Sunday, June 28, 2009
Now to the main topic of the post.
Some people just love to meddle. There are those who take charge because someone needs to, and then there are those who taken charge because they need to. The boss is the one in charge; someone who is bossy acts like he's in charge. A lot of meddlesome people go into politics, because it's a venue for them to act like they are in control.
Sometimes people meddle with the best of intentions; this does not mean that their meddling is good. I'd use the No Child Left Behind act as a good example. The purpose was a laudable one: a federally-funded system to improve academic achievement across the board. More money would be pumped into public school systems than ever before, incentives would be given for better performance, regular testing would be mandatory. I was a teacher once upon a time, and I witnessed some of the resulting problems. Part of the problem was that many teachers are not well-trained at the college level, and NCLB did not do much to change that. Another part of the problem was that schools dropped some programs, especially those in the arts, to focus on the math and science areas that were emphasized by NCLB. Given that many students flourish in the arts, and that developing skills in the visual, dramatic, and musical arts enhances performance in the more rigid "academic" disciplines, the greater focus in a few areas did not necessarily result in better comprehension in those areas. Perhaps the biggest problem was the greater importance of testing--students had to pass major exams to move on to the next level, and schools needed to have large percentages making certain test scores. Thus, schools began teaching to the test rather than teaching in the manner that best allowed the teachers and students to progress properly through the material.
Again, I'm not faulting the intent of NCLB; I'm faulting the fact that it resulted in a forced system of education that eventually prohibited the improvement that it was supposed to foster. Lots of people who work in education complain about the extra burdens that NCLB has placed on school systems. Many who lean toward the Democratic Party blame former President George W. Bush because he was a strong advocate of the NCLB bill, though they conveniently forget that the bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). In my mind, both parties deserve the blame because both parties were responsible for drafting and then passing a bill that, in hindsight, wasn't very good.
Now, let's look at what's been going on in recent weeks.
This past Friday (June 26, 2009) the House of Representatives passed HR 2454, aka the Waxman-Markey bill, aka the Cap-and-Trade bill. The bill passed by seven votes, with eight of those votes coming from Republicans and the rest from Democrats. The purpose of the bill is to encourage businesses to reduce emissions from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses by taxing those who produce those gasses beyond a certain amount. Businesses that produce less than the cap amount will be allowed to sell credits to other companies that exceed them, so there is an incentive to reduce as much as possible. Of course, some businesses do not have the technology or budget to reduce their emissions. In many cases the technology may not exist now, or ever. Remember, every time you exhale you produce carbon dioxide, so there is the potential that at some point in time you individually will contribute more than your fair share, and the government will have the power to tax you for it. The point being, the cost of doing business will go up. After all, even if a company can reduce emissions for making a product, they still have to package, ship, and market it. The cost of producing gasoline will almost certainly go up, so the cost of shipping will also go up. Anything you buy that is shipped from point A to point B will thus be increased in price. (NOTE: almost everything you buy has to be shipped, and if it involves components that come from overseas, that will mean far more expensive costs for transporting it, whether by sea or air.) The increased price of doing business (without providing any increase in business profits) means business will have to lay off workers. This will create a drain on unemployment benefits, as well as reducing profits even further since the unemployed generally do not buy as many luxury items. Many companies will move their operations overseas to other nations that are not required to comply with the restrictions imposed by the US Congress. Regardless of how well-intentioned this bill is, the eventual result could be disastrous for our economy. Remember, the members of Congress are largely not business owners, nor are they scientists who understand the nuances of engineering more environmentally-friendly systems, nor are they climatologists who understand the extremely complex machine that is our planetary ecosystem. An environment with so many interconnected variables does not fall in line simply because lawmakers say it is supposed to.
Surely the House members know all the details of this bill, right?
Ummm.....no. At around 3 am Friday morning, a 300-page amendment was added to the bill. The bill was already around 1,000 pages before the amendment. You no doubt are aware how long it takes to read a 1,000-page novel. (NOTE: most novels are written so as to be somewhat easy and interesting to read; Congressional resolutions tend to be much more detailed and and dryly descriptive. One does not breeze through them in a couple of days like many do for a Harry Potter novel.) How many Representatives, who have to deal with their personal lives, sleep, eating, listening to messages from their constituents (after all, that is why they're representatives, right???), and the particulars of doing Congressional business have time to read a 300-page amendment the same day that they vote on a 1,000-page bill?
That's right...they just passed a massive resolution that is intended to fundamentally alter forever the way business operates in this country, and it is a statistical certainty that NONE of them knows all the details of that resolution. Notice how I haven't even tried to address the numerous studies that show that this bill won't actually make much of a measurable difference in the environment, which is supposed to be the whole point of passing it in the first place.
Are you scared yet? Because your health care is next on the agenda. Remember how well NCLB worked? Sen. Kennedy is the major sponsor for health care reform. (Just so you know.)
Why should we worry? People who meddle always have the best intentions...right?
P.S. The Cap-and-Trade bill is not law, because it must now pass the Senate before it can be signed by the President. If you have issues with this legislation, now is the time to contact your Senators (remember, there are always two!) about it.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Nearly as long as I've been alive, I've wanted to watch a Space Shuttle launch. I still remember getting up early when I was in kindergarten to see the very first launch of Columbia way back when. Whenever I've been able to get to a television to see a launch or landing, I make sure to watch. I love the space program and the innovation, determination, and courage that it represents. But I've never actually made it to Florida to see a launch in person. Since they are ending the Shuttle program after next year, I'm determined to see a launch of the vehicle that introduced me to America's space program. I was sure that the June 13, 2009 launch of Endeavor would be my chance.
But no. Some sort of fuel system venting leak has resulted in NASA scrubbing the launch for at least 96 hours. I have to be back at work on Monday, so my best hope for this one is that they hold it off until the next launch window in July when I'm on a longer vacation break. However, if that doesn't work then the next launch is scheduled for August....
(Image from NASA TV)
Monday, June 8, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
George Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who was known nationally for his performance of late-term abortions, was murdered in his church by a deranged gunman. While I am appalled at the number of abortions (babies terminated) that this man performed (estimates put the number around 60,000) I am even more angered at the fact that this man was killed in a place of worship, a sanctuary for all sinners (anyone reading or writing this blog) to find the grace of God. I am shocked that his family and friends were there to watch it happen. And I'm dismayed that so many in the pro-choice (pro-abortion) crowd think that this type of action is a reflection on the feelings of the pro-life (anti-abortion) movement. All the same, this man's murderer likely has done tremendous harm to the cause he would claim to support. This story has been in the news, gets thousands of hits on Google, and the President has issued a statement about it.
Pvt. William Long, 23, was killed at an Army recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas on Monday. Another soldier was injured in the drive-by shooting; a suspect has been arrested. Pvt. Long had just finished basic combat training and was home helping with his local recruiting office before continuing his training and service. He took an oath to defend the Constitution, to obey the orders of the President and the officers appointed over him. He no doubt had a lot to look forward to. I used to play in the band for weekly graduation ceremonies at Ft. Benning, performing for thousands of soldiers and their friends and families. I could have played at this man's graduation were I still doing that job. Yet some nutjob gunned him down, here, at home, on our soil. It is tragic when we lose a soldier overseas in combat. How tragic is it when another American targets a soldier who isn't even serving in a combat zone? Who has no weapon, no body armor, no expectation that anyone nearby is dangerous?
This story has recieved much less media attention, though I can't imagine why. I'm still waiting for Pvt. Long's Commander-in-Chief to issue a statement.
UPDATE--JUNE 4, 2009: The President's statement on George Tiller, issued Sunday:
I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.
Now here is his statement about William Long, issued Wednesday (that's two days after the incident):
I am deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence against two brave young soldiers who were doing their part to strengthen our armed forces and keep our country safe. I would like to wish Quinton Ezeagwula a speedy recovery, and to offer my condolences and prayers to William Long's family as the mourn the loss of their son.
We frequently use "blind" as an epithet. Those who don't agree with our point of view are considered "blind." "You're just blind to the truth!" we say. "Hey ref, are you BLIND?!" we scream at the official who missed a call that would benefit our team. Or we use it as hyperbole: "This problem is so obvious a blind man could see it."
Yet we uphold blindness as a virtue in one area: justice. Justice must be blind. Justice must be based on principle, on truth, on an unyielding standard equally applied to all regardless of external characteristics which have no moral value. Blind justice. This is why courthouses across America have statues of Justice as a blindfolded woman holding the scales to weigh evidence.
We are aware that our history is full of examples where justice has not been applied blindly: discrimination for economic, sexual, and racial reasons is easy to find with a little research. Our laws, both local and federal, have undergone amendments and revisions to adjust for a growing understanding that people must be judged on their actions, the "content of their character," as Dr. King would say, and not on their skin color, property holdings, fame, political affiliation, or gender.
Now, I've met people who think I'm a racist. I know that they think that way because they've told me. "But I'm not a racist!" I protest. "Well, you just don't realize it because you've grown up that way," they retort. What else is there to add? I'm a southern white male. Of course I'm racist. (One of these people grew up in the north, and apparently this opinion of southerners is quite common in her neck of the woods. They know it's true, so evidence to the contrary is pointless.) Now, I've served in the Army under a lieutenant of Korean descent, a black commander, a black sergeant major, two black first sergeants, plus a commander and a first sergeant who were female, in addition to having had roommates who were from Japan and Mexico, respectively. I managed to get along just fine with all these people and treated them as I would anyone of my own background. At no point did I ever suspect that ethnic heritage or economic upbringing or gender were responsible for any bad, or good, decisions that were made by any of those people. Most of those people are folks that I hope to serve with or work with again someday. They are people of good character. (Alright....one really got on my nerves, but that's because he had no people skills. He managed to irritate everyone. But again, by irritating everyone he showed no favoritism, and that is a commendable trait. Sort of.) And I was brought up to judge people based on the content of their character, not their looks.
Apparently, though, there are too many people who stand to benefit from racial division to let it die away like it should have decades ago. Some think that the experiences of a Latina result in better judgment than the experiences of a white male. Some think that criticism of the people who make such statements is racist. Some think that judges of certain ethnic backgrounds should not be subjected to any scrutiny. Many of these same people had no problems publically assaulting the character of a black man with an excellent judicial record and sterling reputation because he didn't share their political views. They couldn't even find two people who could consistently defame this man, contrary to every other character witness produced, but all these years later it is virtually impossible to seperate Clarence Thomas's public image from that of Anita Hill. They slammed Miguel Estrada repeatedly as an extremist despite his distinguished record in the legal profession, and then held up his nomination with a filibuster, preventing him from even defending himself in a confirmation hearing. And these same people have the gall to warn off those who criticize a justice who claims, with no hint of irony, that the appellate court is where policy is made? (Go check the second and third articles of the U.S. Constitution; it is quite clear on the role of the courts, and in fact gives the courts the most limited powers in the government, partly because justices are appointed and not elected, thus they are only tangentially related to the representative government outlined in the document.) Perhaps she can explain her views and opinions better. Perhaps she can assuage concerns that she will rule based on her feelings and biases, rather than the clear statutes of the Constitution. She deserves a chance to make it clear that white males need have no worries that she will rule against them because of a prejudicial attitude. But her supporters should not expect her to get a free ride. The Democratic Party has shown no desire to coddle minorities nominated by Republicans. For the Republican opposition to lie down and roll over in this situation would show that they are governed by fear, not principle. They must be fair, but they must also be firm. They must be tough. They must not shirk their responsibility as "loyal opposition" to hold their opponents to rigorous standards for political appointments. To do otherwise would be...well....blind.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Too bad there isn't an app for that.