Enough with the Guns Already

Guns in AmericaLast night, ten miles from my home, a disturbed young man walked into a movie theater and started shooting into a crowd. As of now, 12 people are dead and 38 are wounded. While it was not in my neighborhood, it is one I know well. I have seen movies at the Century 16 Theater in the past and it is across the street from my Dad’s office.

Why?

Like in 1999, when two kids walked into their high school and started shooting students and teachers in the lunch room and library, murdering 13 innocent people, the first thing we asked is why.

Why did someone find it necessary to murder 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, and why did someone find it necessary to murder 12 people last night? Why did someone think it was their right to take an innocent life? Why did someone think it is their last resort? Why did someone think it was the right thing to do? Why the pointless killings?

Guns

As angry as I am at the individuals responsible, this country’s asinine gun control laws certainly make it easier for someone to kill.

I could walk into a store and buy an M-16 automatic assault rifle. For only $729, I  can walk into Cabela’s and buy an AR-15. The popular M4 variation fires .233 caliber bullets faster than one every second.

You don’t need an automatic murder rifle to hunt deer. You don’t need to fire more than one bullet every second to hunt deer. You don’t need an AR-15 assault rifle to hunt deer. You don’t need an M-4, M-16, AK-47, Tech 9, or any other automatic weapon to hunt deer. Those weapons were designed for one thing, to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

The Second Amendment

The next person that brings up the Second Amendment when discussing this deserves to be punched in the face. The Second Amendment was written long before these murderous weapons were designed that can kill so many people so quickly.

The intent of the amendment was to allow citizens to protect themselves from a tyrannical government. That was a relevant fear at the time, as the Bill of Rights was signed on the heels of the Revolutionary War, a war uprising against a tyrannical ruling king on the other side of the world.

Today, however, things have changed. As much as many of you may hate Barack Obama, he is not going to oppress you and enslave you. As much as I hated George W. Bush as president, I was not concerned for my safety and well-being, nor that of any fellow law abiding American citizens.

Time for Change

Need I remind you that at the time the Second Amendment was written, slavery was legal. Women could not vote. Unless you were a white, property owning male, you were a second class citizen.

As repulsive as those cultural norms were at that time, our antiquated gun laws are today.

I do not propose banning all firearms. While I do not believe in it, I do not wish to prevent people from going hunting. I see no reason a mentally healthy, law abiding Americans shouldn’t be able to buy a single action rifle for hunting and “self-defense” purposes, though it is statistically more likely for that weapon to cause an injury at home than successfully defend you against an intruder.

The only reason automatic weapons exist is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Those should be illegal. Handguns that can be easily concealed in a pocket or waistband are not necessary either, outside of law enforcement.

We need to move on from our old, violent ways toward a future that can be safer and better for all of us.

I know there are detractors that say a bad guy can get a gun anyway. Maybe that’s true, but we don’t have to make it easy on them.

Take Action

If you are as sickened by these events as I am, please join me in taking action. Don’t just complain on the internet, contact your senators and house representatives in Washington or your state legislators and implore them to take action against dangerous gun ownership.

We should pause and think about the victims and their families, and do everything we can to support them. But don’t let them die in vain. Let’s use this moment as one for action to make America better tomorrow.

Image by Marcin Wichary / flickr

Do Sex Scandals Really Matter?

Anthony Weiner Sex ScandalJust a few weeks ago, New York Representative Anthony Weiner resigned from his congressional seat due to a Twitter induced sex scandal. The nation, particularly right wing talk show hosts, was in a frenzy. “Weiner” jokes, the nation was wrapped up with Weiner’s weiner. However, how big of a deal was it?

All Sides are Guilty

If you think that members of congress, governors, mayors, and other politicians do not cheat on their spouses all of the time, you are blindly ignorant to the facts in Washington and state capitals around the country. While the vast majority of our elected officials are well behaved, upstanding people, not all are.

I could spout out a list of cheaters. These range from the recent Governator scandal (Republican) to the most famous case of all, when President Clinton (Democrat) had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Also, not too long in our past Senator Larry Craig (Republican) was arrested for soliciting gay sex in an airport restroom.

Sex scandals involving female elected officials are harder to find, but they exist too. For example, in 1998 Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (Republican) admitted to a long term affair with a married man.

Job Performance

I personally do not care about an official’s performance in the bathroom; I care about his or her performance in the professional world. These are not members of the clergy, they are generally business and legal professionals who took the jump to politics.

If my Congressman has an affair, I don’t really care as long as the job is being done. As long as my district’s interests are well represented and my representative is working toward an effective and efficient government, why does it matter what he does in his personal life.

Moral Standards

If my Rabbi were in an affair, I would demand that he be fired. I do not hold politicians to the same standard.

As Chris Rock famously said, “he ain’t Pastor Clinton.” He is just a man. He is a man with a job to do. Should politicians be held to a higher moral standard when the divorce rate in the United States is 50%?

No. That is ridiculous.

What Do You Think?

Should our politicians be held to a higher moral standard than the rest of us? Should they have to resign if they are caught in an affair? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by David Boyle.

The Government and Abortion

photo © 2004 billy verdin | more info (via: Wylio)The United States of America has a fascinating history. It was first settled by people trying to escape religious persecution in Europe. At the same time, those people had very strong religious beliefs of their own.

As time moved forward, our Found Fathers established a nation with Judeo/Christian ideals but emphasized a separation of church and state. I have very strong religious beliefs, but I keep those out of my political views.

How the Country Feels About Abortion

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues that the United States grapples with every election cycle. A huge number of people support abortion rights and a woman’s right to choose what happens in her body until the birth of the fetus. It just so happens that the majority of these people, though not all, are left leaning and not very religious.

On the other hand, a large group of primarily religious and right wing Americans believe that life begins at conception. To those people, abortion is murder. They try to force that view on people through lobbying and often gruesome protests.

At the end of the day, however, abortion rights are protected by the United States government. The landmark Supreme Court Case Row v. Wade made it clear that the Federal government cannot stop abortions.

How I Feel About Abortion

My religion says abortion is wrong. I find the act of an abortion horrifying. I never plan be implicit in a where the abortion question comes to light. I hope that it is never something directly in my life. However…

In this country, founded on freedom and separation of church and state, my personal religious beliefs are irrelevant.

How Our Government Should Treat Abortion

This is a country founded on freedom. Freedom includes abortion. No matter how I feel, or how right wing religious people feel, it is no our place to tell someone what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

In certain circumstances, such as rape or incest, there is no question that abortions may be appropriate. There are gray situations where a young girl becomes pregnant unintentionally where a baby could ruin her future. While I have little sympathy for her because she made the unfortunate choices that led to pregnancy, our society as a whole is a better place if she has the opportunity to graduate from high school, hopefully college, and become a productive member of society able to support a child.

Poverty does not help our society. Starving single mothers and children do not help anyone.

The reality is that, as a whole, society is better off with legal abortions. Even more, it is not our right to tell people what they can and can’t do. Once a child is born, abortion is murder. Until that point, we cannot allow religious beliefs to infiltrate the democratic principles on which this country was founded.

Please share your thoughts on this controversial topic in the comments below. Remember to be respectful. This is a heated topic and I will delete comments that are not constructive and civil regardless of the viewpoint.

The New Energy Economy

Trojan Nuclear Power Plantphoto © 2006 Tobin The world is on its way to a scary place.  With talk of $5 per gallon gas, the world is again looking at energy as a major concern for the future.

I have spent a lot of time studying the energy situation.  In a course on the business and viability of the energy industry, I learned about coal, natural gas, oil, solar, hydro, geothermal, wave, tidal, wind, and other energy sources.  My semester project assessed the future of near shore wave based power sources.  In other words, I became an expert in powering our future.

The energy solution for our future will take multiple steps, but I have only seen one viable method to power our homes, businesses, and cars without destroying the planet and relying on a finite energy source.  That solution is a multi-tiered nuclear based energy solution.

To preface the solution, I want to discuss the most common concerns about nuclear energy: safety and waste.

Safety

Nuclear energy is the safest base load power system in existence.  I would rather have a nuclear plant in my backyard than breathe in the toxic fumes from a fossil fuel plant.  The only major nuclear disaster in history took place under extraordinary circumstances in a power plant with fewer safety controls than anything in the United States.  That, of course, is Chernobyl in Ukraine.

The Chernobyl incident took place during a shift change while a test was underway.  When the core meltdown occurred, the safety systems were turned off and the engineers were unable to extract the rods from the core.  This led to the explosion that devastated the area surrounding Chernobyl and impacted places hundreds of miles away.  This is almost impossible in the developed world with modern technology.

But people say, “What about Three Mile Island?”  What about it?  Everything worked perfectly.  The core overheated so all of the automated safety systems were triggered.  A small amount of radioactive gas was released, but no one was exposed to more radiation than a hospital patient with a broken bone.  People that lived just down the road were perfectly fine.  Everyone that worked in the plant was fine.  It worked.

Modern technology is even better.  Thirty years after Three Mile Island, safety systems are so advanced that I would rather live with a few nuclear plants in my city than have to look up at the “brown cloud” of pollution on my skyline.

Environment

Nuclear waste is an issue with today’s laws, but that can be changed.  A new nuclear fuel rod contains a specific isotope of uranium refined in a way that it can create the maximum amount of electricity safely.  A spent fuel rod contains a small amount of that isotope, an unusable isotope, and plutonium.

Because of a Cold War era effort to restrict the Soviets from getting hold of the plutonium, a law was passed restricting the recycling process of spent fuel rods.  In countries like France, the spent rod is broken down and recycled.  The good isotope is extracted, the unusable isotope is re-refined, and the plutonium can be used in a new fuel rod.  In the end, only about 3% of the fuel rod is left for waste and the dangerous half-life is reduced from tens of thousands of years to about 300 years.

Storage is also a question, but one with an answer.  The 3% of spent fuel that is waste needs to go into a secure, safe place far from people.  There is a place just for that.  The United States government dug a giant hole in Yucca Mountain, Nevada for spent nuclear fuel.  Problem solved.

The Nuclear Energy Economy

So, how does nuclear energy solve our problems?  It can be used to replace the bulk of our oil imports, it can eliminate the use of dirty energy sources like coal and natural gas.  It can reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources and reduce pollution.  That is a win-win.

I propose that nuclear energy is used to cover the “base load” power needs of the country.  Base load is the lowest level of power usage during any given day.  Turning a coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plant on and off is very difficult, so they have to be run twenty four hours a day.  That is the major source for our base load power usage.

For mid and peak usage, we can use renewable energy sources like wind, hydroelectric, and solar power.  In most places around the world, these power sources, used in combination with nuclear power for base load, would cover 100% of our energy needs.

Cars can be nuclear powered too.  A plug-in hybrid car would take advantage of both batteries and a gas tank.  The average person drives less per day than the average battery charge.  Just plug in at work and home and you have all of the power you need for your daily life.  In the event you drain the battery, a hybrid oil or ethanol powered engine (ideally E85 so it can take either oil or ethanol) will kick on and get you the rest of the way.  But don’t plug in today for environmental reasons, you are just plugging into a coal power plant that is spilling carbon into the atmosphere.

Skeptics

There are people against every form of energy.  Coal and gas pollute.  Solar and wind are inefficient.  Hyrdo doesn’t have enough capacity.  Nuclear is expensive.  I could go on.  However, there is only one power source that can safely and cleanly power our growing energy needs into the future.  That is nuclear.

Election Day

I VotedToday may be a pivotal day for the future of the United States.  The next two years are going to be dramatically impacted and the effects may linger for decades.  Americans are going to the polls to decide who is going to run our cities, states, and country.

I have found that I am generally very centrist on most issues.  I like to take a logical approach to most political issues.  While I lean toward the left on virtually all social issues and toward the right on all Middle East issues, I am not a single issue voter.  When I fill out my ballot, I try to focus on the whole package.

The Economy and Jobs

It appears that the Republicans are going to sweep in and take control of the House of Representatives, may take control of the Senate, and will be winning in many gubernatorial and state elections around the country.  However, as far as I can tell, this is backlash for the Democrats not being able to turn around Bush’s economy in a short two years.

As far as I am concerned, the economy is not so bad.  I have the same great job I did a couple of years ago.  If you are educated, employers are hiring.  If you are not educated, you cannot blame the economy for your inability to get a job.  You need to go back to school.

Companies need to adapt to maintain profits and earn a return for their investors.  That adapting usually takes place through automation and mergers.  Both automation and mergers involve layoffs.  Companies are learning how to operate with fewer employees and lower overhead expenses.  That is the way of the future.  In India and China, technical schools that teach computer programming and other high tech skills are churning out qualified graduates.

This may not be a jobless recovery, and we are recovering, it is an economic shift to companies running with fewer employees.  If you think the economy is bad, just look at unemployment rates for high school graduates, college graduates, and those with advanced degrees.  We are under-educated, not under staffing.

Education

As I just wrote, we have an education problem in this country.  A four year college degree at a public school should be the right of every single American citizen.  Around the world, people gasp at the idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars for a degree.  Our government needs to support education so we have a long-run solution to our “economic” problems today.

I support increased state spending on higher education and higher federal support for students and their families.  It is vital for the future success of the United States that we stay an economic and technological superpower.  Uneducated Americans will have a hard time doing that.

Healthcare

If there was a single issue that I cared about more than any other in the last election, it was healthcare.  I believe it is a human right for every single person in the world to have access to modern medicine.  Period.

We have a responsibility as a people to ensure people do not die on the streets from preventable and treatable illnesses.  In Canada, a country with universal healthcare, the cancer survival rate is higher than in the United States.  What do they know that we don’t?

International Issues

I support Israel.  I support Western democratic ideals.  However, the world has billions of people that do not.  We need to defend ourselves and our allies against those who wish us harm and we need to work together with those that do not wish us harm.

China is a very different place than the United States.  It is quickly rising to become an economic superpower.  We need to work together on environmental and economic issues to ensure a sustainable, healthy world in our future.

Iran has made it clear that it wants to destroy Israel, a vital ally, and hates the west.  It is also building nuclear weapons.  A nuclear Iran is unacceptable and needs to be immediately addressed.

There are 1.2 billion+ Muslims in the world.  Many want to live a peaceful life.  Many millions want to fight a violent Jihad against the West.  This is a sensitive and complex issues that needs to be addressed carefully.  Read Thomas Friedman and Sam Huntington’s books and columns to gain a better understanding of what is really going on in the Middle East.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow we will know who is running the country for the next few years.  I hope everyone made the right choices to help us progress to a better future.  Not that the present is bad, but there is always room to improve.  I wish our new leaders good luck in making this country a great place to live.

Image: sj_sanders