Category Archives: News

Mexico’s drug war

Mexico’s drug war — The Big Pic­ture — Boston​.com

In Decem­ber of 2006, Mexico’s new Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug car­tels, revers­ing ear­li­er gov­ern­ment pas­sive­ness. Since then, the gov­ern­ment has made some gains, but at a heavy price — gun bat­tles, assas­si­na­tions, kid­nap­pings, fights between rival car­tels, and reprisals have result­ed in over 9,500 deaths since Decem­ber 2006 — over 5,300 killed last year alone. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma recent­ly announced extra agents were being deployed to the bor­der and Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton heads to Mex­i­co today to pur­sue a broad diplo­mat­ic agen­da — over­shad­owed now by spi­ral­ing drug vio­lence and fears of greater cross-bor­der spillover. Offi­cials on both sides of the bor­der are com­mit­ted to stop­ping the vio­lence, and stem­ming the flow of drugs head­ing north and guns and cash head­ing south.

2 Baja California state police stand guard at a captured marijuana greenhouse in the basement of a ranch in Tecate, Mexico on March 12, 2009. (REUTERS/Jorge Duenes)
2 Baja Cal­i­for­nia state police stand guard at a cap­tured mar­i­jua­na green­house in the base­ment of a ranch in Tecate, Mex­i­co. (REUTERS/Jorge Duenes)

I know it may sound naïve, but I have to won­der if a lot of the resid­ual vio­lence would be quelled if mar­i­jua­na were made legal.1 I know drugs aren’t the only rea­son for bor­der con­trol, but I also won­der if the bor­der sit­u­a­tion would be dif­fer­ent too. I believe enough in the pow­er of the free mar­ket that it could reg­u­late the — shall we say — more col­or­ful char­ac­ters in the indus­try.

Or maybe  I’ve just been watch­ing too much Weeds. Seri­ous­ly, that show is fun­ny, but I’m left after watch­ing sea­son 4 with a vague uneasi­ness. I think it got to me, that there are actu­al­ly peo­ple out there whose lives become whol­ly con­sumed by the drug pro­fes­sion.

  1. I’m cer­tain­ly not eager to try it out, for the record. []

The long road ahead

America’s Best Places For Alter­na­tive Ener­gy — Forbes​.com

The “cubic mile of oil” – a met­ric rough­ly equiv­a­lent to the amount of oil con­sumed world­wide each year – is fre­quent­ly used to explain the chal­lenge fac­ing solar, wind, geot­her­mal and bio­mass pow­er.

So what would it take to replace the amount of ener­gy in a cubic mile of oil? Rough­ly 4.2 bil­lion solar rooftops, 300 mil­lion wind tur­bines, 2,500 nuclear pow­er plants or 200 Three Gorges Dams, accord­ing to Men­lo Park, Calif., non­prof­it research insti­tute SRI Inter­na­tion­al.

In oth­er words, no sin­gle cat­e­go­ry of renew­able ener­gy is grow­ing any­where near the speed it needs to bear the full brunt of dis­plac­ing car­bon-emit­ting fos­sil fuels any­time soon.


While there is no doubt that wind, solar and geot­her­mal [pow­er] have ample ener­gy to pow­er the plan­et – the sun­light that hits Earth in a sin­gle hour con­tains enough ener­gy to fuel the human pop­u­la­tion for a year – they will need years to mature before they reach any­thing approach­ing their poten­tial. Oil has had more than a cen­tu­ry to mature, and its short­com­ings remain painful­ly obvi­ous even now.

Hope­ful­ly this isn’t a sur­prise to most, but it looks like we’ll need a lot of hard work — cer­tain­ly not just a bunch of peo­ple and com­pa­nies “going green” in name — to real­ly effect envi­ron­men­tal change. That’s a glass of cold water.

On the Dignity of Life

I’m a Chris­t­ian and I’m vot­ing for Barack Oba­ma on Tues­day (in large part) because of his stance on life issues.

I had intend­ed to write a longer post about how I think a pro-life stance must be holis­tic, incor­po­rat­ing not only the issue of abor­tion, but I have not. So I will be bor­row­ing words.

Tim point­ed me to an arti­cle by Jim Wal­lis from Sojourn­ers Mag­a­zine talk­ing to James Dob­son. Dob­son takes a very con­ser­v­a­tive (and nar­row, in my opin­ion) Chris­t­ian view­point on the elec­tion. Wal­lis responds on the issue of abor­tion and what it means to be “pro-life”:

You [Dob­son] make a mis­take when you assume that younger Chris­tians don’t care as much as you about the sanc­ti­ty of life. They do care — very much — but they have a more con­sis­tent eth­ic of life. Both broad­er and deep­er, it is inclu­sive of abor­tion, but also of the many oth­er assaults on human life and dig­ni­ty. For the new gen­er­a­tion, pover­ty, hunger, and dis­ease are also life issues; cre­ation care is a life issue; geno­cide, tor­ture, the death penal­ty, and human rights are life issues; war is a life issue. What hap­pens to poor chil­dren after they are born is also a life issue.

And there was an inter­est­ing point from the arti­cle to which Wal­lis links:

While many Chris­tians dis­agree on the legal ques­tions sur­round­ing abor­tion, togeth­er we can and must pur­sue prac­ti­cal steps that actu­al­ly reduce abor­tion rates. Three-fourths of women who have an abor­tion say a pri­ma­ry rea­son is that they can­not afford to raise a child, so reduc­ing pover­ty and sup­port­ing low-income women is a good place for our can­di­dates to start.

I became Catholic this year and while we dis­cussed pro-life issues in RCIA, I was nev­er told (nor in Mass today) which way to vote in this elec­tion.

I advise every­one, of any moral back­ground, to vote with your con­science on Tues­day. Each of us must make an esti­ma­tion of which can­di­date will do the best for our coun­try and every­one there­in — and such deci­sions are dif­fi­cult and are hard­ly cut and dry. In my opin­ion, on every mat­ter oth­er than abor­tion, it is clear that Oba­ma has (and I would argue Democ­rats in gen­er­al have) more respect for life, and that plays a very big part in my upcom­ing vote on Tues­day.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Bad for you, bad for the environment?

I start­ed look­ing up high-fruc­tose corn syrup after those dubi­ous pro­pogan­dacom­mer­cials about how “everything’s OK guys.” (I agree with the poster of the video that it does seem akin to a tobac­co com­mer­cial.) Turns out it’s worse than I thought.

I knew that import tar­iffs made sug­ar expen­sive and have dri­ven pro­duc­ers to use corn (cheap and abun­dant here in the US) for sug­ar. I recent­ly learned that fruc­tose (and thus high-fruc­tose corn syrup) more or less sup­press the body’s hor­mon­al sig­nals to stop one’s appetite. (And, for my own part, I knew that it caused prob­lems with my own ener­gy and headaches.)

What I didn’t know was the sug­ar industry’s and our government’s effect on ethanol and alter­na­tive fuels:

Deal Sweet­en­ers: The New York­er

Our cur­rent pol­i­cy is absurd even by Wash­ing­ton stan­dards: Con­gress is pay­ing bil­lions in sub­si­dies to get us to use more ethanol, while keep­ing in place tar­iffs and quo­tas that guar­an­tee that we’ll use less. And while most of the time tar­iffs just mean high­er prices and reduced com­pe­ti­tion, in the case of ethanol the neg­a­tive effects are con­sid­er­ably greater, leav­ing us sad­dled with an infe­ri­or and less ener­gy-effi­cient tech­nol­o­gy and as depen­dent as ever on oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries.

(I under­stand that ethanol may not be the prover­bial bas­ket in which we put all of our prover­bial eggs; appar­ent­ly too much reliance on corn could dri­ve up food prices.)

And regard­less of the tim­ing though, this is no par­ti­san affair:

A recent study by Amani Elobeid and Sim­la Tok­goz, sci­en­tists at Iowa State Uni­ver­si­ty, pro­ject­ed that if the tar­iffs were removed prices would fall by four­teen per cent and Amer­i­cans would use almost three hun­dred mil­lion gal­lons more of ethanol.

But that isn’t like­ly to hap­pen any­time soon: the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion pro­posed elim­i­nat­ing the ethanol tar­iff this past spring, but Con­gress quick­ly quashed the idea — Barack Oba­ma was among sev­er­al Mid­west­ern sen­a­tors who cam­paigned in sup­port of the tar­iff — and the sug­ar quo­tas appear to be as sacro­sanct as ever. Tar­iffs and quo­tas are extreme­ly hard to get rid of, once estab­lished, because they cre­ate a vicious cir­cle of back-scratch­ing — gov­ern­ment largesse means that sug­ar pro­duc­ers get wealthy, giv­ing them lots of cash to toss at mem­bers of Con­gress, who then have an incen­tive to insure that the largesse con­tin­ues to flow.

We’re pro­tect­ing domes­tic corn farm­ers, but in a very odd way and with odd con­se­quences.

Palin hits Obama for ‘terrorist’ connection

Palin hits Oba­ma for ‘ter­ror­ist’ con­nec­tion — CNN​.com

Alas­ka Gov. Sarah Palin on Sat­ur­day slammed Sen. Barack Obama’s polit­i­cal rela­tion­ship with a for­mer anti-war rad­i­cal, accus­ing him of asso­ci­at­ing “with ter­ror­ists who tar­get­ed their own coun­try.”

Palin’s attack deliv­ered on the McCain campaign’s announce­ment that it would step up attacks on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date with just a month left before the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion.

“We see Amer­i­ca as the great­est force for good in this world,” Palin said at a fund-rais­ing event in Col­orado, adding, “Our oppo­nent though, is some­one who sees Amer­i­ca, it seems, as being so imper­fect that he’s palling around with ter­ror­ists who would tar­get their own coun­try.”

Is this real­ly hap­pen­ing now? Wasn’t this more or less set­tled as “not a ter­ri­bly big deal” a while ago?

As Tim said, “What do you do when you can’t win on your own mer­its? Answer (appar­ent­ly): Slan­der your oppo­nent.”

McCain blames Obama for House bailout vote

One won­ders whether the Democ­rats, and Sen­a­tor Oba­ma, ever had any inten­tion of deliv­er­ing this bailout, or whether they always thought there was more to gain, polit­i­cal­ly, from let­ting the pack­age die on the House floor.

John​M​c​Cain​.com — Where Was the Lead­er­ship?

What both­ers me about this arti­cle is that it doesn’t paint a com­plete pic­ture.

Accord­ing to the New York Times, the final vote was 205 – 228. For Democ­rats, that was 140 – 95, or 60% for. For Repub­li­cans, that was 65 – 133, or 33% for. How is this pos­si­bly Obama’s fault?

At the end of the day, I don’t think this is real­ly a mat­ter of blam­ing either McCain or Oba­ma (I don’t even think you could blame Pelosi or her speech), but this kind of politi­ciz­ing for the sake of your cam­paign, John, is sim­ply ludi­crous.

Keeping up with politics, revisited

It’s elec­tion sea­son here in the Unit­ed States, and there are a num­ber of big issues fac­ing our coun­try, espe­cial­ly as we look back on the last 4÷8÷12÷16 years and where they’ve brought us.

So a few weeks ago I asked about keep­ing up with pol­i­tics. I’m inter­est­ed in bal­anced opin­ions that clear­ly address issues while inform­ing read­ers about con­text (so some­one like me, who’s new to some of the specifics, can keep up with­out get­ting over­whelmed). A few results:

I’ve also attempt­ed to keep up with Penn­syl­va­nia state and local pol­i­tics (though no one has helped me here, for shame). This one’s a bit hard­er, as there is obvi­ous­ly less atten­tion, but so far I’ve found that Key­stone Pol­i­tics has enough news to keep me informed enough.

Of course, this is a very dynam­ic sub­ject — and a very dynam­ic time — so I’d appre­ci­ate any com­ments about things I’ve missed!


I’m gath­er­ing, from my read­ing here and there, that most peo­ple don’t know that Her­bert Hoover famous­ly declared that the “fun­da­men­tal busi­ness of the coun­try” was sound. (Can it be “famous­ly” if most peo­ple don’t know it? Nev­er mind.)

That part­ly explains why Repub­li­cans seem eeri­ly com­pelled to echo Hoover; they don’t know what it makes them sound like.

Fun­da­men­tals — Paul Krug­man — Op-Ed Colum­nist — New York Times Blog

From the linked arti­cle:

For Hoover as for McCain, the insis­tence on “sound fun­da­men­tals” means that if nec­es­sary, the gov­ern­ment will throw a life pre­serv­er to busi­ness lead­ers; the rest of us are on our own.

I’m no econ­o­mist (and I’d appre­ci­ate any insight from oth­ers) but McCain’s com­ments real­ly do scare me. (They wouldn’t if about half of Amer­i­ca didn’t think he should be our next Pres­i­dent.)