McCain: Gas Prices Won’t Be Lower Soon

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics, Society on | No Comments

Everyone’s reporting on John McCain’s lack of knowledge of current gas prices.  I’ll let Joe Gandelman over at TMV take that one.

Yet, McCain’s interview with OC Register Martin Wisckol included more than a revelation of a possible disconnect with the American public.  I have my own issues with one of his other responses:

Wiskol: Under your presidency, can you offer any ideas on what we’ll be paying for gas in two years?

McCain: It’ll be less because we will have been moving forward with measures to become oil independent – independent of foreign oil. I’m very confident that the American people can do it. We didn’t get into this situation we’re in yesterday. So we’re not going to get out of it tomorrow. But Americans want a little relief. That’s why I support a gas-tax holiday. And if you don’t think it’s important to some people, ask someone who owns a couple of trucks and is paying 24½ cents tax on every gallon of gas.

The point is that we need to have clear plan of action and we will have a clear plan of action. We will become energy independent.

Now, I understand McCain is doing this interview quite literally as he’s walking through an airport, but he needs to think before he speaks.  The question is asking if gas prices will be lower in two years, and though McCain initially seems to agree, later he says it won’t happen “tomorrow.”  I think he really means that no, gas prices won’t be lower in two years.

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The Dissent of Heller

Posted by Mike Merritt in Independence Week, Society on | One Comment

Anybody who was considering starting up a rebellion against the feds can put away the drawing board now.

For those of you not in the know, today the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that private citizens can indeed own a gun for themselves for use in self defense and hunting.  The case came due to a handgun ban in the District of Columbia.

You can read the full ruling, majority opinion, and dissenting opinion, here.  I’m not going to repeat the ruling and discussion about it, which you can see at about a thousand other blogs.  Instead, I’d like to do what others are not and focus on the dissent.

I support the majority decision.  I hold the view that private gun ownership is the de facto standard in the country, even if it wasn’t the official standard before today.  The second amendment might say that the rights of the people to bear arms shall not be abridged in order to keep a well established milita (emp. mine), but lets be honest: who’s in a milita now-a-days?  The military is, by common definition, not a militia.  So, besides some elements of the defense contracter industry (Blackwater, etc) and perhaps a few citizens groups, there is no such thing as a militia anymore.  If you want to argue that state reserve troops are militas, you go right ahead; these days, they are more like extensions of the regular army.

I would argue that that the most important part of the text is its second clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Even if the intention of the amendment is to keep militas “well regulated,” isn’t private gun ownership a milestone toward achieving that requirement?  I can see the argument that the gun would be owned by the militia, but just who is the militia?

Stevens, writing the dissent for the minority, would seem to argue that militas are the function of the states, but I’m not so sure.  I like to go back to the Declaration of Independence for advice on some of our most cherished rights.  Now, I know that what goes into any Declaration of Independence might not necessarily be found in a Constitution, but I believe it sets out guiding principles that our Constitution goes by.  Now, take this phrase from it:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I think my bolding says right there why we have a second amendment.  Now, you could argue further that my emphasis still applies to militas, but I’m still going to have to disagree.  It seems to me that to be effective in regulating your milita, your members actually have to know how to use a gun.  They can’t learn everything about them from the milita leaders.  Rather, members would learn the proper handling and responsibility of arms through childhood teaching from parents, or in the case of modern times, through classes.  Therefore, even if you argue that the second amendment refers to militas, unless you have private ownership in order to learn how to use them, your milita is not going to be well regulated.

So, I might actually be somewhat inclined to agree that the second amendment doesn’t say that you can keep arms in order to shoot the burglar attacking your home, but I’m of the mind that if you’re already keeping an arm to use in your local milita, other rights come with the territory.  Tell me, what are you going to do when some criminal is in your home hurting your family?  Unless you’ve been trained in the martial arts, you’re going to need some kind of assistance, and not everybody has a bat.  Oh, and I’m not even going near “no guns, no criminals” in this entry.  Suffice it to say there’s other ways to hurt a person.

What’s interesting is that even though the dissenting justices are likely to be portrayed by conservatives as wanting to take guns out of your hands, one of Stevens’ points actually seems to say differently:

Until today, it has been understood that legislatures may regulate the civilian use and misuse of firearms so long as they do not interfere with the preservation of a well-regulated militia.

It would seem that Stevens et. al are not necessarily against private gun ownership, but that they would rather the legislative branch put the right into the U.S. Code.  That’s the way I see that sentence, anyway.  I think others may see it as the government will restrict all gun ownership unless you’re part of a militia.  Indeed, that could happen, but I’m an optimistic guy, so I’ll respectfully disagree.

Overall, I think that the concept of private gun ownership has been so ingrained into our culture at this point, that a ruling as favored by the minority would have caused a disruption not seen at any other time in U.S. history.  A whole section of the U.S. economy would be nearly obliterated (remember that there really are no militas anymore).  You can bet most conservatives and even a lot of liberals (especially those raised in the South where it is a large part of the culture) would cause an uproar.  I have a feeling most Americans would be against such a ruling.

Now, I’ve never owned a gun, and don’t see going after an opportunity to do so in the future.  As I’ve said before in a comment to another one of my entries, it’s not a huge issue for me in terms of electability.  Yet, I still would not support a ruling other than the one we got today.  I think it’s a huge win for the gun-rights activists; yet, the gun control activists need not fret.  The court also pretty much ruled that current regulations were still probably fair.  Indeed, I would like to see it made more difficult for those with a proven history of mental instability to get a gun.

So, for it being the first really deep look at the Second Amendment, I think the Supreme Court did well.  Until next session, court, have a great break.

 

Ice Core Shows Past Massive Climate Change

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A recent ice core study shows that during the last age, the Northern Hempishere briefly came out of it, before going back into it.

According to the researchers, the first abrupt warming period beginning at 14,700 years ago lasted until about 12,900 years ago, when deep-freeze conditions returned for about 1,200 years before the onset of the second sharp warming event. The two events indicate a speed in the natural climate change process never before seen in ice cores, said White, director of CU-Boulder’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research.

This article doesn’t address the idea of human induced climate change, but I think it’s clear a lot of the skeptics are going to point at this study and say, “Ah ha!  You see?  Nature can change very rapidly on its own.  It’s not us at all.”

I know I need to do my own further study on the issue, but this study doesn’t cut the cake for me in terms of my opinion.  I’m on the side that says we do cause it, if you wanted to know.  Besides, the study cites shifts in atmospheric circulation as the catalyst for the temperature changes (EDIT: This point is actually made unclear in the article.  I’m not sure if it is the catalyst or the other way around), and doesn’t talk about increased volume of greenhouse gases in the air.  So, the jury is still out.

Regardless, I think this study does tell us something that’s universal to climate change, be the cause an increase in greenhouse gases or atmospheric circulation.  What the above quote about doesn’t show is that the atmospheric changes may have only taken a year or two.  Whether the atmospheric changes happened before or after, one thing is clear: we’ve got to be ready.

Climate changes have been theorized to be a factor in mass human death during the Little Ice Age, so imagine what might happen if the shift is bigger this time around.  I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but it’s pretty clear to me that human caused or not, we have to do what we can to prepare.  Even if human caused, global climate change cannot be reversed or stopped, only (possibly) slowed.  So, we’ll only be delaying the inevitable.  Humans have shown to have an amazing ability to adapt to every climate on this planet.

We (Gen-Y and beyond) need to start preparing, since we’ll be the hardest hit by anything that happens.  You know all those people in Congress? Or the guy in November who’ll be sitting in the White House?  Or the politicians in your state?  None of them will have to deal with this quite like us.  So we need to pressure them to start making plans now, or else make some of our own.

The question of whether or not humans have caused this mess are frankly irrelevant.  What we can do to be ready for what we’ll face in the future is the more important question.

 

Oil and the Futures Market

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics, Society on | No Comments

There’s been a lot of hoo haa recently in Congress and on some of the cable news networks about going after the speculators on the futures market.  Some say that trading oil on this market is a large contributor to the recent spike in petroleum prices, and thus, gas prices.

I’m going to be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about the futures market myself.  I think it’s often misperceived as “this guy says oil will be $200 in four months, so watch out.”  At least, until I started doing some actual research, that was my perception.  Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that.  Some libertarians think that Congress is frankly foolish to go after the speculators, arguing it won’t do a lot.  Tarran over at The Liberty Papers has an excellent post that should give anyone a primer on the futures market and how it affects oil prices.

I enjoyed receiving a bit of an education on the futures market, but I did notice one flaw with his post.  I’ll just cross post what I put in his comments section:

I think in the case of oil, you’re making it far too simplistic. The problem that I see is you argue that the speculators keep oil off the market to encourage more production.

The problem is that it’s not happening in this case. And until either domestic production gets ramping up again (with drilling on the continental shelf, ANWR, or whatnot), foreign producers increase their production, or both, this theory is hard to apply. I think everybody knows there’s a political aspect of it that you haven’t considered here, whether it’s the unwillingness of Congress to allow more domestic production, the war, or strained relations in the Middle East.

I think what is written here would work for a commodity not so politically embroiled. It’d be perfect in a true laissez-faire society, but in reality, it’s a lot more complicated.

Yet, after reading his explanation, and watching Jim Cramer talk about it on MSNBC’s Hardball today, I’m now very skeptical that an attack on the speculators will actually do much about the problem.

So, back to the drawing board. One that obviously needs a combination of increased domestic production of oil, advances in synthetic oil, as well as research and production of renewable fuels. Then just the consumer decide. Like I said on another blog the other day, if drilling in ANWR or on the continental shelf really does take 10 years to yield results, consumers will probably grow sick of the wait, and then be clamoring for ethanol or something else.

Speaking of ethanol, hope we see that highly touted switchgrass on the scene soon.  I’ve got a feeling Bush is getting a kickback out of suggesting it as the source, but at this point, I really don’t care.  Better than corn, and most everything else, from what I’ve been reading.

 

A Soldier’s Gift

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This is a pretty beautiful story of what one soldier and his family have done to give two children a better life:

One family that knows all about the blessing of adoption is Jed and Alice Moss. Jed has been in the Air Force for ten years and Alice is a homemaker and personal trainer. It seems appropriate to let Alice tell you about her family’s motivation for adopting, in her own words. Here is her story:

Jed and I decided to adopt a few years ago. Jed lost his mother to cancer before he turned 18, and felt he could really relate to a child who has experienced a traumatic loss of family, or a child with no family to call their own. He has also seen first hand the harsh and brutal lives of orphaned children in the streets in several countries he has visited during deployments while he has been in the Air Force.

I think this is absolutely excellent! The world needs more families to adopt orphaned children. Being a soldier in some part of the world can show the condition some children live in, especially in third-world countries. No matter if it’s a soldier or civilian, helping to adopt children in countries where it is needed is definitely one way of regaining or status in the world. If the world can see that the U.S. is generous and caring, we might begin to be liked more again.

Kudos to Jed Moss, who is a hero twice in my book.

Hat tip (and I’d never thought I’d say this): Michelle Malkin

 

Thoughts for Kennedy

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My thoughts go out to Senator Ted Kennedy and his family as he fights a malignant brain tumor.

No matter what you think of the man’s politics, a brain tumor is a horrible thing to have.  Yet, whenever this happens, the fringe wackos on the other side of the aisle wish the person death.

They should be fucking ashamed.

 

Stop the Presses!

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Why?  Because I’m agreeing with Glenn Beck, which means the world must be falling?

Why am I agreeing with Beck today?  Because he’s making a lot of sense on oil and alternative fuels.  I’m a supporter of a range of options for alternative fuels, because I believe one company or the government trying to decide on the next new fuel just isn’t going to happen.  Let the market decide on the next fuel, whether it is ethanol, hydrogen, hybrids, or something else.

Opening ANWR now would be like stopping at the bathroom on your way to the electric chair; you’re only delaying the inevitable.

I’m with Beck on that he says drilling in ANWR would only be a bandage.  The fact is, you can’t stop oil from going away, because it’s going to happen.  I’m not with him on drilling in ANWR no matter what, because I think the focus needs to be more heavily on developing the new fuels, and ANWR would just apply the bandage anyway.

For example, back in 1980, Congress passed the Energy Security Act, which led to the creation of something called the Synthetic Fuels Corp. (SFC). Lawmakers provided SFC with up to $88 billion in loans and incentives to get started (the equivalent of about $230 billion in today’s dollars) with the goal of creating two million barrels a day of synthetic oil within seven years.

That’s something new to me.  I didn’t know about the research done on synthetic oil in the 80s.  Although I don’t think it should be the end goal for us, I do tentatively support renewing funding for the development of synthetic oil.  I think that by doing this now, it would provide us the time we new to develop a more environmentally friendly fuel.

However, any bill authorizing the development of synthetic oil needs to have strings that also dictate that research needs to be done on ethanol, hydrogen/fuel cells, and the like.  Synthetic oil is like drilling in ANWR in some ways.  It’d be a bandage that might help us for a bit, but we need a better solution.

So, I call on Congress to renew funding for the development of synthetic oil, but not at the expense of research for more environmentally friendly fuels.

 

Save the Earth and Capitalism

Posted by Mike Merritt in Society on | One Comment

If there’s anything that frightens the bejeebus out of a lot of people on the far right, it’s a fear that the tactics of environmentalists will destroy capitalism and have communism marching to our doorsteps.

That some people haven’t left the days of the red scare is not so surprising to me, yet it’s a little annoying.  There are about five countries in the world (China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea) that are still fully communist, and the first is more authoritarian capitalist than anything else these days.

But ignoring that whole side of things, there are ways to get cleaner fuel and energy without destroying the economy.

First and foremost, the oil companies need to invest into research into alternate fuels.  I’ve said this before, and I still stand by it now.  That’s the first step: research and develop alternative fuels, and then offer them.  And not just new fuels, but also choices for electricity.

The next step is done by us, the consumers.  With all that new choice, the people will be able to choose which fuels they want to use.  And isn’t that what the conservatives want?  A free market system?  A democracy of the wallet?

Seems quite simple, doesn’t it?  It’s basically the same thing we’re doing now, isn’t it?  You’d think so, but it’s my opinion that as long as the oil companies are reaping huge profits on oil, that much serious development on alternative fuels and electricity sources won’t be done.

So, going back to the free market, I think the people need to start demanding it, specifically before gas reaches $6.00 a gallon everywhere.  It’s simple supply and demand, but rather than waiting for the supply of oil to dry up enough that it’s scarce for all, lets do something now.

So:

1) Oil companies: Invest for research and development of alternative fuel technologies and infrastructures.  It’s good for your future.

2) People: Demand this to happen, before you start paying lot of money for gas.

And, voila.  Helping the planet, and keeping capitalism nice and strong.

 

STD Study

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Ahh, after an intense end of week, weekend, and beginning of week (nothing to worry about, just busy busy busy), it’s good to be back.  That Independents Week I keep discussing?  Stay tuned to shortly after this entry.

Anyway…I agree with Robert Stein over at The Moderate Voice when he says it seems the main stream media is more interested in the sex life of Eliot Spitzer than it is in the real issues.  Namely a new report by the government that shows 1-in-4 teenage girls are being infected with STDs.

I won’t get into a discussion about Spitzer.  This is one where I’m too late; it’s already well covered elsewhere, so what do I have to add?  He resigned, and that’s probably the best option for him and the state of New York.

So, we go back to the STD study.  1-in-4?  That’s huge!  If you need a visual, find four of your friends that are girls.  According to the study, one of them has an STD.  Now, keep note that STD doesn’t mean HIV!  There are many STDs out there, of which HIV is only one.  You’ve seen the commercials, about genital herpes, and such.

Now, we know that the Bush administration is supportive of abstinence-only education, which is a crock of…well, you know.  According to the NY Times article, the government has spent $1.5 billion on it, and the result is 1-in-4 teenage girls with STDs.

That is why education systems must support contraception education.  Don’t get me wrong.  Abstinence is good option, and should be included in sexual education.  But, it cannot be the sole option taught to American children.  You tell a kid not to do something, and what do they do?  They go and do it.  Look at the prevalence of underage drinking in the U.S.  It’s very high.

The fact is, the numbers of teenagers having sex is rising (or, at least the reported numbers are as the idea becomes more acceptable to talk about).  If a kid chooses not to have sex, great.  More power to ’em.  But, if they do, I don’t think I need to state the obvious: they need to know their options.

But, more than protection, the idea of talking to your partner needs to be emphasized.  I’m trying to remember my own sexual education.  I seem to remember that it spent a great deal of time on contraception, but I don’t think it spent much time on interpersonal communication.

Look, protection is great, and it certainly does a lot to help, but it’s not all.  The article itself makes note that protection devices such as condoms will prevent all STDs.  I think that’s it’s something of a myth that as long as you wear protection, you’re set.

Well, maybe against some STDs, but not all.  And, I don’t think sexual education puts enough pressure on students to talk with their partner about any issues they might have.  For all the progress this country has made toward sexual openness in the past few decades, I still feel like it’s something of a social stigma to talk to one’s partner about any medical issues they might have.  Part of the problem is the idea of your partner have a sexual history.  Bologna, it’s important to know.  I’m not saying someone has to go into all the details, but if there’s anything that could cause a medical problem, it needs to be known, preferably before the idea of having sex comes up.

I think it’s necessary.  A little talking can prevent a big problem.  It might sound inconvenient, but I think it’s important.  I’d certainly rather a girl ask me about past sexual activity causing any medical issues, than to have that not happen.

Finally, testing.  Needs to be done, especially if you think there’s something going on.  Most testing I’ve seen seems to center around HIV, but I think it needs to be expanded to other STDs.  Not having experienced any, I don’t know, but I’m willing to guess that other STDs are pretty big issues, too.

Now for my critique of the article.  It leaves some stuff out, though I cannot tell if this is just the article or the study that does some of these.  The first big glaring thing I see is that the only group it specifically discusses African Americans.  Is there some reason for this?  Do white Americans, Hispanics, or Asians not get STDs?  It does mention a number for white Americans, but not any specific diseases like it does for African Americans.  I don’t want to play the ‘it’s subtle racism’ card quite yet, but the lack of discussion about any other subgroup makes me a little anxious.  The statistics for the group, which was right after the lead, should have been expanded to other groups, or left out entirely.

Finally, my second gripe is with the study itself.  Why only women?  Do men not get STDs either?  I’m going to have to assume there’s another study out there somewhere just for them.  I’d be interested to see a comparison STDs of American teenage men and women.  If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say it’s not so far away from the women statistic.

 

NIU

Posted by Mike Merritt in Society on | No Comments

Well, now I’m glad I waited a day to do this.  As time goes on, more details are coming out.

Yesterday, I would found it interesting that somebody would just go off killing people for no reason.  Even if there’s no mental illness, there has to be an incident that would make a person just snap.

Today, however, more is coming out.  Lets take a look at some choice quotes:

Meanwhile, the AP reported that Kazmierczak’s parents had placed him in a Chicago psychiatric treatment center after high school. A former employee of the center said Kazmierczak habitually cut himself and wouldn’t take his medication, according to the AP.

Surely, any time somebody has ever been in a psychiatric treatment facility, this should be examined before giving somebody a gun license?  Now, the media might be sensationalizing this (it’s what media often does), but I am increasingly of the feeling that people under current psychiatric treatment (as he appears to have been, even outside the facility) should not be getting access to guns.

Now, before all the “no law shall prohibit ownership of a gun” crowd comes to hunt me down (no pun intended), hear me out.  Look, people are in psychiatric treatment for a reason.  They’ve got something going on that doesn’t make them dangerous necessarily, but they can put dangerous thoughts in their heads.  Sounds simplistic, I know, but the point I’m trying to make is that when you have someone with a history of self-harm, putting a gun in their hands may not be the best choice one can make.  So, lets continue…

University Police Chief Donald Grady said Friday that there were no “red flags” suggesting Kazmierczak was dangerous or disturbed.

Now, I definitely don’t fault the police chief, here.  He’s not lying, I think, because during this time that Kazimerczak was a student, he was on his meds.  To the outside world, everything was peachy.  This guy didn’t have a mental illness to them, and it showed.  All the media reports show he was a model student, and quite the scholar.  And so people can go on to lead normal lives, even with a mental illness, if they’re continuing with proper treatment.   Then he stopped for some reason…

People close to him have told police he was taking medication but had stopped and had become “somewhat erratic” in the last couple of weeks, Grady said, not specifying what the medication was.

Again, no fault of the police chief here, because who are they to know this kind of thing?  Unless Kazimerczak was acting in a dangerous way, they wouldn’t have known.  Similarly, “erratic” is a bit vague.  When I don’t have some of my asthma medication, and less oxygen is getting to my brain, I also do some things I’d consider “erratic.”  Am I dangerous?  Surely not.  So, I can see this one going two ways, depending on what erratic behaviors he was exhibiting.  The story seems to suggest that it was something that should have concerned people, but they were also saying yesterday that he had no signs of mental illness, and that’s since been smashed.

So, the questions are:

1) What was he doing after stopping his meds, and if it was concerning those who knew him, did they say anything about it?

2) I’m unsure of the laws of Illinois, but do they do background checks on mental illness?  If not, they should.

2a). If they do checks on history of mental illness, did he show up?  If not, why not?

3) What is considered the line for unacceptable granting of a gun license in Illinois?

 

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