Slippery Slopes?

The other day, I had a discussion, if one could call it that, with a friend who loves his guns, and who, while not a member of the NRA, worries about gun control just like the NRA does. His basic point was that responsible gun owners aren’t the problem. He’d be perfectly happy with background checks, and requiring a gun operating permit/license and an exam requirement, but he thinks that prohibiting “assault rifles” wouldn’t do that much because there are other “sporting rifles” that can do the same thing. They just don’t look as ominous and don’t carry the name of “assault rifle.” He feels the same way about limits on clip or magazine capacity. And that means, in his view, that one limitation or restriction on weapons and/or ammunition will lead to another and another, because those restrictions won’t be all that effective.

Leaving aside the obvious point that it would be difficult enough politically to enact more than one assault rifle or magazine/clip size restriction, let alone a series of such measures, this line of argument leads back to the NRA claim that guns don’t kill people, but people kill people. In a way, proponents of background checks are agreeing with that NRA claim, because they’re saying that a restriction on who can carry firearms will reduce deaths from guns. So… if that’s true, why don’t we just avoid the issue of which guns are more lethal and should be prohibited and go the other direction – require a state or federal gun operating permit, which includes gun instruction requirements and passing a federal use/safety exam, as well as firearms insurance? Perhaps it also, like a driver’s license, should have licensure levels.

After all, right now, one of the largest problems with guns is that people who shouldn’t have such weapons do in fact have and use them. There really are only two effective solutions – either remove all the guns or regulate the people using them.

In peacetime, at least, cars kill more people than guns do, and we haven’t banned cars… but we have put restrictions on drivers, and required automobile registration, insurance, and safety features. So why not do the same for guns? As my friend, the gun-lover, pointed out, a truly responsible firearms user shouldn’t have a problem with such an approach.


What’s all too often overlooked by both left and right in the political name-calling and ego-bashing that passes for political discussion by the far right and far left is the issue of equal opportunity, what it is, what people think it is, and what each side passionately declares it should be.

More than a few partisans on the left confuse opportunity with outcomes. They believe that if outcomes are not equal, opportunity is not equal. They don’t put it that bluntly, but they certainly give the impression that they believe unequal outcomes reflect unequal opportunity. Now, on a large scale, unequal opportunities will definitely result in unequal outcomes, but because individuals differ in vastly in innate abilities, genetics, environment, and upbringing, the reverse is not true. Unequal outcomes do not necessarily prove unequal opportunities, and that’s why a closer look at the situation is necessary.

That being said, today in the United States, our current culture has enshrined and neglected to remedy, and in a number of cases, made opportunity for people even more unequal.

When business and industry pollute, they worsen the environment, and they do so in a manner most detrimental to the disadvantaged, because higher levels of pollution weaken health and actually impair intelligence. So when a business fails to comply fully with health and safety standards, or when government does not insist on adequate standards, the salaries of executives and the profits of shareholders are literally subsidized by the negative impacts on the health and intelligence of those too poor to move away from polluted areas and often without options for a healthier workplace. And because executive offices and the homes of those executives are usually removed from the factory floor, workers face less healthy work environments than do executives.

Given the way school systems are funded, the children of more affluent parents have not only better health, but better education opportunities. The same holds true for health care. And because poorer people often cannot afford the best of diets, that lack of balanced nutrition hampers the development of their children.

In a real and absolute sense, the most basic of opportunities, simply to grow up healthy with an opportunity to learn and develop, is heavily biased toward the more affluent members of society. Yet too many initiatives to create more equal opportunities for those whose opportunities are blighted are decried as social engineering.

But isn’t allowing excessive pollution for the sake of profits and higher incomes for executives also social engineering? Isn’t gerrymandering school systems by income levels to keep out the less affluent social engineering? Isn’t rigging healthcare based on income social engineering? Today, it’s accepted practice, at least by Republicans and conservatives, that corporations and moneyed individuals can engage in such social engineering, but that government shouldn’t.

But, if government doesn’t… just how long will the increasing numbers of the disadvantaged, and their numbers are increasing as the middle class continues to vanish, how long before they decide not to accept the current charade of “equal” opportunity? How long before matters get even more violent?

Hypocrisy and Incompetence Compounded

Earlier this week, Trump threatened to withhold $19 billion over the next three years in highway trust funds for roads and highway infrastructure if California doesn’t drop its efforts to require higher car and truck mileage standards in order to reduce automotive emissions and pollution. Ever since the Nixon Administration, under federal law, the federal government has permitted California to require higher standards because of its greater auto emission and air quality problems.

The Trump Administration has claimed that it will withhold those funds because the state hasn’t fully implemented some 130 air quality state implementation plans (SIPs). Federal law requires states with dirty air to come up with plans on how to reduce pollution, but those plans must be approved by the EPA. EPA has a backlog of such plans awaiting approval, and California’s 130 SIPs account for about one-third of the total.

What’s totally ridiculous about this is that these plans have been submitted to EPA, where they have languished for years because EPA is supposed to review them, and then accept, reject, or propose modifications. EPA has not taken any of those actions, as required by law.

Now, EPA Administrator Wheeler has demanded that California withdraw all 130 and resubmit them because California isn’t meeting air quality standards, despite the fact that 85% of the population — 34 million people — breathe dirty air.

Wheeler’s letter to the California Air Resources Board totally baffled state regulators and even former EPA officials who say the backlog exists because the federal government has not approved the plans and that what EPA is now doing is basically punishing California for EPA’s own inaction.

On top of that, during the Trump administration, EPA has rolled back or is in the process of rolling back twenty-four air quality regulations that would reduce air pollution, including a rule limiting methane emissions on public lands, including intentional venting and flaring from drilling operations; a rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters; a rule requiring fewer emissions from new power plants and expansions; a rule requiring newly built coal power plants capture carbon dioxide emissions; a rule setting strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants. In addition, EPA has proposed rolling back all mileage standards for new cars and light trucks, which would significantly increase auto emissions and pollution nation-wide.

So after taking all these steps to increase air pollution, Trump now wants to make it harder for California to clean up its air… and wants to withhold federal funds because California isn’t complying fully with federal law because EPA hasn’t done its job.

Talk about incompetence and blaming others for it!

Narcissistic Destruction

The latest news on President Trump is that he threatened Ukraine by withholding aid unless the country started investigating the Bidens, then when that threat became public, mysteriously the aid was released. Rather than acknowledge that, of course, now Trump is attacking former Vice President Biden, accusing Biden of the very tactics that news reports have revealed that Trump used when trying to force the Ukrainian President to investigate Biden’s son.

After respected news reporter Cokie Roberts died last week, President Trump’s comments were that he’d never met her and that she never treated him nicely – except she had interviewed him previously in Trump Tower on a nationwide television broadcast.

He doesn’t like California; so he’s decided to try to force the state to have more air pollution, despite the fact that all the major auto manufacturers prefer the higher fuel economy requirements, both for environmental and economic reasons.

He’s fired the highest number of senior staff and political appointees on record, generally because they disagree or tell him that they can’t or shouldn’t do things. He’s pushed the Department of Justice to prosecute career officials who spoken against his acts or contradicted what he said. Either he or the Secretary of Commerce threatened NOAA officials [even though this has subsequently been denied] who tried to point out that Trump erroneously changed NOAA broadcast weather maps with his sharpie.

He cozies up to dictators who praise him, and criticizes and bad-mouths leaders of other nations who don’t suck up to him. He’s even turned on Fox News when it aired factual news reports about him and his administration that he didn’t like.

He’s attacked the Federal Reserve Board for failing to lower interest rates the way he wanted, despite the fact that they’re not that far from all-time lows and unemployment is low, and that even lower rates risk real estate and stock market bubbles. He attacked the Prime Minister of Denmark when she told him that Greenland was not for sale. He attacked the Mayor of London, and various other officials.

He’s also attacked environmental protection regulations, not only on the global warming issue, but on a range of regulations where he’s attempted to roll back clean air and clean water regulations, among others and turned national monuments with fragile ecosystems and ancient archaeological ruins into open energy and mining areas, while attacking native Americans and others who wanted to preserve such areas.

And yet Trump’s supporters ignore it all, presumably because they hate liberals and Democrats so much that they’ll accept lying, bribery, corruption, and illegal acts rather than admit any fault in Trump.

PC Run Amuck

The so-called “scandal” facing Justin Trudeau is a clear case of political correctness going totally and insanely out of control. When Trudeau was a 29 year old teacher he dressed up as Aladdin for a costume party and applied make-up to his face. Now the PC police are screaming for his head.

For what exactly? In the first place Aladdin never existed. He’s totally fictional. Aladdin’s story is said to be taken from The Thousand and One Nights (also called The Arabian Nights), reputedly told by Scherherazade. Yet the tale of Aladdin wasn’t even in the original version of the tales, but in a French translation of the Arabic version by French scholar Antoine Galland in 1712 to which Galland added several new stories told to him by a Syrian named Ḥanna Diyab from Aleppo. “Aladdin and the Magical Lamp” was one of them. In both Galland’s version and Richard Burton’s popular 1885 English translation, Aladdin lives “in a city of the cities in China.” Illustrations of the tales from the Victorian era depict the story and its characters as Chinese.

So how is Trudeau racist? He went to a costume party as a fictional character from a pseudo-Arabic land that a story teller adapted from a Chinese setting. He wasn’t making derogatory remarks, nor was he demeaning anyone’s culture.

Yet the PC police seem unable to distinguish harmless and non-demeaning costume partying from real racism. The reason why “blackface” is demeaning and racist is because it replicates the traveling minstrel shows in the U.S. in the period of roughly 1880 to 1920, where white entertainers put on “blackface” and sang supposedly black/Negro songs while usually depicting black Americans in a negative or culturally condescending manner.

Trudeau did none of that – and going after him for depicting a fictional character from a non-existent land and only vaguely an Arabic culture is taking matters totally out of context.

If what Trudeau did is racist, then so is the musical Hamilton, because in that wildly successful musical actors of color are portraying noted white Founding Fathers, not always in the best of light. I don’t find the musical Hamilton racist, but the PC police should… that is, if they’re going to be true to their own “principles.”