Friday, December 7, 2007

Guns in America: Why?

In the last couple of days I heard two shocking stories of innocent people being shot. The first, of course, being the 19-year-old who shot 8 people with an AK-47 in an Omaha shopping mall. The other story, which hasn't gotten as much press, is about an 8-year-old girl who was shot when she tried to protect her mother from the mother's ex-boyfriend.

These are very different circumstances: in one we have a depressed, angry young man who steals his stepfather's assault rifle and goes on a shooting rampage. In the other situation, domestic violence rears its ugly head again, as a little girl sees her mother get shot twice and then jumps in front of her to protect her from further harm. Unfazed, the ex-boyfriend fired six shots into the little girl, critically injuring her.

The common thread in these stories: guns.

Why does anyone need to have an AK-47 ? Or, for that matter, a 9mm semi automatic pistol like the one used by the gunman in Detroit? There is no reason to have these guns! I know the argument that citizens should have guns for "protection" but I would like to see a study showing how many times a crime has been averted because a victim had a gun. I've never heard of such a study, so if you know of one please let me know.

I have however, seen studies here, here, and here, for example, that show that guns kept in the home are much more likely to be used to kill innocent people than to ever be used in self-defense. From the Brady Campaign:
A gun kept in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting, a criminal assault or homicide, or an attempted or completed suicide than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.
So I ask you: why ?

Fuel efficiency standards: It's a gas, gas gas!

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed an energy bill that, among other things, would raise fuel efficiency standards for American automobiles for the first time since 1975. You remember 1975, don't you? No? Well, see if you remember what we were driving in 1975:

That's right, it's the 1975 Chrysler Cordoba! I also remember riding around in my friend's 1975 Chevy Nova (although hers was a 2-door model):

So yes, I do believe it might be time to update our fuel efficiency standards. In 1975, the average price of gas was about 59 cents a gallon, which when adjusted for inflation is about $1.70 per gallon. Add to the increased cost of gas the amount of knowledge we now have about climate change and greenhouse gases, and it really is almost unfathomable that auto fuel standards have not changed in 30 years.

It really says a lot about the power of the auto and oil industries.

Not surprisingly, Republican senators have already announced they will filibuster the bill, and President Bush has indicated he will veto it if it makes it to his desk. The two main features of the bill (which are the reasons they are against it): (1) it repeals billions of dollars in oil company tax breaks (yes, the oil companies that are making record profits continue to receive massive tax breaks), and (2) it calls for an increase in auto fuel efficiency standards to an industry average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Please join me in contacting your Senators to tell them you support the energy bill. It's you and me against the oil and auto companies, pal. Tell them it's not 1975 any more ....

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The story behind one tragedy: “I can still see him out in the yard just running around.”

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic — Joseph Stalin

From the US Department of Defense:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Spc. Matthew K. Reece, 24, of Harrison, Ark., died Dec. 1, in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
From The Fayetteville Observer:
Sharon Reece said her nephew grew up with her sons in Arkansas. She said she still remembers them out in the yard playing.

“He was a typical child,” she said. “I can still see him out in the yard just running around.”

Reece joined the Army in September 2005. An avid hunter and fisherman, he took to being an infantryman. His aunt said he loved the service.

Reece is survived by his wife, Chauntelle Reece, two children — daughter Alyssa and son Teagan — and his parents Preston Reece and Tammy Vanderwaal.

"The least we can do is stop our days and pay honor to the people making the ultimate sacrifice"

John Cusack stars in a new movie due for release in February 2008, Grace is Gone. In the movie, he plays a husband and father who learns that his wife is killed in Iraq. His inspiration for the movie: the Bush Administration "cowardly political act" of banning photographs of military caskets returning from Iraq. In an interview with PBS' Tavis Smiley, Cusack said:
"I thought that was one of the most cowardly political acts I'd seen in my lifetime, in some ways" the actor said. "So I thought, we have to tell the story of one of those coffins coming home, right? It seemed clear that would be a really smart thing to do."

"I just think that, if this war is going to be fought and if it is as important as he says it is, I think the least we can do is stop our days and pay honor to the people making the ultimate sacrifice for this," he added. "I mean, they were trying to say...we'll tell you when we can grieve and get our photo ops when we go to the bases and visit the families and we're going to control this along with everything else."
I couldn't agree more with Cusack. As regular readers know, I have begun posting the stories of some of the 3,886 people who have died following George W. Bush's failed Iraq policies. About a year ago, I remember some of the mainstream media newscasts closing with images of some of these soldiers, but I guess that wasn't helping the ratings much, because no one seems to do that anymore. So, no more images staring out at us from the televisions set, just some abstract number: 3,886.

No matter what you think about the Iraq war, I'm sure you agree with Cusack that we should "stop our days and pay honor to the people making the ultimate sacrifice for this."

Bad blogger! Bad!

Posting will be a little light today. The icy roads this morning meant my university opened at 10 am, and — bad blogger that I am — I chose to sleep in rather than post.

So now the day is in full swing, and I'm a little behind in my writing. But please do check back, because I've got lots of things to write about!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

International Jodie Foster Love Day

From the LA Daily News:

Jodie Foster gives thanks to Cydney through thick, thin

You may have no idea how significant this headline really is, but if you do, you are doing a major happy dance right now!

Happy dance! Happy dance!

That's right, arguably the most beautiful — and most private— woman in film today is slowly pushing open the closet door. From Dorothy Snarker:
Someone please check the skies. Are pigs flying? Jodie Foster is striding ever further out of the closet. And by ever further, I mean getting thisclose to kicking to damn door off its hinges. On Tuesday, Jodie received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at the 16th annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast. During her emotional acceptance speech she thanked “my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss.”
Read the rest here, and then join me in celebrating International Jodie Foster Love Day.

Mike Huckabee's history of caving to right-wing extremists cause for extreme concern

Before you jump onto the Mike Huckabee bandwagon, make sure you look at the complete history of this Arkansas governor. CBS News reports that Huckabee actively intervened in the parole hearings of a convicted rapist to release the man. The man went on to rape and murder another woman. Huckabee's reason for releasing the man: just as Bill Clinton was rising to national prominence, right-wing journalists and talk show hosts claimed the man was "railroaded" because he had raped a distant cousin of Clinton's, and the cousin was not "believable." This, despite mountains of evidence against the man.

From CBS:
In 1985, [Wayne] DuMond was convicted of the rape of a 17-year-old girl with a connection to then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton: She was the governor's distant cousin and the daughter of a major campaign contributor.

As Clinton rose to national prominence, the case came to the attention of his critics. Journalists and talk show hosts questioned the victim's story and suggested that DuMond had been railroaded by the former governor. Steve Dunleavy, a New York Post columnist, took up the case as a cause, calling DuMond’s conviction "a travesty of justice."

The story also came with a tabloid-ready twist: DuMond said that while awaiting trial, masked men broke into his house and castrated him. Though there were doubts about the story, it engendered sympathy for DuMond among Clinton foes.

DuMond's sentence had been set at life in prison, plus 20 years. In 1992, Clinton's successor in the Arkansas governor's mansion, Jim Guy Tucker, reduced that sentence to 39 years, making DuMond eligible for parole.

When Huckabee became governor in 1996, he expressed doubts about DuMond's guilt and said he was considering commuting his sentence to time served. After the victim and her supporters protested, Huckabee decided against commutation. But in 1997, according to the Kansas City Star, Huckabee wrote a letter to DuMond saying "my desire is that you be released from prison." Less than a year later, DuMond was granted parole.
So Huckabee takes an active role to set Dumond free, despite warning from his victims that he would rape and do much worse again. From the Arkansas Times:
Only six weeks after Dumond moved to Missouri, Carol Sue Shields, of Parkville, Mo., was found murdered in a friend’s home. She had been sexually assaulted and suffocated.

In late June 2001, Missouri authorities charged Dumond with the first-degree murder of Shields. The Clay County, Mo., prosecutor’s office asserted that skin found under Shield’s fingernails, the result of an apparent struggle with her murderer, contained DNA that matched Dumond’s.

Missouri authorities also say that Dumond is the leading suspect in the rape and murder of a second woman, Sara Andrasek, of Platte County, Mo., though he has not yet been charged with that crime.

Andrasek was 23. Like Shields, Andrasek had her brassiere cut from her body; Dumond cut Stevens’ bra off before he raped her.

“It’s as if he wanted to leave us his calling card,” a Missouri law enforcement officer said.
When asked about this case today, Huckabee denies taking part in Dumond's release, claiming former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker made Dumond eligible for parole and saying the Post Prison Transfer Board made the decision on its own to free Dumond.

However, from that same Arkansas Times article:
“I signed the [parole] papers because the governor wanted Dumond paroled. I was thinking the governor was working for the best interests of the state.”
—Ermer Pondexter, ex-member of the board of pardons and parole

Wednesday poetry break: It's snowing, and the sky is falling!

I love snow, but I don't love driving in it. Actually, that's not true. If all the idiots on the road would stay home I wouldn't mind it at all.

Oh, sorry 'bout that bit of bitterness. The first snowfall this morning meant my morning commute was 2 hours. That put me in a kinda sour mood. Let's get right to the poetry, shall we?

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

— Robert Frost

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Choosing a candidate: If it's Tuesday, it must be Huckabee!

I've been a political junkie all my life. Growing up around D.C., it's hard to avoid, but I admit, I was especially nerdy about it. I read 3 newspapers a day as a kid: The Washington Post in the morning, the Alexandria Gazette in the afternoon, and The Washington Star in the evening (which my dad read on his bus ride home). On top of that, my parents always watched the evening news, which, in the D.C. market, covers national and world news almost more than it does local news. When I went to college in Indiana and saw the hog reports on the evening news, I realized I was not "normal."

So every 4 years, for as long as I can remember, I have followed the presidential races in great detail. Yet in all my memory, I have never seen the voters be as fluid in their preferences for party candidates as they are in this race. Although the press keeps touting a "new leader in the polls," both parties are still wide open. With now less than a month until the Iowa primary, no one has gained that undying American voter loyalty. And personally, I'm glad.

You see, I remember when seemingly otherwise sane people said to me "I love George W. Bush!" They would hear nothing of the arguments that he mismanaged the state of Texas as governor, or that he was a failed businessman, or that his education at Harvard at Yale was neither appropriate nor successful.

"I just love George Bush," they all said. "He seems like such a nice man."

Seven years later and look what he's done to our country.

I'm not gloating that I voted for Al Gore and then for John Kerry, and I don't have a bumper sticker that says "Don't blame me, I voted for Kerry" or any such thing. No, it's time to move forward. Which is why I am happy to see the polls change almost every day. What this means to me is that the American public is actually listening to the candidates and formulating opinions based on the candidates' platforms and answers to debate questions.

The pollsters focus on who we'd like to share a beer with, and then proclaim that candidate "leading in the polls." The American people, however, are focused on which candidate can end the war in Iraq, ensure affordable health care, address climate change and our energy policy's part in it, and provide quality education for all Americans.

There's another Democratic debate this afternoon, hosted by NPR. Who will be the new choice of the American voter? Stay tuned.

Monday, December 3, 2007

'Tis the season!

Sub-prime mortgage crisis' got nothin' on us!

If you took out one of those adjustable rate mortgages, or if you're swimming in credit card debt, it could be a lot worse. Actually, it already is: the national debt is growing at a rate of about $1 million per minute. So in the time it took you to come to this blog and read this paragraph, the national debt has probably gone up another million. And each day, it adds up another $1.4 billion. Yes, billion, with a "b."

And you thought your financial problems were bad!

According to the Associated Press,
the government is fast straining resources needed to meet interest payments on the national debt, which stands at a mind-numbing $9.13 trillion.

And like homeowners who took out adjustable-rate mortgages, the government faces the prospect of seeing this debt — now at relatively low interest rates — rolling over to higher rates, multiplying the financial pain.

So long as somebody is willing to keep loaning the U.S. government money, the debt is largely out of sight, out of mind.

The national debt — the total accumulation of annual budget deficits — is up from $5.7 trillion when President Bush took office in January 2001 and it will top $10 trillion sometime right before or right after he leaves in January 2009.

That's $10,000,000,000,000.00, or one digit more than an odometer-style "national debt clock" near New York's Times Square can handle. When the privately owned automated clock was activated in 1989, the national debt was $2.7 trillion.

As depressing as this is, it gets worse. You see, just like those credit card companies that keep sending me offers for more cards so I can pay off my other credit cards, there are lenders out here ready to help the U.S. with its irresponsible spending:
Foreign governments and investors now hold some $2.23 trillion — or about 44 percent — of all publicly held U.S. debt. That's up 9.5 percent from a year earlier.

Japan is first with $586 billion, followed by China ($400 billion) and Britain ($244 billion). Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries account for $123 billion, according to the Treasury.

"Borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China and OPEC puts not only our future economy, but also our national security, at risk. It is critical that we ensure that countries that control our debt do not control our future," said Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican budget hawk.

In the words of the Talking Heads, "you may ask yourself-Well ... How did I get here?"

Good question. It wasn't like this when George W. Bush took office:
Not long ago, it actually looked like the national debt could be paid off — in full. In the late 1990s, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office projected a surplus of a $5.6 trillion over ten years — and calculated the debt would be paid off as early as 2006.

The story behind one tragedy

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic — Joseph Stalin

On November 29, 2007, the U.S. Department of Defense quietly announced the death of Sgt. 1st Class John J. Tobiason, 42, of Bloomington, Minn. Sgt. Tobiason died in Baghdad, Iraq, of injuries suffered from hostile fire - small arms fire. He was assigned to the 847th Adjutant General Battalion, 89th Regional Readiness Command, Wichita, Kan.

Tobiason was scheduled to come home to Minnesota in January. Instead, family and friends are grieving while remembering their loved one.

“He was a master of using the ‘x’ in Scrabble,” said his sister. He “was known for his passion for drumming, fishing, and games and puzzles.”

“He was quite a guy,” said American Legion Commander Dennis Lindquist. “He was just so darn proud to carry the flag.”

Tobiason's sister told the local newspaper that her brother was in his 14th year in the military and had planned to serve 20 years before retiring to a cabin in Minnesota. Instead, funeral services will be held later this week for Sgt. Tobiason.

As of today, there have been 3,882 confirmed deaths of American soldiers in Iraq since 2003. It is important that we remember the face behind each one of these 3,882. I'll be regularly publishing the stories of some of these brave men and women who have lost their lives because they were fulfilling their duty to enact the policies of the Bush Administration and because of the lack of fortitude of the Democratic majority to stand up to these policies.

Please continue to contact your Senators and Representatives and demand that they stop funding the Iraq War.