Friday, April 24, 2009

 

Torture's Double-Edged Sword

Okay, let's stipulate that getting mired into discussions of whether torture "works" -- or if what the US did to terror suspects in the months after 9/11 was, strictly speaking "torture" -- is not exactly at the top of the Obama administration wish list.  

It risks, as many have said, becoming a "distraction."  

But, is this really a discussion that the opposition party wants either?  Far more troubling for Republicans -- who should be trying to craft a forward-looking agenda -- is that the very little air-space in which the minority party is able to play is actually be taken up by the discussion of Bush-era policies. 

Consider what this debate has done:

1) It's made former VP Dick Cheney even more the face of the GOP than Rush Limbaugh could ever pretend to be. His interviews immediately eclipse anything from any Republican congressional leader or governor.

2) GOP leaders --  including Boehner -- are being drawn into this debate instead of offering alternatives on health-care, energy and other policies. The White House can handle a variety of issues at the same time. The minority party can't.

3) While the GOP feels that it is on offense when discussing national security and terror-fighting tactics, the fact is that ultimately the party is playing defense -- of the decisions made by the former administration. That would be an administration that is supremely unpopular, fairly or otherwise. 

Barack Obama, for all his obvious flip-flopping, at least appears reluctant to pursue the torture issue -- while continuing to push his main agenda.  But the the GOP seems eager to engage him on it.  As a result, the president looks like he's proceeding forPublish Postward, while Republicans are battling a war that most Americans want to move away from. Geez, even Shepherd Smith is dropping F-bombs over the discussion of torture. 

Conversely, Republicans end up defending something that sort-of-sounds-like "torture." In short, this strikes me as a lose-lose proposition.  

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

 

Boulder, CO's Unofficial State Holiday

Every year on April 20 at 4:20 PM, the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder becomes ground zero for "celebrating" civil disobedience of state mariquana laws. Though, technically, I'm not sure if this counts as civil disobedience given that the cops choose not to enforce the drug laws: No one was ticketed or arrested at this year's event which attracted between 8,000-10,000.

Coverage is right here. No, your humble blogger has never taken part. I first heard about it just this year from a former student who was volunteering at the Conference on World Affairs.

The video -- hosted by a CU alum and regular CWA volunteer Ryan Van Duzer -- must be seen to get the full effect. View it either in the newspaper link above or right below:



And previous proceedings can be seen here and here.

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Sticking To Their Guns

Last Thursday was the two-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre that killed 33 students and teachers.

Earlier this month, a gunman killed 13 people in a Binghamton immigrant civic center before turning the weapon on himself.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado that took the lives of 12 students and one teacher and sparked a national debate on the nature of violence in the United States.

How much has changed? Well, in one certain area, a fair bit.

It will undoubtedly come as a surprise to many, given what seems like an otherwise movement to the left on a number of issues (size of government, increased spending, more open foreign policy), but there is actually less support for gun control now than there was 10 years ago. In the summer of 1999, after something of a wave of shootings, 63 percent of Americans supported stricter controls on firearms -- 46 percent "strongly" supported that notion, about twice as many as "strongly" opposed more gun control.

Now, much of this has to do do with the differences between the culture of the North East and the Mountain West. But, given the close proximity between Boulder and Columbine, if there was any place where

But, today, only 39 percent favor stricter gun control laws. In fact, the numbers have been falling fairly steadily over the last decade -- 54 percent in 2001, 50 percent in 2007 and now down to the current level. And, it seems that the biggest drop has come from independents, who appear to be lining up with conservatives on this issue -- whereas they've sided with liberals and Democrats on most issues during the last two elections.

Furthermore, in a development that might be troubling to those seeking stricter gun control, it seems that just the fear that an Obama administration will seek stronger laws has actually sparked more gun and ammo sales. Figure that last week's report on so-called "right-wing extremism" -- and the Department of Homeland Security's defensive approach to it -- will only exacerbate that.

But beyond all of the shootings -- and recent political events -- one can't ignore the continued impact of 9/11 on the national psyche. That event, more than anything else, may have forced Americans to recognize the importance of guns -- not as misused by psychos -- but as properly used for self-defense. The cops and the military won't always be there to protect individuals. Some times, a citizen has to depend on his or herself. For that matter, even Barack Obama gave mild concurrence to last year's Supreme Court decision recognizing an individual right to bear arms.

While this viewpoint might not have widespread resonance in blue states, but it does in the red -- or purple -- states. There, independents vote with their permits.

I noticed this sensibility during my recent visit to Boulder, which despite it's rampant liberalism is very gun-friendly. I chatted with one student there who fit neither the profile of a tie-dyed CU hippie nor a Western redneck. In fact, he was majoring in engineering (or maybe it was astrophysics). Regardless, the average person might think of him as somewhat nerdy. Yet, here he was training for his Concealed Carry Permit. After he completes his training, the only real restriction that he has on carrying a gun in the state was that he wasn't allowed to do so on the university campus.

Later in the week, an older gentleman -- in all other respects, rather moderate-liberal -- showed me his concealed-carry permit. Ah, just imagine how Michael Bloomberg would freak over ordinary citizens (or college students attending any New York campuses -- say, Columbia or NYU) were permitted to have a concealed-carry license. But here in a college town, only 40 miles from one of the more notorious school shootings in US history, there is no paranoid fear of guns.

It seems that that attitude seems to be the increasing sentiment in the country.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

 

Wicket Cool

Order continues in the universe: St. John's College defeated the US Naval Academy 4-1 in matches played Sunday. Alas, a conflict with the Legislative Correspondents Association Dinner up in Albany prevented me from making the trip down to Annapolis this year.

Congrats to the Johnnies for keeping the tradition going!

Fortunately, I will be in Naptown this week for the Board of Visitors & Governors & Alumni Association meetings.

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