Category Archives: News

Mexico’s drug war

Mexico’s drug war – The Big Picture –

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 –

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 –

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. – 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:

  • Donklephant remains strong. I’ve been reading them for a year and they’re still my favorite. Their daily Gallup/Rasmussen polls for the upcoming presidential election are icing on the cake.
  • Politico is a favorite of Donklephant that is similarly balanced. (A bit busy though, so I just subscribe to the Top Stories feed.)
  • I found FiveThirtyEight because of their election projections, but their news reporting is also good.
  • The New York Times’ Opinion section is always a good read, particularly David Brooks’ articles. (While I don’t always agree with him, his writing is solid, and he is not partisan.)
  • I’ve also found that Wikipedia (with a healthy dose of objectivity) can be a good source of background information for buzzwords and political history. I know it can’t be counted on for facts, but it’s as unbiased a source as there is and can quickly catch you up on a variety of topics.

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.)