Friday, October 27, 2017

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS IS AMERICA

What Happens in Vegas is America

A month ago.

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.

Old news,
So quickly forgotten.

“This is no time to talk about
gun control” the fake leaders said.
A month later, still not the time?
How quickly we move on.

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.

“Maybe we could pass a bill;
outlaw bump stocks,” said the GOP.
“Regulate bump stocks,” said the NRA.
“Oh, right, let ATF regulate them,” says the obedient GOP.
“We have no authority over accessories,” says the ATF.

Bump stock.
Political junk schlock.

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.

33,000 gun deaths per year in America;
no official action.
64,000 opioid drug deaths per year in America;
POTUS says “national public health emergency.”
Double the gun deaths to become a
national public health emergency?

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.
Old news; so what’s new?


© pfishman
october 27, 2017

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

GUNS, GUNS AND MORE GUNS: IT IS WAY PAST TIME TO ACT

This December will be the 5-year anniversary of the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School; the toll was 20 6-to-7 year old children and 6 adults killed. During the 5 years since Sandy Hook, approximately 150,000 people in the United States died from gunshots - we average 30,000 per year. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 248 deaths in what have been labeled "mass shootings," a total of 29 such incidents, including the killings in Las Vegas last night.

Many of us, I would hope all rational Americans, were shocked beyond belief by the senseless murders of school children. Many of us, and again I would hope a majority of Americans, thought that certainly the Congress of the United States, or the Executive of our country would do something drastic to stop the carnage wrought by firearms. But nothing was done. Nothing was done after every mass shooting since. Nothing!

I sincerely believe that nothing will be done, again, following the largest mass murder in our modern history, the shootings in Las Vegas. The shooter had 20 rifles in his hotel room; many of them AR-15-type semi-automatic weapons with large capacity magazines. He had another 20 or so guns at his home. How can someone amass such a cache of lethal weapons? How can such a thing be legal? Is there no record of a single person purchasing so many weapons? These are, I know, naive questions in America.

In February, 2013 I posted on this blog about the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and my opinion that it needs to be repealed or amended in order to gain control of these lethal weapons.. Reading that post now, I can only shake my head in tremendous sorrow that I live in such a strange, dystopian world where lethal weapons are so widespread and easily obtained. I have absolutely no faith, again, that our elected representatives will do anything meaningful to control the sale and distribution of guns.

The Constitution of the United States is a remarkable document that has guided our country since its adoption. It is, however, an 18th century document that still contains ideas and sections based on 18th century knowledge, norms and aspirations. The Second Amendment is not usable today, in my opinion, because it uses language that is open to interpretation, and over the years the courts have made many interpretations. A basic fact today is that the current use of the Second Amendment, based on court rulings, is an outcome of the actions of the National Rifle Association. The NRA, over the course of decades, has lobbied Congress, paid scholars and lawyers to write legal studies and briefs, and without any doubt skewed the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment to what it is today. The result is hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries by guns over the past few decades; and it is getting worse.

In my post 4+ years ago, I argued that the only way to stop the carnage of gun deaths and injuries in America is to repeal or amend the Second Amendment. I still hold that opinion.

No politician today would dare support my proposal. Why? Are they so afraid of the NRA that they will allow the killings to go on and on and on? The answer to date has been yes.

I will send my proposal to my Senators and Congressman. I will send it to the other progressives in the Senate, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I will challenge them to stand up to the NRA. I will ask them if they truly believe that the NRA, and only the NRA has the best public relations people money can buy. Changing the Second Amendment would be a political battle unlike any other; but it should be fought, and could be won. As I stated above, I think most Americans understand the pain and suffering wrought by guns under our present laws. I think most Americans, given the choice of business as usual or a rational system of regulation, will choose the rational path. We have to try; the current situation is not acceptable.

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THE SECOND AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION: REPEAL OR AMEND IT
posted February 10, 2013 to readmyopinion.blogspot.com

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

And there it is, one of the most poorly constructed popular sentences in the English language. There are two major camps in the interpretation of this amendment: 1) those who think that it gives every person in the United States a constitutional right to own and keep firearms (usually without any limitations); and 2) those who think that the Amendment means that people have a right to own weapons if they are part of a "well regulated militia."

I personally think that the Second Amendment should be repealed; this would make our national discussion of guns a lot more objective and reasonable. But I don't really think the amendment will ever be repealed, so I offer the following rewrite, to be done as an amendment to the Amendment.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall be maintained by the federal government. The right of the people to keep and bear arms, under a well-regulated set of laws and rules to protect the health and welfare of the people, shall not be infringed.

Can anyone seriously argue with that? My amendment to the Amendment allows the federal government to establish and maintain our armed forces (armed). My amendment to the Amendment also gives people in the United States the right to keep and bear guns, but within a well-regulated system that is structured to protect people (including the gun owners).

Why is this so important? Simple answer: the staunch anti-regulation folks (the NRA, other gun organizations, self-proclaimed gun rights patriots, and etc.) use the Second Amendment as a crutch for their argument against gun regulation. Read any and every statement by the NRA and anti-regulation folks and you hear the words "second amendment," "constitutional rights," "free society" and similar. One example in the newspaper today is a statement by Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Oregon Firearms Association, commenting about a recent poll on gun regulation: "What isn't important to me is how many people have decided to give up their rights." In other words, he dismisses the results that show what percentage of people favor more strict regulation of guns, based on his "fact" that we all have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

If we pull the Second Amendment rug out from under these gun death deniers, they will be forced to talk about real issues, and will have a much more difficult time dodging the reality of gun murder and mayhem in this country.

My next task is to look at the best way to start a national petition drive in support of my amendment to the Amendment.
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Saturday, September 30, 2017

DONALD J. TRUMP: EXPLETIVES NOT DELETED

(Warning: possibly offensive language below.)

OK, I can't hold it back any longer. Sure, ranting about this guy is not productive, but at what point do we, the people of the United States of America, say "ENOUGH!"

Here is a screenshot of the Fake President's twitter feed from this morning - read from bottom to top:

Are you fucking kidding me?? This a-hole is supposed to be the President of the United States. His job is to "promote the general welfare" and be a leader in times of crisis. Instead, this Fake President blames the victims! And where is our Dear Leader this weekend? At one of his golf resorts, of course!

In the past month, the United States and our neighbors in the Caribbean have suffered devastating hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Our neighbor and close ally, Mexico, has had disastrous earthquakes. So what does the Fake President focus on in his speeches, press interactions and Twitter tweets? NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem! I'd like to see him take a knee - to the groin!

One of the mainstays of the Trump Administration seems to be a total lack of compassion. His tepid responses to huge natural disasters are evidence. His remarks about the size of the crowd that greeted him when he finally deigned to visit Houston show that his only interest is himself. His executive orders to keep refugees and immigrants, specifically Muslims, out of the country are criminal. The recent raids by his jack-booted ICE agents to snatch and deport people in sanctuary cities is one of the greatest evils imaginable. Everything he and his minions do show a complete lack of compassion. It would not surprise me to find out that there was an internal memo from the White House to all federal employees instructing them to remove the word "compassion" from their dictionaries and computers, and never use the word again.

There is no doubt that Donald J. Trump is unfit for the office of President of the United States. He needs to be removed immediately by the Congress. The man is an abomination, and presents one of the greatest dangers to U.S. security and well-being ever experienced.

Donald, you are a Fake President! You have no business being in that position. You are a self-centered, ignorant, puerile, mean, vindictive, obnoxious, greedy, unstable, compassionless, bigoted, misogynistic, bizarre shit-storm of a buffoon. You are also very likely a crook and a traitor, and should be locked up. Shame on you. Shame on us. Shame on your deplorable "base" that not only elected you, but still stands by you and defends you. Who the hell are these people??

Your fake presidency is a true test of the American system. I think we will survive; after all, we survived a Civil War, two World Wars, a Great Depression and countless other tests of our strength and resilience. We, the people, are better than you, and you will not prevail.

Get thee gone, Your Ass-holeyness! Crawl back under the rotting log from which you emerged! We do not like you!

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Please donate to relief organizations helping people in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands, Texas, Florida and Mexico.

Monday, September 25, 2017

TAKE A KNEE, BUT KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE BALL

The big story this past weekend was that most professional athletes and many of the wealthy owners of their teams seem to understand the First Amendment, while the POTUS seems not to. Important stuff; and is anyone actually surprised?

In the meantime, lots of other very important things are happening in the USA and the world. Here at home, the wrecking ball agency Directors appointed by Trump are methodically removing the nuts and bolts that make the American system work, deregulating everything they can, for the benefit of corporate interests. These actions can set us back decades, to a time when corporations could basically do whatever their bottom line dictated, including polluting the environment, endangering the health and well-being of Americans, pulling government support for education, public health, food assistance and many other programs. Trump repeatedly calls the Affordable Care Act a "disaster;" however, the actions of his appointed hatchetmen and women are the true disaster in government.

Meanwhile, there is the rest of the world. North Korea's boyish dictator threatens the world with nuclear weapons, and Trump responds by threatening to obliterate North Korea. We should not mistakenly believe that the Generals appointed to positions of power in the Trump administration, and other high-level appointees are the "adults in the room" who will moderate Trump; they are not. Trump's nationalistic and war-mongering U.N. speech was vetted by these "adults on the room," and we have to assume received their nods of approval. This does not bode well for global stability.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who I consider to be the new "Leader of the Free World," won re-election. Her party is center-right, and her style and methods of governance promote stability and moderation. The bad news is that, for the first time since World War II, a far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-European Union party — the Alternative for Germany - won 13 percent of the vote, catapulting them into the German Parliament. Ms. Merkel will need to find a way to build a governing coalition with a new, populist and nationalist player in the mix. This election result is another indication that more people in the Western democracies are turning to the extreme right, like the voters who put Donald Trump in office.

So by all means, take a knee. But keep your eyes on the ball - the news and politics at home and abroad. Demonstrations of resistance are symbolically important, but the nitty-gritty happens within the institutions of government, and we the people have handed many of those institutions over to anti-government, pro-corporate interests (see note).
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Note: not all corporations are evil; in fact, a number of them have stated, for example, that they will continue to work to reduce their impacts on global climate change, no matter what Donald Trump has to say. But Trump and his assault troops listen to a different drum beat.

Monday, September 18, 2017

MAKE AMERICA GREAT (WHITE) AGAIN

 MAKE AMERICA GREAT WHITE AGAIN! We should not be fooled by the slogan on the Trump campaign posters, ads, and ugly trucker hats. The subtext was always there, but it has become crystal clear over the past 9 months of the Trump presidency. America used to be Great, when it was a nation of white men, and their wives and children, and thousands of African slaves. America was Great once the white immigrants killed off most of the non-white native people, and moved those who survived into de-facto detention camps, or "reservations" on the least valuable lands. America was Great in the glory days before the Civil War when white men owned humans as a commodity, to labor for free and be bought and sold. But America isn't Great any more.

America started to lose it's Greatness when the Confederacy lost the Civil War and slavery became illegal. But White Supremacy did not die in the Civil War, it survived in many forms, such as Jim Crow laws, segregation within public institutions and spaces, a justice system that was not just when it comes to non-white people. White Supremacy survived in the form of restrictive and nativist immigration laws and policies that primarily let non-white immigrants in if there was a need for cheap labor (Chinese, Japanese, Latin Americans, etc.), and then turned against them once their labor was no longer needed. White Supremacy survived in the form of bigotry against Americans with ancestries like Jewish, Irish, Italian and other not-the-right-kind-of-White people.  

The Great America 150 years after the Civil War is experiencing a blossoming as a result of the fertilizer applied by Trump and his ilk. Trump has given White Supremacy a green light to crawl out from under the rocks where they have been surviving and into the light of day. 

The White Supremacy march in Charlottesville, Virginia will be a landmark moment in U.S. history. Yes, there have been other marches of this sort over the years, but few have galvanized the country the way this one did. Perhaps the new technologies of social media made this event so much more than it otherwise might have been. Perhaps it was the timing, in an era of identity politics and heightened awareness of systemic bigotry. Whatever the reason, the images and videos of white men, mostly young (and some women?), carrying burning torches and Nazi flags, chanting "Jews will not replace Us!" and "White Lives Matter" have been burned into our consciousness and made most of us cringe. "Can this really be happening in America?" we say. Yes, it can, because these folks, including their president, want to Make America Great (White) Again!

Let's not mince words here; the history of America is infused with white supremacy. Many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners (some of whom envisioned a post-slavery future), and the founding documents did not consider non-whites (mostly slaves) to be part of "all men are created equal" (women were also excluded). The Confederacy fought the Civil War not to protect the philosophy of slavery, but to protect an economy based on people as commodity; cotton and tobacco were profitable only because the laborers were unpaid. And the laborers were also a profitable commodity that could be bred to meet market demand. 

The post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South carried white supremacy forward into the twentieth century, and despite the patina of tolerance, the North also embedded bigotry into every institution and aspect of government. Every chapter of American history has, in addition to truly good aspects, a subtext of white supremacy: expulsions, exclusions, detentions, internments and relocations of Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Native-Americans (and genocide); the refusal to allow Jews fleeing European fascism into the United States, and in some cases sending them back to their deaths in Nazi-controlled Europe; the treatment of African-American veterans after World War II; detention and deportation of undocumented workers who do the jobs white Americans won't do. American foreign policy is also rife with adventures (misadventures) overseas that had white supremacy undertones, actions taken against non-white populations that would never be acceptable if taken against white populations (consider U.S. actions in Vietnam, Latin America, Afghanistan, Iraq). And yes, America fought the white German Nazis and their fascist allies in Europe, but only after being attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. 

Don't misconstrue my thoughts; the United States is a light of hope in myriad ways, and I am a true patriot; however, as a society we need to understand our own history, with all its flaws and warts, in order to understand our present. The neo-Nazis and their fascist allies on parade in Charlottesville, in the White House, in the Congress, and throughout America are part of us, America. We cannot ignore them. We cannot simply write them off as nut jobs or deplorables, even if they are. We need to see them and understand who they are and what they represent; they are the embodiment of our white-supremacist history. Yes, they are us. 

We have come a long way, in many ways, as a society, as a democracy; however, we are not yet "there." We have a lot of work to do - a tremendous amount of work to do - if we are ever to achieve anything close to the idea and ideal of America. We need to grapple with and understand the Trump Era in order to repudiate and replace it. It is not enough to hate Trump; it is not enough to shout "resist" and march in the streets. It is not enough to write blog posts like this one. We need to organize. We need to work together within our communities. We need to encourage and support progressive candidates for every level of government (and run for office ourselves if we have what it takes). We need to be vocal, but not just to shout our disapproval; we need to be proactive and vocal about what we want and need and support. We need to fight back with words, with truth, with facts, and leave the street brawling to the fringe elements. Let's be smart, and then let's be smarter. 

And finally, even when we all understand the history of America, and the ugly thread of bigotry woven into its fabric, we need to stand together. We need to put identity politics into the correct frame, stop any blame and shame games, and find the common ground that we all stand upon. If we cannot work together, we cannot prevail, and the Make America Great (White) Again crowd will continue their campaigns. 

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Correction (18SEP2017, 12:52PM). In the original version of this post, I mistakenly used the term "pogrom" to describe actions taken against non-whites in America. This term has been replaced.   

Friday, September 01, 2017

HARVEY, HOUSTON, HUMAN HUBRIS AND ECOLOGY


from "Raw Sewage" by Ron Cobb. 1970. used with permission

"Houston, we have a problem!" Yes, we do. The extent of the destruction from Hurricane Harvey, and the toll of human death and injury are not yet fully known. What we do know is that this is one of the largest natural disasters in recent U.S. history, and the areas affected will have a long and arduous recovery.

The Ron Cobb cartoon above was published almost 50 years ago, the same year as the first Earth Day. Today, 50 years later, it has the same urgent message as it did then. Have we learned what ecology is in the course of 50 years, or are we still wondering?

This post is neither intended to point fingers nor to minimize the real suffering caused by this monster storm, Harvey. It is intended to continue discussion about ecology, natural disasters, and yes, human-caused climate change.

It is not correct to assume or conclude that Hurricane Harvey was caused by climate change; climate scientists are very clear about that. It can, and should be said that some of the characteristics of this storm are directly related to human-induced climate change. Warmer ocean temperatures result in an increased amount of moisture in the air and a greater storm intrensity and more rapid change in intensity, and higher ocean levels from melting polar ice influence the extent of coastal flooding.

For Houston, rain was the major factors that caused such extensive destruction. The Houston area received 50 inches of rain during the storm, and once on the ground, that water had nowhere to go. There has been a lot of reporting in the past few days about urban planning in Houston, and the fact that Houston is the only major U.S. City that does not have a zoning code. The result is mostly unregulated development and growth - urban sprawl - with one result being more impervious surface (buildings and paved surfaces). The city also has an inadequate stormwater drainage system.

A study of tree canopy and percent impervious surface in 20 U.S. Cities, using satellite imagery from the period 2001 - 2006, found that Houston had the second greatest area of annual tree loss (2,199 acres/yr). Houston also had the second highest, behind Los Angeles, increase in impervious surface, at 988.4 acres/year (by comparison, my city of Portland, Oregon lost 124 acres/yr of tree cover, and added 130 acres/yr of impervious surface).

So, back to the question "what's ecology?" Well, as with the Ron Cobb cartoon, I reach back to another of my ecology touchstones, the book The Closing Circle, by the ecologist Dr. Barry Commoner, first published in 1971. Dr. Commoner posed four basic Laws of Ecology: 1) everything is connected to everything else, 2) everything must go somewhere, 3) Nature knows best, and 4) there is no such thing as a free lunch. I don't believe that over the past almost 50 years there has been a better, simpler explanation of a very complex topic.

Think about the Harvey impacts in Houston (and other parts of Texas and Louisiana) in relationship to each of the Four Laws. The irony is not lost on the fact that Port Arthur, another Texas city greatly impacted by Harvey, is home to a number of oil refineries, including Motiva, the largest refinery in the U.S., and the terminus of the Keystone pipeline. Our collective use of fossil fuels has been a major factor in the changing climate, and everything is connected to everything else. The interaction between Hurricane Harvey and the lack of good urban planning resulted in more flooding than otherwise might have occured - no free lunch.

The myriad explanations, or excuses, about why Houston and other Gulf cities are so ill-prepared for a major storm boils down to one thing, the hubris of humans. Voter apathy, unwillingness to pay increased taxes, the relationship between individual and corporate profits and government, and a resistance to base policy decisions on science are factors in the extent of the Harvey disaster. Let me be clear here, Harvey was a monster storm, and even the very best urban planning and preparedness would not have resulted in zero impacts to people and property. What is true is that we are experiencing rapid and radical changes in Earth's climate, and we need to be more prepared for large, destructive climate events than we are now.

The President of the United States claims that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China. Other prominent leaders in our government, included elected representatives and newly-appointed heads of federal agencies, support this wrong thinking. I will assign blame here to these people, and others like them in positions of power or decision making. Climate change induced by human activity is a fact, and the leading experts and institutions involved in the science of climate change have strongly recommended that all levels of government focus on adapting to the changes. Cities like Houston need to be better prepared for major storm events, even if it means disregarding the words and actions coming down from the nation's capitol.

"What's ecology?" Just take a look around.
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Sunday, August 27, 2017

A REQUEST TO MY READERS

A request to my readers.
Dear Readers, please do me a favor and take a short survey, below, about my blog (readmyopinion). The traffic stats tell me that most readers get to it from Facebook, and this is because I post the links here. I am trying to reduce the ties between my life and the big internet entities, and I would prefer not to post links to my blog on Facebook. My blog is hosted on Google's blogspot, and I am looking at how to move to a hosting site that will not collect data from my blog.
So, if you would, the survey (you can answer in a comment by the question numbers):
1. Do you read my blog: a) never, b) sometimes, c) often.
2. If b or c above, do you go to it from: a) Facebook, b) directly to the blog, c) both.
3. Have you commented on a blog post of mine: a) never, b) once in awhile, c) often.
4. If b or c above, do you comment: a) on Facebook, b) on the blog site.
5. Would you ever go to my blog if it was not linked on Facebook? (Y or N)
6. Would you subscribe to my blog (RSS notification to your email) if it were easy to do and FREE? (Y or N)

Any other comments appreciated. Many thanks.

GET FAMILIAR WITH THIS MAP OF THE WORLD

This is our world as seen from above the north pole. To most of us, this has always been an uninteresting and unfamiliar view because we don't recognize it as the world map we learned in school. The important point now is that this part of the world is becoming a new area of international competition and possible conflict. The reason: climate change.

As Arctic sea ice thins and disappears, shipping along the Northern Route, shown in the map, is becoming more feasible most of the year. To demonstrate this possibility, a new Russian ice-breaking LNG (liquified natural gas) tanker sailed from Norway through the Northern Route in 6.5 days, without an accompanying ice breaker. This is a major achievement, and signals a major increase in Northern Route shipping. Russia intends to use this route to transport LNG to Asia. You can read about it here.

The U.S., Canada and Russia are the major countries along the Arctic seas, and there is increasing competition for dominanxce of this trade route. In addition, the shrinking ice sheets are making more Arctic areas available for oil and gas exploration and development, another arena for competition between nations and corporations.

The irony is not lost on the fact that the use of fossil fuels has been the main driver of global climate change, and one result is opportunities for more oil and gas production and transportation.

The environmental impacts on the Arctic from this increase in shipping and oil/gas development can only be predicted, but we know enough to understand that there will be negative consequences.

History is filled with dreams and schemes of a Northern Route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and many explorers have tried to find this fabled route. Now humans have found this holy grail, only because our actions have changed the climate and reduced the ice cover and thickness of the Arctic Seas.

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