people, today the IRS has succeeded in gagging churches by requiring them to stay out of politics. If they talk politics, they risk losing their nonprofit tax status. The Founders may have thought they’d avoided Montesquieu’s warning by ratifying the First Amendment’s “establishment clause,” but the U.S. government, through the IRS, has shackled religion to state favors backed by a severe financial penalty—the IRS tax code, a document that’s now longer than the Bible.

Church leaders have historically spoken their minds to the American public. Outspoken religious figures include George Whitfield (1714-1770), an Anglican Protestant minister who helped spread the “Great Awakening” in the American colonies, and Father Charles Edward Coughlin (1891-1979), a politically controversial Roman Catholic priest who had more than 40 million listeners tuned to his weekly broadcasts during the 1930s, and Reverend Jerry Falwell (1933-2007), a Baptist pastor and conservative commentator. Religious figures have always been involved in political debates in America, at least until Congress changed the rules in 1954.

The law banning religious leaders from endorsing political figures was engineered in 1954 by then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973). Johnson wanted to silence two non-profit organizations in Texas that had opposed his reelection, so he pushed the bill through. It wasn’t controversial because Johnson passed it off as a favor to churches. The legislation passed as an amendment to another bill via an up-or-down voice vote in the U.S. Senate.

Most churches in America have since organized themselves as 501c3 tax-exempt religious organizations—501c3 churches are prohibited from endorsing politicians and otherwise stepping into the political fray. However, in 1995, for the first time in history, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of a church for engaging in political activity. The Branch Ministries, Inc., doing business as the Church at Pierce Creek, in upstate New York, ran a newspaper ad just before the 1992 presidential election saying that Bill Clinton’s position on abortion ran counter to the Bible. The ad asked, “How, then, can we vote for Bill Clinton?” After Clinton won the election, Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote a letter to the IRS saying that the church had violated its tax-exempt status. After an investigation, in 1995, the IRS revoked Branch Ministries, Inc.’s tax-exempt status. Many conservatives then pointed out that many inner-city, Democratic-leaning churches had endorsed Bill Clinton, yet these churches were not investigated.

Now many religious leaders are taunting the IRS. Before the 2014 midterm election more than 1,600 pastors, priests and other religious leaders mentioned politicians from the pulpit by name, according to Alliance Defending Freedom. This is a movement designed to force the government to prosecute priests. Religious figures are supposed to be the moral leaders of communities. They argue they should be able to express this morality politically—doesn’t American politics need a little more moral oversight? If they go too far, they could lose their flocks. Isn’t that the proper check on a free people?

The Thing About “Hero Shots”

This Montana mule deer didn't hear me coming.

This Montana mule deer didn’t hear me coming.

I was creeping through knee-high Montana grass toward antler tips just down a mountain. The wind was touching my right cheek. The sun was diffused in low clouds. The mountain rolled below into chokeberry thickets and aspen with yellow leaves. This bottom twisted between hills the color of brown-yellow grass to green fields and a barn of bare wind-washed wood. Black angus cows were in the bottom and everything was so quiet and still the mule deer just in front of me seemed to be meditating—if deer meditated—as he looked down the mountain. I’d spotted this buck from far below. The stalk to get around him took hours. Now I was within yards with a CVA muzzleloader in my hands like some frontiersman. Any sound at this distance would make that mule deer’s ears turn and then his head would follow and then he’d be gone. This is the edge mountain lions live on. They creep and hug the ground until they’re so close not even a deer’s quick hooves have a chance to get a buck safely away. In that pounding silence of my feet moving and hands holding a gun I felt sure a doe would see me or something would and the whole scene would explode with bouncing mule deer. Instead I stood slowly up and could see the back of the buck’s head and his wide antlers and his chest just 60 feet away.

Then I shot cleanly and it was over and the mule deer that had been bedded around him were running downslope. Soon everything was quiet again and I had meat for the winter and the melancholy of the hunter set in. I missed the buck and loved the buck and I thanked him out loud and in my heart. This is nature and is natural and I am drawn to it.

Soon a friend was there and we took photos; what hunters call “hero shots.” I hate that phrase. For me when I see the photo I see and feel again everything I’ve touched on here and more. Others don’t. They can’t. All they see is me smiling with a dead buck. I can’t blame them for not understanding. I can only blame them for not trying to understand. Because to me this is a celebration of life.

How Gun-Control Legislation is Affecting This Election

Sheriff Mike Lewis and his father outside an "Old-West town" in the suburbs of Salisbury, MD.

Sheriff Mike Lewis and his father outside an “Old-West town” in the suburbs of Salisbury, MD.

Many sheriffs in states that recently passed gun-control laws have signed letters saying they are opposed to the laws, saying the gun bans won’t make America safer. Some even say they won’t enforce these new laws. This has gotten some press. What hasn’t been reported is the very governors in New York, Connecticut and Maryland who signed those gun and magazine bans are also reluctant to enforce them. They don’t want a political backlash. They don’t want journalists making martyrs out of otherwise law-abiding citizens who might be charged with felonies for doing what they’ve done all their lives.

They know that a majority of sheriffs in New York and Colorado publicly oppose the new gun-control laws. Sheriffs are in a unique position to speak out, as nearly all of America’s 3,080 sheriffs are elected. Still, the sheriff’s opinions on guns are held by a lot of the men and women who protect us. In 2013, a survey of police officers by the National Association of Chiefs of Police found that 86.8 percent of those surveyed think “any law-abiding citizen [should] be able to purchase a firearm for sport and self-defense.” Also, a survey done by PoliceOne.com of 15,000 law-enforcement professionals found that almost 90 percent of officers believe that casualties related to guns would be decreased if armed citizens were present at the onset of an active-shooter incident.More than 80 percent of PoliceOne’s respondents support arming schoolteachers and administrators who willingly volunteer to train with firearms.Virtually all the survey’s respondents (95 percent) said a federal ban on the manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds wouldn’t reduce violent crime.

With a majority of law enforcement and millions of gun owners opposed to the gun and magazine bans recently passed in New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Colorado it’s not surprising that governors who voted to heavily restrict the citizenries right to bear arms are reluctant to enforce their own laws.

Click here for the rest of my column at Forbes.com.

My Interview on CBN

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.13.57 AMThe Christian Broadcast Network had me on to talk about my book The Future of the Gun. Click here to see the 5 minute interview. There is a true story about freedom and what really reduces gun violence that is often not told and almost always misunderstood. But it’s important Americans know this true story as it leads to the real solutions we need to solving the gun violence that still exists. Also, if someone doesn’t know this story about guns in America then they really can’t understand America.

The Gun Conspiracy That Didn’t

Conspiracy theories have a way of exploding through the gun blogs and forums. Part of the reason for this is that so many are true. Who would have ever thought the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) would tell gun storeowners to sell guns to known straw purchasers (someone who can pass a background check who is buying a gun or guns for someone who can’t)? But they did. Or who would have ever thought that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) would put gun stores on a federal watch list? But they did that, too.

So when the The Washington Times noticed that people now have to answer a question about their race and ethnicity before they can buy a gun they ran an article that started conspiracy theories flying.

The facts are now settling on this issue. The answers don’t have much to do with race, but instead they have everything to do with a bungling and dense federal government.

Actually, since 2012 anyone who wants to buy a gun from a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer (FFL) must answer this two-part question on Form 4473:

10a. Ethnicity: (Hispanic or Latino) or (Not Hispanic or Latino)

10b. Race: (Check one or more boxes.) (American Indian or Alaska Native), (Asian),

(Black or African American), (White), (Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander)

Try answering the question.

Okay, did you answer both 10a and 10b?

If not you filled it out incorrectly. If a store doesn’t make sure a gun buyer answers both parts of the question before they phone the person’s name and social security number into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) then the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) could penalize the store. If ATF agents find that a store is consistently filing incomplete forms they could start actions to get the store’s license to sell guns revoked.

So far that hasn’t happened. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for firearms manufacturers, says, “To our knowledge, no FFL has ever had his/her license revoked because the customer did not respond correctly in answering Question 10.”

So the government put out a poorly written form that, if filled out logically, might cost people their livelihood—what’s new? Actually, this is an interesting example of how slow government can be.

Click here to see the rest of my column at Forbes.com.

How Bloomberg’s Desire For Gun Control Is Backfiring

With the midterms just over a month away New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending at least $50 million to make his gun-control agenda part of this election. His gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety has endorsed more than 100 federal and state candidates. They are also running television commercials, holding events and pushing their studies into the newsrooms of a mostly favorable press.

John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president, told USA Today, “We want gun safety to be an issue that people vote on.”

John R. Lott, Jr. says he’s fine with that statement. He just wants people to know the truth about what really reduces violence before they vote. He says, “I can’t find a single study from Bloomberg’s groups that aren’t loaded with errors. They have an anti-gun agenda and will lie to achieve it.”

Before getting to the inside story behind the politics, the piles of money being used to shape public opinion and to how the truth is stubbornly winning the debate despite—or because of—Bloomberg’s spin, I’d like to tell you how I first met John R. Lott, Jr. He is an important voice in this debate and this anecdote shows what kind of researcher he is.

In 2006 I was at a cocktail party in Arlington, VA, talking to a liberal journalist about his soon-to-be-released book on Iraq when John Lott joined us. John listened for a moment and then said to the author, “I’m curious. You say you just finished a book on the Iraq war. I always find it so hard to finish a book. I get so deep into the research I have a hard time stopping to write. I’m guessing you had a hard time leaving Iraq. There is so much to investigate and understand.”

The author said, “I didn’t go to Iraq.”

John paused with this quizzical look on his face before asking, “Oh, how did you do your research?”

The author said, “I didn’t have to do much. I mean, I already know what I think.”

They were both so baffled with each other that, after an awkward silence, the liberal author shrugged and moved away.

Lott, of course, entered the national stage in 1998 with his groundbreaking book More Guns, Less Crime. The book details his research that found that, despite what people are often told, violent crime rates actually tend to go down when states pass “shall-issue” concealed-carry laws. (Shall-issue laws force a licensing agent to give anyone a concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun as long as the individual passing certain criteria as stipulated by law.)

As soon as the book was published a lot of academics made it their mission to prove Lott to be the fraud they were sure he must be. The thing is, the researchers kept finding that Lott is right.

Click here to read the rest of my column at Forbes.com.