Monday, April 22, 2013

A Tough Week


This past week has been tough on us.  We've seen our friends and relatives in Boston harmed terribly by the acts of a couple (at least) of mad men who decided for some unfathomable reason to place bombs at the Boston Marathon.  The carnage that ensued saw three people killed and scores injured, some seriously.  The ensuing days saw another person killed by one of the bombers.   Once again, we have been wounded physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.  The attacks occurred on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, a holiday that is extremely important to the Commonwealth and to many other Americans as well.  The day was one of celebration, with a Red Sox game, the race, and untold parties thereafter.  But, not this time.   During the race, two bombs exploded near the path the runners were on and scarred this event forever.

The people of Boston to their credit, have stood up and said this will not deter us from being who we are.  During the explosions, people ran toward the explosions to help their friends and those they didn't even know who had been hurt. The first responders and security personnel acted with speed and compassion to assist those who had been injured.  The police, along with help from federal security agencies launched into an immediate investigation to find the perpetrators of this heinous act.

Through the use of cameras, social media, and good old detective work, the suspects were identified fairly quickly, and by Friday one of the suspects was dead with another caught and in custody.  The two suspects were brothers, one 26 years old and the other 19 years old.  Both were born in former Soviet Republics (one in Kyrgyzstan and the other in Chechnya).  Both lived in the Dagestan area of the Chechen Republic before immigrating to the United States over a decade ago. 

Boston is picking up the pieces and like Bostonians always do, they will carry on and move forward.  I admire and respect the way they have dealt with this terrible event.  I hope they are spared future tragedies like occurred last Monday.

The other event that occurred last week that needs mentioning is the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. West is a small town of Czech origin just north of Waco.  About 3 thousand people live there now, but it has always been a small farming community.  My dad graduated from high school there in 1943 and when you visit to pick up any number of Czech delicacies (Kolaches are terrific there), you can see the town is still pretty much like it was when my father was a resident.   The explosion of the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured over 150 more, many who were residents at a nursing home that was located within close proximity of the plan.  The explosion occurred after a fire had started at the plant.  First responders were on the scene quickly and had begun to evacuate people close to the plant when an earthquake like explosion that leveled a 3-4 block radius around the plant occurred.  The fertilizer that exploded is thought to be ammonium nitrate, a fairly common agricultural fertilizer, but one that is also highly explosive and indeed has been used in bombings such as the Oklahoma City bombing in the mid-90's that killed over 160 people and launched bomber Timothy McVeigh into the spotlight.  While there is no reason to think this incident in West was anything more than an industrial accident, one has to wonder why schools, nursing homes and residents were built around this plant which has been in the area for over 50 years.

So, once again, our country is a victim of violence. One instance, an intended attack on people enjoying a pleasant day in Boston and watching a race, and another, seemingly accidental that shook the foundations of an entire community in North Central Texas. 

Violence is with us constantly.  Whether it is overt and intended, or the result of an accident, people are killed or hurt daily.  Automobile accidents kill on average about 30 thousand Americans each year.  None of them for all intents and purposes intentional.  We have about the same amount of deaths from gun violence per year in this country.   Many other forms of violence take our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and our friends from us routinely.  It is something when we experience it, find it extremely difficult to grasp and cope.   When it is personal, it is more painful than reading about it in the paper or on the news.

There are many causes of violence many of which get much more press than they should and others that are rarely spoken of at all.  The aforementioned automobile fatalities barely get mentioned on the news unless there are multiple deaths and some level of sensationalism associated with it.  When a person or a smaller group of people are killed as a result of gun violence, we may not read about it unless it was a local event.   When a attack occurs however, it is suddenly reported across the country with non-stop coverage most of which is useless.   The blast in West, Texas killed more than 4 times as many people than the bombing in Boston did, but the difference in news reporting on the events is staggering.  Why?

Well, for one reason, when a terror attack occurs, regardless of whether it is foreign or domestic, fear comes into play. Fear causes people to understandably want more information about what happened so they can protect themselves or their families, and find out how to avoid the "bad guys" that may be at large if the suspects haven't been apprehended yet. 

I think fear drives us more than we want to let on.  We get non-stop information coming from the blogosphere, twitterati, the media, and other sources all hyping up the issue and causing us to think irrationally about the incidents.   Take the terror attacks on US soil or on US property/military bases that have happened in the last 40 years.  The death toll in those events in total was approximately 4,000 people with the majority of the fatalities coming with the attacks on 9/11/2001.  Compare that with the number of automobile fatalities, influenza deaths, gun violence deaths in just the last 10 years, and the results are staggering.  Of the three categories I've described (Auto fatalities, Influenza fatalities and gun violence fatalities), there have been about 900 thousand deaths.   That's right,  each of these categories average about 30 thousand deaths per year. That's more than 225 times the amount of deaths attributed to terror attacks since 1970.  Each year almost 10 times as many people die from gun violence or the flu, or an auto accident than the entirety of deaths caused by terror attacks in over 40 years. 

It's understandable that we are concerned about terror attacks on us.  They are real. They have happened in this country and will likely continue to do so whether it is from a foreign attacker or a domestic one.  We seem to move into a state of hyper-reaction when something like this occurs.  To me, it is very similar to the attacks on the school at Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech, or any other site of recent massacres due to gun violence, the only difference being in our response as a government to the events.

So why then do we not treat the events surrounding gun violence with the same rapid reaction and response politically that we do terror attacks?   Remember, in 2001, we suffered the most heinous and violent terror attack every launched against this country.  It killed about 3 thousand people.  Those deaths were tragic, needless and required a response.  What was our response?  Two wars, over 5 thousand US troops killed.  hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans killed with millions displaced from their homes.  We spent over a trillion dollars on these wars and we are still fighting in Afghanistan over 11 years later.  The reaction to this compared to the reaction of gun violence deaths in this country in one year was staggering.  Imagine, if we spent the resources we have on fighting terror on influenza protection, gun violence reduction, or better auto safety? 

I'm not trying to be a cold-blooded accountant here looking at cost-benefit ratios, but I do think we have lost a sense of perspective on how we respond to these issues.  We've seen the results of our attempts to curb gun violence with a failed measure that would simply expand an existing law.  Congress recoiled from dealing with this matter like it was poison.   So, to me, we have lost a sense of perspective about these things.  Why do we respond so quickly and aggressively on a terror attack and don't on something that kills significantly more people?

The failure of the gun legislation last week still grates at me.  I do not understand why we cannot make a reasonable decision on issues like this when the evidence that something needs to be done is so massively apparent.  We know, as a government we can have an impact that will improve public safely.  We've seen progress when sensible regulations are put in place to support public safety.  As an example, since the FDA was established, we've seen fewer deaths from tainted food.  We've seen better rules around drug safety.  We don't seem to have a problem with food inspectors looking at our food.   With regard to automobile safety, since 1970, annual automobile deaths have declined by 38% in large part because of better regulations on safety such as seat belts, airbags, speed limits and the like.  We don't seem to have a problem with registering our cars, getting them inspected, and taking driving saftey courses so we can drive a car. Why then can we not get legislation in that would potentially save thousands of lives lost to gun violence? 

I think the politicians are simply cynical, craven and opportunistic with respect to the gun issue.  If you want more on that, read my post on the subject from a couple of days ago.  But in terms of the American People, I believe it comes back to fear.  Fear of government is continually brought up as a reason not to "infringe" on the 2nd Amendment.  Many people are afraid that any gun legislation would lead to registration which would lead to confiscation, and that can't be tolerated in their opinion.  They believe that as along as they can buy their guns, it will keep the black helicopters and the government storm troopers at bay.  It is an unfounded fear and one that borders on paranoia.   But, the fear of the government motivates them to take up such illogical positions and suggest that their "right" is more important than stemming gun violence fatalities. 

The people of Boston conquered their fear.  The people of West have done this as well. They are rebuilding and defiant in the face of  these tragedies.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if the United States Senate showed the same courage as these people?  So much has hurt the people from Boston and West, yet they pick themselves up and move forward, all the while Congress is mired in place because of fear.  Fear of the NRA or Guns For America. Fear of the lunatic fringe who believe their rights supersede yours or mine.  It is pathetic. 


Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Changes To Indies Are Us



You will notice some changes to my site as I've gone to a new template that is a little easier on the eyes and is organized a bit better than the previous site.  I hope you find it to be an improvement.  Also, while most of my readers know my political position is liberal, I do not hold a liberal position on all issues.  So, I've re-instituted a graphic (see above) that will show my stance on a specific topic or issue.   I'm very liberal in most social issues, moderate to conservative on fiscal matters and will some-times hold a very conservative position on a few issues.   This should allow you to at a glance get a sense of where I come down on the topic discussed in the column. 

Give me some feedback on the new format.  I'd like to know how it looks.

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Utter Lunacy

Once again, the US Congress never misses an opportunity to disappoint.   Yesterday, on a cloture vote, the Senate failed to get the 60 vote super-majority to move the bill forward for a final up or down vote.  Essentially, the filibuster wins again, and the Republican senators and the four Democratic senators who voted against the cloture motion (I take out Harry Reid's "No" vote because it was a procedural vote that allows him to bring the bill back to the floor at a later point) have insulted the American people who by just about every poll taken support expanding background checks on gun sales to include gun-shows and Internet sales by at least an 87% majority.    The tyranny of the few have once again stopped democracy in its tracks.  These craven people who voted against this bill, who have no reasonable argument against the bill, who simply are either afraid of the NRA or getting primaried in the 2014 elections by the far right have let the country down.

There is absolutely no reason why this bill should not have been passed.  It confirms and protects the 2nd Amendment.  Sponsors Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) who are both A rated by the NRA and conservative, crafted a bill that protected private sales between individuals and focused the checks solely on commercial sales.  Additionally, in response to the lies from the NRA and the other lunatics who believe this leads to gun registration, they (Toomey and Manchin) expressly put in the bill a criminal penalty (felony) for anyone who holds information on the background checks that could potentially be used as a register.  Let me say that again.  The bill expressly forbids registration and could put anyone doing this in prison for up to 15 years.  So, the lies spewed by the gun-lobby and the others who for some unfathomable reason believe extending an existing law to cut-off unchecked sales at gun shows or on the Internet are just that:  they are lies.

The minority who voted this bill down because of the idiotic filibuster rules know this.  They know there is nothing that infringes on rights in this bill. They know there are protections for private sales in this bill.  They know there are criminal penalties for registration in this bill.  So why did they vote against it?  Because they don't want to run the risk of losing their jobs.  Pure and simple.  This is politics at its utter worst.  Because of their actions, and if we don't get some reasonable protections against unfettered gun sales, criminals will still be able to go to gun shows and buy guns.  Terrorists if they choose to will be able to purchase guns on the Internet.  Straw purchases (purchases of multiple guns for the purpose of resale) will still occur and provide gangs with the weapons they need to shoot up their neighborhoods. In other words,  people will continue to get shot by weapons that just might have not been as easy to come by had the bill passed.

The President was righteous in his anger in his speech yesterday. He called it "A pretty shameful day for Washington".  He was right.  It was shameful.  Those who voted against this bill are cowards.  They are patently un-American in this instance.  I guarantee you, if some idiot walked into the Senate chamber and started shooting up the place they'd have a gun control bill passed so fast the ink wouldn't be dry on the paper before it hit the president's desk.  

If you think this vote was good for America, I feel nothing but pity for you.  You obviously have been brought into the camp of those lunatics who believe in black helicopters, FEMA concentration camps, and big brother coming to take your "rights" away.   This bill does nothing of the sort, and it doesn't even get anywhere close to paving the way for registration or any other nefarious governmental overreach you can imagine in your tiny minds.  How do I know?  Well, simply put, I lived through the Assault Weapons ban passed in 1994 that expired in 2003.  Guess what?  No black helicopters.  No government seizing your property and taking away your guns.  No concentration camps.  The frenzied and moronic suggestion that this will lead to a police state is simply pathetic.  

Kudos to the Republican Senators:  McCain, Toomey, Kirk and Collins who voted in favor of this bill.  That showed spine, intelligence and compassion for those who are lost to gun violence on a daily basis.

For those who voted against it. I will use my voice, my money and my energy to see you opposed by someone who has the courage to do what is right and it is my wish you never darken the door of the US Senate again.

Cowards.

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Craven, Cynical and Shameful


Yesterday, Senator Harry Reid indicated he will be bringing a bill aimed at applying gun control regulations, principally in the form of expanding background checks and criminalizing gun trafficking. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY announced he would be joining 13 other Republican Senators in filibustering any such legislation.  Mr. McConnell's spokesman said: "While nobody knows yet what Senator Reid's plan is for the gun bill, if he chooses to file cloture on the motion to proceed to the Reid Bill (S.649), Senator McConnell will oppose cloture on proceeding to that bill."

OK, so what McConnell said essentially was he would join the 13 other Republican Senators who have already said they will filibuster any additional gun legislation.  That means he will work with his comrades to not let the bill get to floor of the Senate for a vote.  A vote.  They are scared of a vote.

I have always been of the mind that legislation should always have an up or down vote. Why you may ask?  Well, for one thing it is a waste of time for legislation to be written, get through committee and then simply die because a senator or group of senators disagree with it.  That is not representative government. It is tyranny of the minority.  I have disagreed with the filibuster since I first understood what it was about.  It slows down an already glacial process of getting laws passed and makes a dysfunctional organization such as the US Congress even more so.   Debate?  Sure.  Argue until your heart is content on the policy, on the merits, on the efficacy of the bill.  But, then go vote on it.   Elected officials are sent to Washington,  their statehouses, their county and municipal offices to do the people's bidding.  Not the bidding of an interest group, not a lobbyist, but the American people. Time after time, for reason after reason, the US Congress has prostituted itself to monied interest over the welfare of the citizenry.

This particular issue on gun legislation has me more upset than usual at the ship of fools that comprises the US Congress.  The reason for it is this:  The gun legislation that Senator Reid wants to bring to the floor is already watered down and won't include an assault weapons ban or a ban on high-capacity clips or magazines.  The rationale for this is it wouldn't pass a vote. OK, I get pragmatism and understand that Reid is trying to get something on the floor that has a high probability of passage.  Even still, closing the gun-show and Internet sales loophole on background checks that comprise 40% of all gun sales in this country and tightening up straw-purchases (purchasing large quantities of firearms to sell on secondary markets or purchasing for someone else) does nothing but make sense.   Currently, if you or I walk into a store that sells guns, they are required by law to do a background check.  I've purchased guns before and the check takes all of 10-15 minutes tops.  Less time than it takes to go get your Driver's license renewed by the way, and I don't hear people wailing about the infringement on their freedoms in that regard.  But, I digress.  This group of 14 senators have decided for whatever reason to not even let a bill as logical and reasonable as that to the floor. 

Why?  Well, for starters they are cowards.  They are afraid of the NRA. They are afraid of primary challenges from some lunatic who thinks it should be OK to go by any gun you want any time you want (Are you listening Ted Cruz?).  They are afraid that if they voted against a bill such as this it would come back to haunt them because reasonable people would likely decide they are a bunch of nuts and would vote against them next time around.  Voting for the bill would inflame the righties, so they would just as soon not have the vote come up at all.  That way, they can claim to whomever is asking that they are against gun-violence and something should be done, but never have to put any skin in the game and stand up for what 90% of the American people want, which is the extension of a law already on the books to cover the 40% of gun sales that aren't included now in background checks.  How pathetic.

Don't get me started on Senator's Cruz and Paul's contention that the background checks are diminishing the 2nd Amendment. That is sheer idiocy. Why? Well, for one thing background checks are law right now, and have never been challenged on their constitutionality.  Why? Well, it wouldn't even make it to the Supreme Court, because as Anton Scalia, no liberal justice himself stated in the Heller opinion, that the government has the right to limit arms sales even while the right of the people to bear arms for defense, etc. is constitutional.   So, it is foolish to stand on the "diminishing freedoms" argument like Cruz and Paul are doing. 

The issue of "diminishing freedoms" is a red herring, best left to conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones who are dead set in their beliefs that the government is just waiting for the right time to round up all of us and put us into FEMA camps.  No reasonable citizen in this country believes this nonsense and for US Senators to play up to the fears of the insipid and ignorant is shameful.

I don't care if you buy a weapon. I care if that weapon is used dangerously, or if it is stolen.  I care if it falls into the hands of a lunatic like Adam Lanza.  I care if I can't go to a movie anymore without thinking that it is entirely possible that a crazy person like James Holmes might break in and start spraying the movie theatre with semi-automatic weapon fire. I care if my youngest daughter can't go to her class at college without thinking that a mentally disturbed kid might break in and start shooting up the classroom like the Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook killings.   Your rights to weapons do not supersede my right to life.  It doesn't supersede the kids who live in West Dallas, South Chicago, Compton, or anywhere that there is massive gun violence because of gangs.  Guess where these guys get most of their weapons?  Not from gun stores who do criminal background checks I can assure you.

It is high time we put an end to this madness of the belief that if we implement stronger gun control laws that somehow the Republic will fall.  We had an assault weapons ban from 1994 - 2003 and surprisingly, no black helicopters came, no concentration camps were filled and no one really had their rights infringed.   What did happen?  Well, we say a reduction in mass killings like Sandy Hook.  So don't tell me that better legislation won't have an impact because it will and it has.

As to the filibuster of this legislation, the fourteen senators have shown what they are made of:  Jello.  They are craven in their fear of not keeping their jobs.  To me that is justification enough to remove them from their jobs.  And Senator Harry Reid, you had a chance to change the rules on the filibuster when the new Congress started and you didn't.  You indicated you had a "handshake deal" that the Republican minority wouldn't abuse the filibuster.  You got taken.  You got bamboozled.  You got played.    This is your fault as much as it is these lily-livered senators who will filibuster a piece of legislation that is sorely needed and now will likely never come to a vote.  Not even a vote.  Shame on you Harry Reid.

I'm pretty mad about this folks.  It is unconscionable for the Congress to keep screwing over the American People.  If you feel like I do that this is the height of irresponsible behavior, call or write your representatives and senators and tell them so.  If you don't, if you think these fourteen are for some unfathomable reason to me doing the right thing, I would just say this:  Get pictures of those children killed in Sandy Hook and look at them. Think of the birthdays, the marriages, the anniversaries that will never come. Think of the events as simple as going to a ball game or going to school that they will never experience again. Think if it was one of your kids.  What would you say to that?

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis