The North Korea Reframe

North Korea is building nukes and ICBMs to prevent the United States from attacking. Meanwhile, the United States does not want to attack North Korea. And yet we find ourselves at the brink of nuclear war while not actually having a root problem on which we disagree. They don’t want to be attacked and we don’t want to attack them. Doesn’t that seem solvable?

The problem, as I see it, is psychology more than weaponry. As long as North Korea sees the United States as a military threat, expect North Korea to keep upgrading their nuclear arsenal.

So what would it take to “reframe” the situation from two mortal enemies on the brink of war to something less dangerous? 

Perhaps we should look at the same reframing strategy President Trump is using to apparent success with ISIS. The president reframed our involvement from temporary to permanent. Then he added a momentum change courtesy of General Mattis. Under President Obama, ISIS probably saw the U.S. military involvement as a temporary problem because that’s exactly how it was framed. Now they see it as permanent … and they observe themselves losing. The “permanent loser” frame is a different framing than before, and it might be the reason we see more surrenders. (Or we might be seeing more alleged surrenders because exaggerated reports of that type would be good persuasion too.)

At the moment, North Korea sees the economic sanctions as temporary. They also see our threats as temporary until they have full nuclear deterrent. The temporary frame is a losing frame for the United States.

On top of the temporary frame, things look personal between the U.S. and North Korea. Dignity is in the game. Ego is in the game. Those things need to be reframed out of the situation to get any kind of solution.

So consider the following reframe. Imagine depersonalizing the North Korean situation by pushing for a United Nations rule that any not-yet-fully-nuclear country building nukes and ICBMS is permanently barred from any form of global commerce. Ever. Period. And it’s not personal to North Korea. It’s just the new rule.

It’s the “ever” part, along with depersonalizing things to a generic rule that creates the new frame. In this frame, there is no winning to be had for North Korea. They can build their nukes, but only at the expense of permanent and total economic collapse, courtesy of the the rest of the world as expressed by the United Nations. 

I don’t think total economic ruin of North Korea was ever a realistic strategy option until recently. But China seems to be onboard. And President Trump is unlikely to take his boot off Little Rocket Man’s tiny wallet anytime soon. I can’t imagine President Trump backing off until he gets what he wants. But we haven’t framed it as permanent. And we could, with the help of the United Nations.

Let’s call this the “I’ll just take my ball and go home” strategy. And it works best if we reduce military presence to something more obviously defensive. In this model, it’s not personal. It’s just a rule the UN agreed on.

There is great persuasive power in saying something is a general rule as opposed to a specific action against one player. It takes ego out of the game and it has a non-negotiable feel from the start.

Note: My main topic for this blog lately is persuasion. I’m not an expert on North Korea or international affairs. I don’t expect anyone to take my noodling on this topic today too seriously. If you learned something about persuasion by reading this far, that’s all I’m hoping to achieve here.

You might want to pre-order my book about practical persuasion, Win Bigly, at this link because that’s how you get a free bonus chapter by email.


Low Public Approval of President Trump Yet Unusually High Consumer Confidence. Hmmm...

How did we get to a place where The President of the United States has historically low approval at the same time we have recent highs for consumer confidence?

Almost everything President Trump does has an impact on the economy, and on consumers. That includes national security, immigration, taxes, health care, budgets, treaties, government regulations, and international relations. If the public is optimistic about the economy, that is normally the same as having confidence in the president. At least on the big-ticket items.

The types of presidential actions that have lower impact on the economy include court appointments, opinions on confederate statues, NFL kneeling, transgenders in the military, birth control funding, unpresidential tweets, poorly-executed disavowals, hyperbole that fails the fact-checking, seemingly unnecessary political attacks, and all manner of obnoxious presidential behavior. The majority of citizens disapprove of President Trump on at least some of those topics.

I don’t think we’ve ever seen something like this before. A majority of citizens disapprove of President Trump while simultaneously having confidence he’ll get most of the big stuff right and the economy will reflect it.

During the 2016 campaign, my haters mocked me mercilessly on Twitter for predicting that a candidate with insanely low approval ratings could ever get elected president of the United States. I said it wouldn’t be the problem people thought it would be. And it wasn’t. Part of the reason is that Hillary Clinton also had low ratings. But I also suspected there were so-called shy Trump supporters who held private opinions that were different from what the pollsters could suss out.

Now we see a similar situation shaping up. I don’t know whether or not President Trump will seek a second term. But if he ran for reelection today, I expect he would win by a larger margin than the first time, no matter who ran against him. To put it another way, approval ratings aren’t as predictive as you would expect. But consumer confidence is probably close to 100% predictive. Ask Bill Clinton. He’ll tell you It’s the economy, stupid.

Prior to President Trump’s inauguration day I predicted we’d see this story arc play out in the media:

Spring 2017: “Trump is Hitler!”

Summer 2017: “Okay, Trump isn’t Hitler. But he’s incompetent!”

End of year 2017: “Crap. He’s effective. But we don’t like it.”

Consumer confidence is peaking while the president’s approval rating is in the cellar. That means people expect him to be effective on the big stuff. But they don’t like him because of the other stuff.

Right on schedule.

If you read this entire blog post, you might also like my new book, Win Bigly. Pre-order at this page and get a bonus chapter by email.


Affirmations, Positive Thinking, Trump, and Norman Vincent Peale

For your Friday reading, first check out Politico’s excellent article by Michael Kruse on how the “Power of Positive Thinking” guru, Norman Vincent Peale, influenced President Trump’s approach to rewriting reality. Then see my Periscope where I tie together those thoughts and more. People on Twitter are saying it’s my best yet. You be the judge.

And remember to pre-order my book, Win Bigly, for even more on this topic including a bonus chapter about hypnosis only for the pre-order folks.


How Many Lives Did Gun Control Laws Save in Las Vegas? (Answer: Probably Lots)

I’m pro-gun. I say that up front because your beliefs about my intentions will color how you see this post. My intention is to be objective. You can be the judge.

The Vegas gunman used bump stocks on semi-automatic rifles. Those were totally legal. They are also a poor choice of weapons, or so I am told by gun experts. In fact, they are so inaccurate at the distance involved in the Vegas incident that professional snipers say Paddock could have done more damage with a single-shot weapon and some aiming. 

The gun experts I talked to (informally) also agree that the shooter would have killed more than a hundred additional people had he used a fully-automatic weapon. You can legally buy an automatic weapon that was made prior to 1986, for about $15-20K. The shooter was a millionaire, and he seemed to know a lot about guns. He would have known a fully-automatic rifle is designed to not jam the way his bump stock rifles did. He would have known they fire more bullets per second and more accurately. The death toll would have been much higher had the Vegas gunman used the right weapon.

He knew a fully automatic rifle would be more lethal than a bump stock rifle.

He was rich enough to afford the fully automatic weapon.

He had months to plan and prepare.

He was smart.

And yet he didn’t use a fully-automatic weapon in the attack.

The probable reason is that a fully-automatic weapon is harder to obtain and it raises some flags. I believe even private transactions with those weapons require some government paperwork. 

I’m speculating, of course, but it seems to me that the ban on fully-automatic weapons did, over time, create enough friction for the Vegas gunman that he decided to settle for relatively worse weapons.

Ask a gun expert how many more people would be dead if automatic weapons were as easy to procure as bump stocks. My estimate of a hundred extra dead in Vegas is probably low. 

Gun control apparently worked in this case, at least to an important degree. The tragedy could have been far bigger. A little bit of friction for obtaining a fully automatic weapon probably saved lives. We can’t know for sure what was in the mind of a madman, but we do know that any kind of friction causes some people to change plans. That’s probably what happened here. 

My hypothesis is that crazy people will use whatever weapon is the most effective killing device they can obtain at acceptable cost (friction). Gun laws introduce friction. They are not intended to stop every type of crime or to deter every type of criminal. But it looks like they helped a bit in Vegas. Had there been no friction to procuring fully automatic weapons, it is likely the Vegas gunman would have used them. Why wouldn’t he?

If you want to read my argument for why I am pro-gun, see the end of this prior post.

It might be a good idea to pre-order my new book, Win Bigly, at this special page, because you get a bonus chapter by email. You’ll like it.


My Suggestion for a National “Dashboard” for Tracking Progress

After years of trying, I think I came up with an idea that nearly 100% of people would agree is a good one. Rare!

The idea is to create a national “dashboard” for citizens to track the progress of government. Imagine a website with a bunch of small graphs on it for each element of national interest, from gun deaths, to national debt, to stock market performance, to the number of people covered by health insurance, and more. Click any graph to see more information, including the legislation in the pipeline to address that area.

I’m imagining some semi-independent group managing the site, but the figures would mostly be generated by the government. 

If you want to make something better, you have to measure where you are and how you are trending. Measurement is a base idea behind all management theory. The government already measures lots of stuff, but citizens don’t see it gathered in one place for an overall picture. And you can’t allocate resources until you see how all the topics are doing, because resources are limited. Every expenditure comes at the cost of not spending the same dollars elsewhere. A national dashboard would let everyone see the problem areas at the same time and in the same way. 

I talk about this idea on Periscope here.

It might be a good idea to pre-order my new book, Win Bigly, at this special page, because you get a bonus chapter by email. You’ll like it.

The Worst Gun Control Arguments

I’m pro-gun, but mostly for selfish reasons. Some people (such as celebrities) are probably safer with defensive weapons nearby. But I acknowledge the reality that guns make people less safe in other situations. No two situations are alike. That’s partly why the issue can never be fully resolved. Both sides pretend they are arguing on principle, but neither side is. Both sides are arguing from their personal risk profiles, and those are simply different. Our risk profiles will never be the same across the entire population, so we will never agree on gun control.

That said, I want to call out the worst arguments I have seen on the issue of banning bump stocks. If you are new to the conversation, a bump stock is a $99 add-on to an AR rifle that turns it into an automatic-like weapon for greater kill power. The Vegas gunman used bump stocks. They are legal, whereas a fully automatic rifle is not.

Many pro-gun people in the debate seem to be confused about the purpose of laws in general. Laws are not designed to eliminate crime. Laws are designed to reduce crime. The most motivated criminals will always find a way, and law-abiding citizens will avoid causing trouble in the first place. Laws are only for the people in the middle who might – under certain situations – commit a crime. Any friction you introduce to that crowd has a statistical chance of making a difference. 

Humans are lazy and stupid, on average. If you make something 20% harder to do, a lot of humans will pass. It doesn’t matter what topic you are discussing; if you introduce friction, fewer people do it. With that in mind, let’s look at the least-rational gun control arguments I am seeing lately.

Chicago Example

Gun advocates like to point out that Chicago has strict gun control laws yet high murder rates. This is an irrational argument. The only valid comparison would be Chicago with gun laws in 2017 versus Chicago without gun laws in 2017. Any comparison to other cities, or to other time frames, is pure nonsense. Nothing is a rational comparison to Chicago. There is only one Chicago. And because Chicagoans can easily buy guns from nearby places, the gun ban is probably useless in that case.

Gun opponents use a similarly irrational argument. For example, anti-gun folks might point out that London bans guns and has fewer gun crimes. That’s as irrational as the Chicago argument. There is only one London in 2017. You can’t compare it to anything.

In general, any argument that says, “Look at that one city” is irrational, anecdotal thinking. It has no place in policy decisions.

Criminals Will Break Gun Laws Anyway

As I explained up front, laws are not designed to stop the most motivated criminals. We’ve never seen a law in any realm that stopped all crime. At best, laws discourage the people on the margin. Gun control is no different. The objective is to add some friction and reduce the risk that someone angry enough to pick up an AR doesn’t also have a bump stock in the house.

The Vegas gunman had over 40 guns yet he used bump stocks on his weapons instead of buying illegal fully-automatic weapons in the first place. He also did not purchase grenade launchers, which would have been ideal for his purposes. The reason in both cases is that there was more friction for acquiring the illegal weapons. It wasn’t impossible. It was just harder.

You can Make a Bump Stock on a 3D Printer

No, I can’t. I don’t own a 3D printer. Neither do most criminals. What you mean is that the few people who own 3D printers and have the skill to use them can print bump stocks. Chances are, you’re not one of those people. Again, laws are not designed to stop the most motivated super-criminals. They have lots of ways to get weapons. A 3D printer might be an ideal solution for a few super-criminals. But it won’t have much impact for a number of years on the average person who flips out and wants to start shooting today.

Rubber Bands and other Bump Stock Workarounds

Yes, I know you saw on Youtube a video in which someone rigged an AR with a rubber band on the trigger, or some other clever device that increased the firing speed. I’m no weapons engineer, but I’m fairly certain the rubber band method is less reliable than the bump stock method. And the other workarounds have either more friction (it takes some talent and tools to make anything of that nature) or they are less reliable. I remind you that the goal is not to stop all crime; we’re just trying to add friction to discourage the lazy and less-resourceful types, of which there are many. And perhaps we can add some unreliability to their choice of weapons.

Yes, clever people can create bump stock workarounds that function well enough for making a Youtube video. But most people are not clever, and not terribly resourceful, and they probably haven’t personally tested the rubber band trick. Even a dumb mass murderer wants more reliability than a rubber band suggests. Personally, if I flipped out and decided to kill everyone in my workplace, and I had never tested the rubber band trick, I wouldn’t even consider using it for a real crime, no matter how cool it looked on Youtube.

That’s friction.

Hardly Anyone Has Ever Been Killed by Bump Stock Guns

True. Even if you include the Vegas tragedy, the total percentage of people killed by bump stock-modified guns is tiny. But many people apparently don’t realize that laws are not designed to change the past. Laws are forward-looking devices. And after the Vegas tragedy, 100% of adults have been trained by news organizations on how to procure and use a bump stock. We even know we need multiple rifles because they jam. Compared to last week, the friction for modifying a semi-automatic to an automatic just went from “some” to non-existent. The idea of passing a law banning bump stocks is to add friction to reduce future crimes, not to change the past.

Keep in mind that North Korea might nuke us in the future even though they have no record of nuking us in the past. Policies and laws are not designed to address past risks, only future risks. And our future risk from bump stocks just went through the roof because they are now universally known and also top of mind.

And before you say you already knew how to get a bump stock, just imagine me laughing at you for saying it. I know you already knew how to do that. You are not representative of the entire population of potential killers. No one is suggesting passing laws directed at you personally.

A Guy in Japan Once Killed 30 People With a Knife

The argument here is that motivated killers will find a way to do damage with or without a gun. But does anyone think the guy in Japan killed more people with a knife than he could have with an armory of automatic weapons? And I remind you (again and again) that laws are not designed to stop the most motivated criminals, such as the Japanese stabber. Laws are designed to add friction to the less-clever and less-motivated.

A week ago, a potential killer with low skills and motivation might not figure out how to turn an AR into an automatic rifle. Today – thanks to the news – almost every adult knows how to do it. The existing friction disappeared. You would need to make bump stocks illegal to reintroduce some friction.

Slippery Slope

Gun owners sometimes say banning any weapon leads to banning all of them. In general, the slippery slope argument is nonsense no matter what topic you are discussing. Things do lead to other things, but every decision stands on its own, and should. Banning personal use of grenade launchers did not lead to confiscation of hunting knives, and probably never will. The slippery slope idea inspires fear in gun lovers – because creeping regulations feel like a risk – but in the real world, each decision stands alone. The slippery slope is an irrational fear, not a reasonable factor in policy-making.

The President Can’t Ban Gun Stocks by Executive Order

Sure he can, but it might not be legal. Does that matter?

You think it matters, but it doesn’t. When the Commander-in-Chief makes a thoughtful military decision, and the decision is clearly in the interest of temporarily plugging a security hole during a time of war (with ISIS), that’s defensible no matter what the Constitution says. And you want it that way.

The Constitution grants the Commander-in-Chief a lot of power to make quick decisions on homeland security because speed often matters in such things. As time allows, Congress can do its work. Banning bump stocks until Congress can look into it would be pure Commander-in-Chiefing. It would be public and temporary. Would the Supreme Court overturn the illegal ban? Maybe, but not right away. Remember that the Constitution gives real power to We the People. As long as We the People see our Commander-in-Chief acting responsibly, we’re going to give him a pass, especially for something temporary until Congress gets going.

I acknowledge that the President has no legal authority to ban the sale of legal items. But he could do it anyway. And We the People would largely back him on it so long as it was temporary and clearly intended to give Congress time to address the question.

That’s how Thomas Jefferson would have played it. But he might have looked for a technical way to make his executive order seem legal. I’m sure such an argument exists because lawyers.

Update: The Vegas Killer Would Have Been MORE Deadly Without Bump Stocks

The argument here is that bump stocks make the weapon harder to aim, therefore less lethal. That probably makes sense in some instances, such as a sniper situation. It does not make sense when spraying a dense crowd from above, at long distance. In that case, speed beats accuracy every time. 

In summary, I have genuine respect for both sides of the gun control debate. But the arguments I listed above should not be part of the conversation if we are trying to be rational about it.

Update: Readers asked me to describe the best argument in favor of the 2nd amendment. So I will.

Gun ownership protects citizens against the risk of a tyrant trying to take over. 

At this point in the reading of this blog, half of you are laughing out loud because you imagine the massive U.S. military squaring off against some rag-tag militia group with rubber bands on their AR triggers. Not exactly a fair fight. 

It’s also not the point.

The way private gun ownership protects citizens is by being a credible threat against all the civilians who might be in any way associated with a hypothetical tyrannical leader who uses the military against citizens. Citizens probably can’t get close to the leaders in such a scenario, but it would take about an hour to round up their families, and the families of supporters. 

That would do it.

America is unconquerable. 

I usually plug a product here. It doesn’t feel right today.