Category Archives: USA

Crafting A Coherent Climate Policy

With the BP oil spill, America has witnessed first-hand the consequences of inaction on climate change and the logical conclusion of the “drill baby, drill” philosophy. Hundreds of millions of gallons of petroleum later, our country has awoken to the looming environmental catastrophes that will be the result of the business-as-usual approach. Today, it is not a question of whether global warming and energy policy must be addressed, but rather how they should they be dealt with.

Workers scooping up oil on the Mississippi shoreline.

In the House, a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s environmental and energy policies was approved last year. The House draft, known as the Waxman-Markey bill, would reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050 and by 2020 require utility companies to meet 20 percent of their energy needs through renewable resources. It would do so by setting up a cap-and-trade system, in which permits to pollute would be bought and sold by businesses on an open exchange, which would promote greater energy efficiency and encourage the use of more environmentally sustainable practices.

In the Senate, action on climate change remains stalled by byzantine parliamentary rules, under which the Republicans have tried to filibuster to death anything and everything the Democrats have proposed. Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA) are putting together a package that will probably be weaker than the House version — which was already a compromise — and whose passage will be far from assured. While this is disappointing, Democrats must be willing to take a half-loaf and renegotiate, rather than grab for the whole thing and wind up with nothing.

Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA) unveiling climate change legislation.

One part of the House legislation that must not be watered down is the mandate for a cap-and-trade system. It is essential that this mechanism be put into place, because it will concentrate market forces on the difficult — and potentially lucrative — task of harnessing the power of the sun and wind to produce clean and reliable energy. Without cap-and-trade there can be no comprehensive energy bill and there can be no solution to climate change.

Congress can do even more to encourage innovation in green technology by ending corporate welfare for oil companies that ravage our waterways and wallets, and giving those subsidies to corporations that seek to move us away from unsustainable sources of fuel. But, the research and development needed to realize the goal of clean energy cannot be funded simply by government grants — it requires the taxpayer to shoulder some of the burden. This can be accomplished through a slight increase in the gas tax to $1, an idea repeatedly espoused by foreign policy expert and columnist, Thomas Friedman.

The once and future energy source -- the windmill.

The largess generated by this new levy could be used to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure and jump-start the green jobs industry. Taxes, while they raise money for the government, also modify people’s behavior and spending habits. In this vein, a surcharge on petroleum would push Americans towards more fuel-efficient cars and away from gas guzzlers. And to sweeten the pot, the government could resurrect the highly-successful cash-for-clunkers program.

In the end, any bill addressing climate change and energy policy must deal with not just the symptoms of our addiction to fossil fuels — the Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills — but also the root causes of it. By taking a holistic approach, we can stop petroleum from fouling our shorelines, while slowing and eventually halting the progress of global warming, and at the same time, no longer seeing our foreign policy held hostage to the whims of petty dictators.

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Obama’s MacArthur Moment

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama sacked the general implementing his counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, on the heels of unflattering remarks the military leader and his aides made about the commander-in-chief’s national security team in a recently published Rolling Stone article. McChrystal flew in from Afghanistan and arrived in Washington yesterday morning with his tail between his legs, as he offered Obama his mea culpa and tendered his resignation. Shortly after, surrounded by the country’s military leadership and his Cabinet in the Rose Garden, the president announced the general’s replacement, the highly respected David Petraeus, whose surge strategy brought Iraq back from the brink, and declared that while he “welcome[s] debate, [he] won’t tolerate division.”

President Barack Obama announcing McChrystal's sacking.

While Obama went to lengths to assure the public that the firing was “a change in personnel, but … not a change in policy,” the situation nonetheless echoed the events of an earlier age, namely, when President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of command during the Korean War. In that conflict, which was one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the Cold War, the commander-in-chief and his subordinate had a genuine disagreement about policy, with the general publicly advocating the abandonment of the Truman Doctrine and pushing for the invasion of China, while his boss sought to prevent the Cold War from turning hot. When MacArthur — who I happen to believe was right — refused to carry out Truman’s orders he was fired.

While Truman’s policy of containment may have prolonged the Cold War, and though the general may have been correct in his convictions, the president’s decision to fire MacArthur was unmistakably right. From time to time, this country’s armed forces need to be reminded that America’s defense policy is under civilian control and that we are not run by a military junta where generals run the show. Ultimately, while the military leadership does possess a voice on matters of defense and national security; in a democracy, final say must rest with the commander-in-chief elected by the people.

US President Harry Truman with General Douglas MacArthur, who he would later fire for insubordination.

Men in uniform must respect the limits the Constitution places on them for the American experiment to survive. We have had many presidents with distinguished military careers; from Grant, to Theodore Roosevelt, to Eisenhower, and to George H.W. Bush. And all of them knew that they could not wear their military uniform while in the White House. The sacking of insubordinate generals predates Truman and stretches back to Lincoln’s firing of McClellan during the Civil War. In the end, as McChrystal learned the hard way, it is the general’s job to implement strategy, not to make it or gripe about those formulating it.

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Curbing Gun Violence

Today, there was an interesting article in the New York Times, titled  ” Pastor Urges Flock To Bring Guns To Church” written by Kathleen Seelye, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/26/us/26guns.html?_r=1&ref=us. This article highlights America’s growing gun problems in the Age of Obama. State legislatures have begun to legalize gun carriage in restaurants, bars, and even schools. This is unacceptable. Obviously when you go into a bar and drink alcohol you are impairing your mental faculties and should therefore not carry weapons on your person, lest acting in poor judgment you kill someone. Even the cowboys of the Wild West checked their guns at the saloon door. Carrying guns in a school building threatens students, who in a fit of rage could be shot by one of their peers. We have seen in the past thirty years that places where gun laws are the loosest are areas where gun violence is most prevalent, notably the South and the Interior West. In Virginia where the Virginia Tech shooting occurred and in Colorado where the Colombine High School massacre happened, gun laws are flimsy at best and reckless at worst. Seng-hui Cho, the student who murdered dozens of his peers at Virginia Tech would have never have passed a background check in New York City, which would have uncovered his past of mental instability. The Colombine murderers, who used legal firearms, would have never harmed a soul if they lived in Washington, D.C., where handguns were banned.

The fact is that gun control laws do work in reducing violent crime and have succeeded miraculously in cities like New York and D.C.  We should advocate for pragmatic regulations on guns which enhance safety while reducing violence. These measures should include: reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004, reviving the five-day waiting period needed to purchase a gun under the Brady bill, allowing federal and state authorities to share information about firearms, maintaining gun-free zones around schools and bars, and criminalizing concealed carriage of weapons. There is no reason why a civilian needs an M-16 or an Uzi with cop-killer bullets to protect themselves, a hand-gun with standard ammunition is just fine. A five-day waiting period ensures that the weapons vendors and the government can perform necessary background checks to ensure that the buyer is of sound mental state, has not committed a felony, and is old enough to purchase a firearm. Allowing information-sharing among various levels of government enhances enforcement officials’ ability to protect us. Gun-free zones are important in creating safe havens for young children where they can learn and develop away from the harsh realities of the outside world. Concealed carry allows people to secrete weapons in public and private and undermines the goal of safe communities.

More important than all this, though, is eradicating America’s gun culture which glorifies weapons as Americana as apple pie. We will see real change when going to the firing range and learning how to shoot a gun is not an integral part of growing up in the South. We will see real change when people no longer feel the need to show their masculinity by purchasing loads of firearms. Together, today we must work for this, so it is reality tomorrow.

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