Friday, April 27, 2007

"Friendly Fire" Deaths Convict Gun Advocates

Advocates of having citizens carry pistols for self defense, such as the nutcases that suggested last week that armed students might have stopped the VA Tech killer, need to think twice. For the second time in two months a law enforcement officer has been killed by friendly fire while dealing with a criminal.

Per CNN today, "Trooper David C. Brinkerhoff is thought to have been fatally shot by a fellow trooper while trying to arrest Travis Trim, 23, during a shootout in Trim's upstate Margaretville home Wednesday afternoon." The article continued, "On March 5, FBI Special Agent Barry Lee Bush, 52, was shot and killed by a fellow agent while attempting to arrest three bank robbery suspects in New Jersey."

New York State troopers and FBI agents get some of the finest pistol training obtainable, yet under the stress of armed confrontation even they can shoot each other fatally. What does this say about the ability of normal civilians to use their weapons properly for self defense?

As a former MP, I recall trainers telling me "the best way to get yourself shot is to pull out your own .45." What they meant was that anything can happen when the lead starts flying.

I know there are a lot of Rambo wannabies out there, owning all kinds of weapons and boasting about their ability to deal with the bad guys. However, the last thing I want to see is these guys pulling out their pocket artillery. I'd feel much safer if they confined their shooting to the range and the hunting grounds.

The answer to Cho and bad guys in general is tough gun registration and control, with prison for those caught with illegal guns and those caught selling guns illegally. I'm fine with average citizens owning and shooting most kinds of guns, but carrying them for protection is another matter entirely. They need to think twice - killing someone else with "friendly fire" will land a well-intentioned fellow in prison. And even a law enforcement officer who kills another in error will be in a peck of trouble, sad to say. We will all be better off if there are fewer guns on the street, not more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Bush Paradox

Another ambulance night. It's 12:30 and we haven't gone out yet, so my driver went to bed. We just finished watching John Stewart chew up John McCain - kinda sad, actually. But I give McCain credit for going on the show... Then the thought came to my mind - President Bush is doing a great job for Osama bin Laden, wherever he is.

The threat America faces from radical Islamic terrorists is no joke. Those guys really do hate us, and they will do anything they can to destroy America's power in the world. That's not my opinion. That's what they say, and they mean it. Plenty of them have died already trying to accomplish that very tough job, and many more probably will. They are a dedicated enemy and we would be extremely foolish to think otherwise. But are we going about dealing with them in an appropriate way? I think not. In fact, President Bush seems to be doing a great job for Osama bin Laden.

The terrorists have an uphill battle on their hands. They have no army to speak of, but they do have a lot of dispersed fighters with fairly simple weapons. They have a very hard time staying hidden, and they have a hard time getting into our country. What they really need is a lot of help to weaken America, and that is what they are getting from our government.

The Iraq war - a war of our choice - is weakening our armed forces and depleting our treasure. It is sapping our will because it is unwinnable. Who is going to surrender? The guerilla war will go on indefinitely in Iraq. How long should we accept this slow war of attrition? Are we getting our money's worth? No way. Osama is happy as a clam, and I'm sure he feels we should stay there as long as possible. "Thank you, President Bush", he is saying. "I can mess things up in Iraq faster than you can ever put it back together, and the Iraqi factions are giving me all the help I'll ever need". Great outcome for Osama and his bunch of "dead-enders".

Meanwhile, back on the home front, the administration is now getting tied up in the aftermath of its own lies. No weapons of mass destruction. No political firings. No corruption. No outing a CIA agent. No attempts to use government resources for politial purposes. No torture. The administration and congress are tied in knots, spending all their time going after each other. This leaves no time to focus on America's real problems, so they just get worse out of neglect. Don't tell me that failing to deal with our soon-to-be-bankrupt entitlement programs won't dramatically weaken our country, for example. Osama is happy.

So that's the Bush paradox. He's right about the terrorist threat, wrong about what to do about it. He's weakened our defenses, failed to prepare us for the future, splintered our political process, and given us plenty of reason to distrust government just at the time when we really need to be confident in what our leaders tell us. Osama is happy. Bush seems oblivious. History will judge him harshly.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Gonzales - The "Peter Principle" in Action

The Peter Principle is a theory originated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter which states that employees within a hierarchical organization advance to their highest level of competence, are then promoted to a level where they are incompetent, and then stay in that position. That definition comes from Wikipedia, but it applies to Alberto Gonzales according to one of the most rock-ribbed republicans of my acquaintance.

Although its true that the AG has many responsibilities, and Gonzales may in fact be capable of discharging some of them effectively, recent disclosures over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys clearly showed he's a minor leaguer who has no business being in the president's cabinet.

Early in the process of these firings Kyle Sampson, his chief of staff, recognized the political heat the firings would generate. Sampson wrote that "everyone needed to be on the same page" in order to withstand the heat. Was Gonzales smart enough to recognize the risks inherent in this very unusual selective firing of U.S. Attorneys - attorneys who had not always responded to political direction regarding prosecutions? No, he was not. He was totally unprepared to deal with the fallout. His stories were all over the place, and his attempt to blame subordinates simply showed that he was either an incompetent boss or a bald-faced liar. Gonzales didn't understand the risk, didn't plan ahead for dealing with the outcry, and ended up looking like a bonehead on national television. That's minor league.

The second major indication of minor league status is his choice of Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling, both of whom have resigned over this gaffe. The latter has even decided to "take the Fifth" if questioned by congress about the firings. Incompetent people like Gonzales often hire others who present no challenge to them - people who have good reasons to be followers rather than advisors, people who lack experience and make Gonzales appear more capable in comparison with them. Their resignations make his resignation a necessity, since it was his lack of understanding and leadership that allowed these relative neophytes to go so far down the road of no return. His protestations of ignorance about "the process" just show his incompetence. When a manager delegates a sensitive matter, he must be doubly sure that the process is ironclad. He failed.

What does this sad episode say about Gonzales's boss, our president? It confirms that his personal loyalties trump all other considerations, even the national interest. Time after time, President Bush's personnel choices have been flawed. Cheney. Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz and Co. Miers. FEMA director Michael Brown. Ashcroft. Bremer. As my boss once told me, "You are who you hire." It may be that Bush will survive these poor choices for the duration of his term, but they will be a major part of his legacy. Had he understood that he needed a top-notch team to compensate for his own rather obvious shortcomings, perhaps flaps like the U.S. Attorney debacle and the Miers nomination would never have happened. But they did.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Are YOU Savvy About Chest Pain?

I went to help a 41 year old construction worker this morning. He experienced a sudden onset of severe chest pain, and he almost passed out. His co-workers called the ambulance, and five minutes later I was checking him out. Fifteen minutes after that he was in the hospital. He'll be fine, I expect.

This event was in marked contrast to many of the chest pain calls that I respond to as an EMT. All too often the patient has had multiple episodes of chest pain that they disregarded because the pain "passed" after awhile. In other cases, like one I had the other day, patients sit around in pain for hours before admitting to themselves that they need help. Let me tell you, this behavior is not very smart. It can kill you or take years off your life.

Heart attacks are usually caused by a severe reduction in blood supply to some part of the heart muscle. The reduction occurs when an artery narrows or a clot forms or becomes lodged in it. Either way, loss of blood supply to the muscle causes the muscle to die from lack of oxygen and nutrients. This is often painful and, at this point in time, doctors don't know how to re-grow the muscle once it's dead.

The good news is that heart attacks can be treated before the muscle dies, thereby eliminating or minimizing damage to the heart. However, this treatment needs to be timely. In many hospitals, potential heart attack patients go directly from emergency to the "cath lab" where specialists get to work right away on the diagnosis and treatment options. The results are often wonderful.

Please, readers, be proactive about dealing with either yourself or whoever may be experiencing an unusual chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, or pain in the left arm or neck, perhaps accompanied by dizziness or sweating. Please don't wait to call for an ambulance - just do it. Even if you are not "sure" what is going on, call the ambulance. Heart attack symptoms vary widely, and only the hospital can tell for sure what is happening. The best rule is that if you experience an unusual feeling in your chest, call the ambulance. You don't have to be an older person. This advice applies to everyone.

I get really sad when these calls come way too late. But two of my friends listened to me talking about this matter in recent years, and they got help right away when they felt the pain. I'm happy, because we still have good times together.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gun Control Revisited

I wrote the following as a comment on my last post, then I thought I'd just post it since it clearly states my thoughts on the 2nd amendment.

There are several points of view on the second amendment. However, since many states and localities, and even the federal government, have enacted rather strict controls over some types of guns without having those controls overruled by the Supreme Court, I would say the law of the land allows gun controls.

Also, "militia" is a totally outdated concept that may have had a place in a circa 1800 United States with hardly any standing army, but the term has no meaning now. Although some people believe that Iraq shows armed civilians can effectively fight a military, the bad guys have only been successful killing unarmed civilians and have never won a battle against our troops (IED's are nasty and deadly, but they don't secure territory). The idea that a "militia" could save America from a rogue U.S. military is the fantasy of warrier wannabies.

But, if we really bought into the "militia" idea, then perhaps we should allow civilians the option of stockpiling rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, low yield atomic mines, and, of course, basement-based cruise missiles with larger hydrogen warheads. Any fight with our military should be a "fair fight" from the get-go. Glocks and AK-47's? Fuggetaboutit.

The one area that I do have real trepidation about is the "search" problem (authorizing police to frisk for illegal guns without a warrant). On the one hand, we got a lot of dingbats running around with heat under their shirt, and in this town they use it way too often to maintain their drug territories and do small time bank heists. They need to be controlled. On the other hand, we don't want the fuzz to confiscate our little stash so they can smoke it. We don't want to be controlled. What to do?

At the end of the day, I suppose the search is the right answer. There's no use having a law forbidding a gun if the only time it comes into play is when there's a body on the ground. That's just a little too late for my taste. Maybe the law can exempt the stash or anything else found in a pure gun patdown.

If the Bush administration adopts American Crusader's version of the second amendment, I want first dibs on the atomic mines. I think they are very cool and effective.

Rational Gun Control

Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine says gun-control laws "disarm the law-abiding people, but they leave the criminals free to attack their victims who have no defense."

This is logic typical of people who are so committed to a point of view that they stray over the line into absurdity. Here in New York we have gun control laws for pistols (but not for long guns). It's not easy to get a permit - it costs money and it takes some time - but a law-abiding citizen can get one if they really want one, and then they can own a bunch of registered pistols. Law-abiding citizens are not "disarmed" by New York's tough gun control laws.

In this country the general populace is likely against any gun control law that would, in effect, "disarm" law-abiding citizens. They understand our history of gun ownership rights and our bias for personal freedom and responsibility over government's power to regulate us.

Even though fewer of us hunt or shoot targets nowadays, most people feel that these activities should be available to anyone who wishes to participate. I have a couple of 12-gauges that are used for just those purposes, and I don't think government should be concerned about them unless I start taking them, loaded, into public places. Or unless I start acting strangely, make threats, or are adjudged a hazard to myself or others. And this is where I believe most people draw the line. They want assurances that government is doing logical things to protect them from those who are likely to misuse guns.

I would be the first person to admit there is no such thing as perfect protection. We have laws that attempt to control drunk driving, but many drunks still kill with their cars. Citizens have not pushed for a ban on alcohol in order to stop this carnage, but they do support sanctions against drivers with a history of alcohol abuse as well as those who abet drunken driving by selling alcohol to inebriates who then drive. Similarly, citizens are likely to support laws that attempt to place similar sanctions on gun availability. They do not agree with Jacob Sullam's contention that gun control laws would be overly restrictive.

In my view, we need a baseline national gun control law that sets boundaries for gun acquisition and use, as well as penalties for those who break these laws. States and localities could then, based on their individual situations, impose more stringent rules if they wished. What might these laws include? Here's a few suggestions.

1. Convicted felons and those convicted of violent misdemeanors don't get access to guns of any kind and give up any weapons that they may already own.

2. People who have made suicide threats or are arrested for substance abuse don't get guns and lose any that they might have. Others who live in the same residence as these people must also surrender their weapons until the situation is resolved by mental health and law enforcement authorities.

3. Military-style weapons are banned outright. This would include assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols with large magazines. These weapons are just too dangerous to be in the hands of civilians, and they have no legitimate purpose that justifies their ownership.

4. Law enforcement is empowered to search individuals for concealed unregistered pistols without a warrant. In the city where I live, unregistered pistols kill many people and law enforcement is virtually powerless to go after those who possess them. If we have gun control, we must be able to enforce it.

5. Carrying an unregistered or concealed pistol without a "carry" permit results in an automatic felony conviction and mandatory prison sentence. However, the process for obtaining a "carry" permit should not be so onerous as to constitute a de facto ban on carrying. There are, in fact, rational arguments for allowing private citizens who are properly trained and screened to carry concealed weapons.

America is a democracy. It would be interesting to put these suggestions to a vote versus Mr. Sullam's position on unlimited gun rights. I think I know who would win this election. That's why Mr. Sullam and his friends spend all their time trying to keep the vote from taking place.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Terrible Dilemma: Freedom -vs- Slaughter

Yesterday, when the news of the Virginia Tech shootings came out, I said to my wife "Whoever did this has a lot of history...people should have known this could happen with him."

Today the story came out - the story that his English class writings were so bizarre that a teacher informed the school administration and, when they did nothing, informed law enforcement. Still nothing happened to stop this disturbed person from legally buying guns. Carnage and 32 dead were the result.

How did I know that this was going to be the situation? Easy. I work on the ambulance a lot, and many of our calls are for potential or actual suicides, violent family situations, or persons acting strangely. There are more messed up people out there than the average person could ever imagine. And people who go over the edge almost always have left plenty of previous evidence that they are headed in that direction.

So, what is the dilemma? The dilemma is that in many cases nothing - absolutely nothing - can be done to intervene with people who don't want to be helped. That means that ambulance people, police, employers, and counselors have virtually no power to stop someone who has not yet committed a violent act, no matter how obvious their symptoms.

In New York we have a law that allows for a "mental health arrest". This is not a criminal arrest, but rather a way for law enforcement to get a person admitted to the emergency psyc ward where they can be held against their will and evaluated for three days and maybe longer depending on the assessment. The "wrinkle" is that the person has to be found in such a state that it is obvious from their behavior that they are likely to be a danger to themselves or others. Usually the "MHA" is employed in the case of suicidal persons.

In the case of the Virginia Tech shooter there were no violent predecessor acts, only bizarre writings that said nothing about guns or killings. From my experience, the chance of getting an intervention based on these writings would be exactly zero. In fact, if the person was brought in by law enforcement the police could be charged with unlawful imprisonment. In the case of us ambulance people, we could be charged with kidnapping. Consequently, there is an absolute aversion to restrain these people unless there is hard evidence of violence or a threat of violence. Just writing bizarre words on paper hardly qualifies. This is why the Virginia Tech people were so careful - they could be sued in a heartbeat. Especially at a university, people are allowed to be bizarre.

So, there you have it. Our laws are tilted in the direction of personal freedom - the freedom to be odd and different. You can't be arrested or detained for being odd or different, even though your words, or words on paper, may scare some people silly. If someone does detain you, you are likely to be a bit wealthier after they settle your lawsuit.

No doubt there will be plenty of spears thrown at the "incompetent" Virginia Tech administration and the local law enforcement for not intervening with this raging shooter before he did the incomprehensible. But guess what? If you had been in their shoes, having to cope with all the regulations that surround any kind of restrictions on non-violent individuals, you would have done the same things they did. And all those people would be dead...

Got any ideas about changing these "crazy" laws? Remember, it could be you that someone says is acting strangely.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Speculations on the Lost E-Mails

President Bush's interim spokesperson recently disclosed that perhaps five million emails have been "lost" from the White House computer system. As a somewhat knowledgeable IS person, I had three immediate speculations about possible reasons for this glitch:

1. The mail server specialist graduated from Regent University with a degree in "Fundamentalism", a major where computers and systems knowledge are outlawed because they might provide information contrary to their teachings. Consequently, she prayed about the backup requirement, secure in the knowledge that if God wanted the emails backed up, God would get it done. Her boss, recently promoted from the Attorney General's office, agreed with her plan.

2. The mail server specialist failed to schedule the backups because he had been put on temporary duty at the Pentagon, where he was assigned to "google" the topic "statements obtained by torture". Soon after, he started a priority investigation of the "Rather Than Working" blog, whose attorney author seemed to disagree that torture was an appropriate method of doing pre-trial fact gathering.

3. The mail server specialist was instructed to dump the emails after a random sample of them were found to contain actual names of people who influenced administration policy and actual reasons why policies were adopted. Keeping such information was deemed to provide a national security risk, since that insidious enemy, the U.S. Congress, might obtain access to it. The entire cabinet voted, behind closed doors, to deep six the server.

Of course, these are merely idle speculations. I'm sure the White House promptly will provide a complete and truthful explanation for this innocent mistake which really doesn't represent a problem anyway. Also, I expect the administration will offer any individual or company under investigation by the government the same level of forgiveness for trashing emails as it expects get from us. After all, "Do unto others as you expect them to do unto you" is their motto.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Musings on Obesity

For the past week I've been in Hendersonville, NC, doing a "Mommy visit". She's 86, still vibrant, beautiful, and in great shape. She's been married again for two years to a younger guy who lives for her. He and I played golf today - he thinks of my visits as one long lesson for a fixed fee! They live in a senior living center where they, and almost everyone else in their 80's and 90's are pretty trim as far as their body shape goes. However, their condition is in marked contrast to what we always see on the drive down from Rochester - rampant obesity.

Our drive takes us through West Virginia, southern Virginia, east Tennessee, and western North Carolina, all of which are largely rural and relatively poor. Stopping to eat in these areas brings us face to face with the obesity epidemic. The parade of young and middle aged severely overweight persons never stops. You see young children whose parents limp from the incredible strain their weight puts on their knees, entire families of people who are 50-100 pounds overweight munching down platefuls of greasy food at buffets. These people don't look well off, but they are certainly more than well-fed. It's a sad, sad sight.

USA Today had an article this week that stated 6.8 million Americans, 3% of us, are "morbidly obese", and another 25% are just obese. These statistics have increased significantly in just the past five years. From my experience as an EMT, I have seen firsthand the ravages of obesity. Diabetes and all its horrible complications, usually leading to an early death. Immobility, resulting in people living in the same chair day after day, barely having the strength to get to the bathroom. Heart attacks and life-threatening respiratory illnesses caused by overstressed and inadequate cardiovascular systems. A primary reason why the oldsters in my mother's senior center are "trim" is that almost all the heavy people are dead before they reach the age of 80.

Although these obese people pay a high personal price for being overweight, society also pays a huge price in Medicaid and Social Security Disability costs. Many young obese people cannot work because their joints have deteriorated to the degree they cannot get around, and therefore cannot work any longer - they are "disabled", and they get a monthly check from the government. Their medical costs are enormous, since they require numerous medications, often get surgeries (including amputations), and have frequent hospital visits for heart and respiratory issues. The trend for these costs is up, up, up.

So, should we be angry at those obese people who live restricted lives and cost us a fortune? I don't think so. The truth is that they are usually (but not always) a product of their environment, which is often a place where education, incentive, challenges, and jobs are all substandard. Their lives are dull, their role models are obese, their society shows little in the way of upward mobility. But one thing they can afford is food, and they have plenty of time on their hands to eat it. Another "proof" of this proposition is that many depressed people become obese as they sit listlessly at home. Fixing the obesity problem is going to require more than anger and more than bariatric surgery - it's going to require addressing the social problems in areas where obesity is rampant, and it's going to take a long time.

People who don't understand the issue often want to blame those who provide the food. "Just close the fast food restaurants", they say, or, "Healthy meals at schools". This is the same silly logic as the War on Drugs, which attempts to complete the hopeless task of cutting supply to addicts who will do anything to get their fix. What next? Close Dunkin' Donuts?

There are only two answers to the obesity problem. We could get totalitarian and pull everyone in for body mass measurements, with those over a certain percentage of body fat being sent immediately to a government "fat farm" somewhere in South Dakota. If that solution isn't to our democratic taste, then we need to provide enough education and incentives to modify the decisions of the potentially obese. I could direct some pretty good horror movies for fourth graders, which might scare some of them into skinnyness, but we'd still have to make sure those skinny high school graduates have something useful to do with their lives. A better solution would be to provide kids with enough interesting challenges, physical and mental, that will lead them to live naturally healthy lives. That's the life my kids got - why shouldn't kids in Appalachia and our inner cities have the same chance?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Easter! Bush and Cheney Resign!

So far, 2007 has been a pretty dismal year aside from the economy, which seems to continue trucking along despite unending bad news on the political front. But gas prices are up, home sales are dwindling, and a credit crunch may be on the horizon - so cross your fingers, knock on wood, or rub that rabbit's foot to help keep the economy from tanking by summertime. What this country needs right now is a fresh start, an Easter present, and the best one I can dream of is a joint resignation of our president and vice president.

Following January's installation of the Democratic party's congressional majority, Bush had one last chance to be a statesman. He could have put a smile on his face and all the big issues on the table. He could have asked the Democrats to put their best offers out for each of them, and then started a negotiating process. He could have sold his "surge" with a set of hard conditions for the Iraqi government and a timetable for withdrawal if the conditions were not met. He could have set a quiet tone for rhetoric and political tomfoolery, forcing the Democrats to quiet down or be seen as the instigators of unrest when great possibilities were out there for the taking.

But our illustrious leader did none of these things - no smiles, no offers, no prospect for ending the Iraq occupation, and no end to his sneering or his blatant political hirings and firings. He began his last two years in office with actions that have assurred two years of no progress and a continuation of his free fall in the polls. As the Iraq war continues to lose support on the Republican side and a potential recession looms, he faces the political equivalent of going "belly up" before his term ends. Newspapers may start posting the number of days left in his presidency on the front page, every day... is there any honorable way out of this quicksand?

In the interest of preserving some dignity and honor for this administration, I suggest that President Bush and Vice President Cheney resign as an Easter present to the country. This, of course, would hand over the presidency to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, thereby giving Democrats control of the country almost two years before they will almost certainly take control. This surprise move would force the Democrats to actually do some things prior to the 2008 elections, and give the country some indication as to whether or not they deserve to consolidate power at that time. The stature of both men would improve substantially as a consequence of this selfless act.

Being a religious man, the president could couch the decision in terms of promoting peace in the country and the world - burying the hatchet, so to speak. He could quote Jesus, who on nearing Jerusalem grieved that those around him could not find the way to peace. On this Easter, George Bush and Dick Cheney could start for home with the admonition that those following them make a new start by choosing the way to peace, at home and abroad. And near the end of his speech, he could ask that Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Michael Savage, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and all their close friends give the new administration a free pass for at least six months as a gesture of good will and Christian love.

Yes, Easter is a time of new beginnings. Let it be so!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Energy Emergency

James Canton, President of the Institute for Global Futures, wrote a book I'm reading titled "The Extreme Future". Canton is no hack - he's built a long term profitable business "predicting" the future for major companies and government. His analyses are based on matching facts about current circumstances with variables like growth rates, technology research, and social movements. His predictions cover energy, technology innovation, the workforce, medicine, climate, culture, international affairs, and privacy concerns, and some of them seem pretty wild. But then again, few people in 1977 would have believed a world with ubiquitous computers, heart catheterization, and free long distance calls.

One of Canton's predictions is that the world will run out of oil much faster than most of us would believe. The implications of this future shortage include $300/barrel prices and the need for entirely new sources of energy in my lifetime, and I'm 62 for a few more months. He's got my attention, and fortunately he offers hope that the world's future energy requirements may be met by new and amazing technology, like nanotech. But that's not what I want to discuss right now.

Canton's picture of how the U.S. fits into the world of oil is sobering. We consume about 20 million barrels of oil each day, 12 million of which are imported. At the current price of $64/barrel, that's $768 million spent every day on imported oil. We consume as much oil as Japan and China combined, and 11% of global oil production is devoted to fueling cars and trucks in the United States. Our oil reserves are only about 3% of the world's reserves, and the oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve would increase that by only a fraction of 1%. In other words, we are oil gluttons and we have little oil of our own. Our entire economy depends on obtaining increasingly expensive oil from countries who may or may not wish to sell it to us.

In the face of these simple but scary facts, our government is disturbingly quiet about its plans for ensuring we will have enough energy for future needs or, potentially, short term needs during an international crisis. Our president talks about replacing 20% of our gasoline use with ethanol within 10 years, which some experts believe is a very optimistic proposal. But the real problem with this plan is that it is grossly inadequate in terms of its overall impact on U.S. oil imports. The ethanol solution leaves us incredibly dependent on foreign sources and does nothing to curb the consumption that will grow inexorably as our population grows.

Why is the U.S. government not laying out the whole simple truth for us, and why is the government not doing more to ensure we will have the energy we need in the future? It's not that there is nothing we can do. Europe and Japan are far ahead of the U.S. in nuclear power and alternative power production as a percent of total usage, and their high taxes on oil promote conservation. We just continue to buy SUV's, fill them with cheap $2.80/gallon gas, and sit in traffic jams waiting to get back home to our overly large, energy-inefficient abodes. And our government smiles on this behavior - why?

One argument for keeping the status quo on U.S. energy policy is that so much of our economy depends on heavy use of oil. Our car factories build large, expensive, heavy cars, and we have an enormous infrastructure that supports the sale, service, and fueling of these vehicles. Increasing the mileage of our vehicles or taxing oil more heavily will slow down the employment and profits of this infrastructure, and perhaps slow our economy. The losers would clearly be some of the very powerful players in industrial America - autos and oil. And, of course, the average American would not happily downsize into slower, more efficient vehicles or smaller, more efficient homes. Big corporations and many individuals love the status quo, and this is the constituency our government is more than willing to placate.

Canton is blunt about where the current policy has got us. He says, "This era (of cheap oil) is over, and Americans are ill-prepared to meet the challenges of either an energy-restricted future, characterized by slow growth, or one in which expensive energy curbs business productivity and national GDP growth. Everyone will need to face the stark realities of an energy-restricted and costly future. The time to have acted was ten to twenty years ago. Now the world will have to play catch-up, especially America."

Leadership is all about managing the "big issues". The Bush administration, filled with incompetent political hacks and reactionaries, has managed none of these issues during the past six years. Not entitlements, not education, not immigration, not climate change, and, perhaps most embarassingly, not energy during a period when virtually every knowledgeable person sees the end of cheap energy just over the horizon. Even minimal CAFE increases were too risky for our president to spend his "political capital" on. History will not be kind to George Bush, but cursing him will provide little solace for our children.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Groundhog Day" at the White House

I watched our president's news conference this morning and I couldn't suppress memories of Bill Murray's movie "Groundhog Day". He wakes up every morning to the same situation, just as I hear the same refrains, over and over, from George Bush regarding the war in Iraq. It's as though we are always starting from scratch with a clean slate, with no past to take into consideration.

Today everthing is starting anew with General Petreaus. It's the "surge", a new strategy that will make everything right. The senate confirmed him, so the plan is right. We will pacify Baghdad, and all will be fine over there. Why then, am I reminded of all the other assurances of success over the past four years? First it was the military victory and the anticipated glorious rising of the grateful Iraqi people. Then it was Saddam's capture and the end of Sunni/Baathist hopes for keeping power. Then it was the elections, now two years in the past, that were to bring democratic decisions that would bring some kind of harmony to the warring parties. Now it's the "surge", which is another word for military victory. Every morning it's the same old problem - Iraq is in chaos, militarily and politically. And each day we get a new solution along with grand hopes for success.

Iraq, unlike the movies, does not give us a free pass to start over again and again. There are huge costs involved - dead and wounded, giant budget deficits, world opinion - each time the president hits the "restart button". Why should we believe that this particular "Groundhog Day" will be the last? Why should we believe that George Bush can do it, this time?

I'm a pessimist on the potential for success of this latest attempt to get Iraq under control. Those with a track record of successes have the best chance to lead another successful enterprise, but this president has six years of history in office and little to show for it. If it's true that the past is the best predictor of the future, Bush's latest Iraq strategy will continue to build his case study of mismanagement on a colossal scale. But to Bush, every morning is a new day and the Iraq situation just came to his attention. For him, all those other "Groundhog Days" never happened.

It's time for the movie to be over. I'm tired of seeing the same ending over and over again. Bring the troops home.