Category Archives: politics

Each Tragedy is an Argument for Gun Control

In what is becoming a kind of trend, Reason and Politics has written an entry in response to today’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  Josh wrote a piece that I could have written almost verbatim and it would be entirely accurate.  Please give it a read.

I grew up around guns, was educated on their destructive power well before being educated about their use, and as a result did not grow up as a “gun nut” or even a “gun romantic”.  My father was involved in competitive target shooting with the US Army, and that was the tradition I was handed.  We weren’t hunters, plinkers, or military enthusiasts.  We were paper-punchers, specifically practicing the discipline of “bullseye” shooting.  Around here it is represented in the main by 50-foot indoor gallery competition with .22 caliber pistols.  It is the firearms equivalent of the chess club.  But even from that small bore tradition, I have had to do a lot of soul searching about my relationship with a sport, a technology, a government, and a group of psychotics called the NRA.

An NRA membership was a requirement for membership in my local range, and I didn’t think much of it 15 years ago.  Then I started getting their political mailings, and I honestly looked for anything other than fear mongering in their propaganda.  I found nothing of any use.  I have engaged some NRA type folks on the topic and it was frighteningly like reading those mailings… a lot of hot air and fear-baiting and basically zero facts.  Also, zero tolerance for discussion. A hard line, no debate ideology.

Like almost every other aspect of my life, I believe in voting with my voice, my wallet, my feet, etc… And with the NRA I voted with my wallet when two years ago I made the conscious decision to let my NRA membership lapse, and now my voice.  The spectre of an assault weapons ban is, and I don’t think this is breaking news, the prime motivator of many NRA members and the NRA leadership.  The main reason, I believe, is because they couldn’t win an honest debate on the issue.  Same for magazine capacity limitations and barrel length and automatic fire capability, and so on.  What the NRA is saying is that despite being powerful enough to snuff out all attempts at regulating guns in the United States, they fear that once they yield on any point it will cause a domino effect of regulation.  Their supposed show of strength is actually a show of weakness.

Each individual needs to make their own path through this tragedy.  I make the choice to start walking the walk as well as talking the talk.  I hate to say that I am not even sure where to start on engaging a progressive and effective route toward gun control.  I know that it doesn’t mean a wholesale firearms ban.  I also know that in the US of A we are kinda stupid and everything ends up being some kind of “all or nothing” debate.  As long as both sides remain extreme on this issue there will be no effective legislation.  Sounds a lot like our fiscal cliff showdown, unfortunately.

Adios LIE-berman

I’m pretty sure you won’t read many poison pen pieces on Joe Lieberman at this, the time of his retirement from the US Senate.  As well, I won’t write one at this time either.  But I would like to say that I don’t think he had a huge friend-base on both sides of the aisle.  I think he was masterful in hedging his bets on both sides of the aisle.

Did you think I could keep away from this topic? PSYCH!

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post gives Joe a teary send off, in what is, due to the sentimentality and lack of facts, thankfully an opinion piece.  It completely mishandles the reality of his 2006 primary loss, and how integral Dick Cheney and the RNC were in securing his re-election.  It whitewashes how forcefully he has repeatedly stabbed his supporters, his electorate, in the back in the name of “principle”.  It takes a pass on the depth of the sham of his “Independent Democrat” schtick.  It also ignores how little he has done, how small he has been, in the way of public discourse since 2006 while all of his hated “partisanship” has been ravaging the nation.  Much like his other Monday Morning Quarterback calls on issues like Monicagate and Iran, and Israel for that matter, his farewell speech is too little, too late, and poses no danger of changing anything.

See ya, Joe.  I don’t think anyone will even notice your absence.

On Fracking…

Over at Reason and Politics, there was a really nice post about the use of shale gas as a short-term solution to reducing GHG emissions.  You can see the really nice post for my initial comment.  As we are finding out in Connecticut, there is a concerted national effort to get shale gas (the kind of gas you get from hydaulic fracturing, or fracking, the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation that stretches from upstate New York to West Virginia) on tap as a way to displace, for instance, fuel oil for space heating and light industrial/commercial needs.  This approach does have the potential to reduce GHG emissions and other pollutants on a BTU basis.  It will also generate jobs, though they are likely to be gone in 10-15 years once the gas distribution expansion is finished.  Its success also depends on the long-term costs and availability of natural gas regardless of its source.  All said, it can be seen as a placeholder/transition program until renewable energy technology can step in.  And before we go too far down that road, I prefer to immediately cease all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and move them directly to renewable energy R&D and manufacturing.  That said, and regardless of its merit, I don’t have a billion dollars worth of government subsidy money that I can now use to hire lobbyists to ensure I get billions more in government subsidies… alas… the subsidy merry-go-round is not meant for chumps like me.  If only I had a lobbyist…. oh, yeah, right, congress…

So here, friends, is an open comment to R&P, instead of just posting another comment on their blog:

First, I really enjoy your blog.  It is as advertised, and you do a great job of bringing reason to political discussion.  Second, the risks of fracking are what they are… drilling through aquifers to get to to deep shale gas is always going to create a potential for contamination of the aquifer.  There are parallels to the mechanics of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but the potential disaster in a fracking scenario could make that look like a walk in the park.  The risks are made worse by the failings of the US legal and regulatory systems.  There is simply too much palm greasing going on (see the subsidy merry-g0-round above) to effectively address things like safety and legal responsibility.  The US EPA has done things like requiring/allowing MTBE as a gasoline additive, which had the predictable side-effect of massively increasing the area impacted by a leaking fuel tank, and making the spill much harder to remediate (has a lot to do with MTBE having a high solubility in water), and allowing much higher public exposure to the pollutants the EPA is supposed to regulate.  And when I say predictable, I mean Chem101 predictable, not Nobel Prize predictable.  So I think it is fair to say that in the big picture we can’t rely on US EPA for anything, and I deal with their programs every day as part of my job.  I think the problem with energy and environmental policy in the US, if not the world, is that to get the job done right you have to be really effective at integrated long-range planning, and have effective regulations, and effective enforcement, and effective interface with economic policies.  And as if it weren’t hard enough, those things simply will not happen when you are having a multi-decade political slap fight… as we are finding out in the good old U S of A.  A common sense approach would use sound science, and lead to a pricing method that didn’t give the fossil fuel, nuclear, automotive, etc… industries a free ride on their social costs, not to mention the massive subsidies that these companies receive on the front end.

In short, we are screwed until we get adults in the room, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The Blog Post I Did Not Want To Write…

On September 11, 2001, I was on my way to Misquamicut Beach in Westerly Rhode Island.  I had come home the day before for a Monday night target pistol competition, and was headed back to join my wife and some family at a house we had rented for the week.  First, ESPN radio host Mike Greenberg mentions that a “small aircraft” may have hit the WTC… I was in the bank parking lot in East Hartford, CT.  When I came out I was in for the most surreal hour of driving, listening to the drama unfold on the car radio.  My concept of the future quickly shrunk to getting to my wife’s side, and then… the abyss.  It took a long time before I was willing to look past those events and consider any kind of future, for myself or America.

From that morning onward I have watched the United States of America undergo a transformation that I scarcely believed possible.  A world superpower enacting draconian social control measures and surveillance against its own citizens, and descending into a rhetorical hell where fear rules and reason has no quarter.  The Bush-era, I believe, will stand throughout time, as one of the darkest periods in modern history.  The shockwave of September 11. 2001 has been used to rationalize economic rape of the highest order, illegal wars, war crimes, political assassinations, and an endless torrent of social ills that defies direct assessment.  We have allowed the United States financial industry to liberate Trillions of dollars from the economy at large, concentrating it in the hands of the few.  In a recent chapter they were actually rewarded with the full faith of the US Treasury for their crimes, and allowed to keep the money that was “lost”.  The “wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan have served as conduits for wealth extraction of historic proportions.  You can debate whether you have a “war” if there was never a declaration of war.  But you would have a hard time arguing about the scale of the transfer of American Taxpayer Wealth out of the control of the United States and into the hands of pretty much everyone else.  All the while the Trillions, of dollars of US taxpayer money that should be used to rebuild infrastructure here in the US, invest in R&D here in the US, rebuild our Space Program (fer crissakes), educate citizens of all ages here in the US, provide health care for those taxpayers here in the US, and advance the domestic interests of all Americans… is being thrown around foreign countries like Monopoly money, to provide for others what we as a Nation can not (more specifically: will not) now provide for ourselves.

For a brief period of time it looked like the stampede of idiocy that followed September 11, 2001 might abate.  The election of 2008 seemed to have repudiated the Bush Doctrine, under which “his base” turned out to be the social rapists extracting wealth from the US Economy and returning nothing.  A Black American with an Ivy League education won the election for President of the United States of America, against massive social odds.   He campaigned on, of all things, HOPE.  CHANGE.   Greatness of America… A Nation that could once again set an example to the world regarding freedom.

Barack Obama had a chance to change the game.  Now he is just a player, and maybe worse, the football. He has been a huge disappointment to the people who let down their guard for a moment and believed that there was a way toward real change as a Nation. There was a brief twinkling of belief that the country that knuckled under with the Patriot Act, and made a conscious decision to be Much Less Free as a response to external terrorism, might be able to regain its course. They let themselves believe in HOPE, and they got swindled. We now have a government that would make Orwell blush, led by a master of pure concession and rationalized failure.

Instead of bringing that same full faith of the US Treasury to bear on the current economic crisis, as was done for the ultra-wealthy in the financial crash of 2007, we have a string of half measures and economizing rhetoric.  The current economic crisis is far larger, affects far more Americans, and reaches further into the future and across the globe than the crisis addressed with the TARP program.  But that program, and its siblings, was there to keep the ultra-wealthy afloat, and keeping them whole, despite the fact that they brought the crisis upon themselves through their own greed and avarice.  Were the communities, who lost Billions of dollars when their investments tanked, made whole?  Uh, no.  Were the individuals whose retirement accounts, you know… the ones that some politicians would like to use to replace Social Security… were they made whole when they lost their nest eggs?  Uh, ditto… NO.  It would be irrational, if not insane, to ignore the role of the recipient in these examples of US Economic Policy… If you are anywhere below the economic top 1% of the American public, you are fucked.  Your money is being moved into the hands of a very select few, and well, deal with it.  Some will deal better than others.

The one fact that I believe outlines the real crisis here in the Unites States, is that while real income has plummeted, unemployment has increased, home prices fall, and masses of college graduates enter the workforce behind the curve and may never catch up… Corporate profit taking remains at pre-9/11 levels.  The richest have not slowed in their extraction of wealth from the economy. Everyone else, well, their “wealth extraction: has taken a bit of a hit.  The other 99% of Americans, you know, ALL OF AMERICA, are being asked to accept a prolonged economic downturn, and prepare themselves for less return on their tax dollar with every election cycle.  Oh, no real end in sight, sorry… and you might want to take up speaking Mandarin as your next hobby.

Until that inequity is brought into balance, and the American system is allowed to work for the majority of Americans, the game is fully and truly lost for virtually all of the citizens of the United States of America.

Have A Nice Day!

Take That!

Hey! Someone finally had the balls to throw a shoe at George Bush. My money was on Helen Thomas, but I’ll take what I can get. I didn’t expect Bush to have an epiphany. I don’t expect him to even spell epiphany. But you gotta love his titanic-like refusal to acknowledge that it was more than an isolated incident. The journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at Bush this morning, should get a Pulitzer. Here’s an unsurprising quote, courtesy of the NYT: “A statement from Mr. Maliki’s government described the shoe-throwing as a “shameful, savage act that is not related to journalism in any way.” Really? It happened during a press conference, it was the act of a journalist, and it was reported globally. There’s more than one way to file a story, old boy. Oh yeah, if that wasn’t enough, it spurred massive demonstrations of support in the streets of Baghdad. Sounds like journalism with a capital J. If there was any doubt about how close Bush and Maliki are in their complete disdain for reality, read that quote a few times.

Frank Zappa once said: “You can’t always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream”, and sometimes you need to throw a shoe to get your point across. And sometimes it is like throwing a shoe at a brick wall. This particular “wall” is twice as thick and twice as dumb as your average wall, but a wall none the less. If only ol’ Bushie was as quick with the foreign policy comebacks as he is with the shoe jokes. What a different world we might be living in today.