Saturday, April 19, 2014

Question Time

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Today’s column is a grab bag of questions which, for some strange reason, I can never seem to get a straight answer to:
If you think President Obama’s “weakness” in Syria is what led to Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea, what do you think we should have done in Syria? Should we have bombed them for using chemical weapons even after they agreed to give up their chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities? If so, do you also think police officers should be ordered to shoot criminals who’ve thrown down their weapons?
Do you think America should have intervened or should now intervene militarily in Syria? If so, which side should we come in on, the side backed by Hezbollah, or the one fighting alongside al-Qaida?
If you think our current response to the Russian annexation of Crimea is too weak, do you favor military intervention? If so, please locate Ukraine on a map and tell us where American troops should be based for such an intervention and where they’d be supplied from.
If you blame President Obama’s “weakness” for the Russian annexation of Crimea, do you also blame President George W. Bush for the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia? If not, why not?
If you think Obamacare needs to be repealed, are you also willing to repeal the popular parts of it, like the part protecting people with pre-existing conditions and the part allowing parents to insure their children to age 26? If not, how do you propose to keep the insurance system alive if everyone isn’t required to pay into it?
What do you propose to do with the millions of people already insured through the exchanges when the mandate goes away and insurance companies can go back to charging people exorbitant amounts or denying them insurance altogether if they have pre-existing conditions?
If you were one of the people who insisted in 2012 that the polls putting President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney were “skewed” and that Romney was going to win in a landslide, please tell us why we should believe you when you claim that the Obama administration is “cooking the books” on Affordable Care Act enrollment and that Obamacare is doomed to fail?
If you believe that a single-payer, taxpayer supported, medical insurance plan is “socialism” and that it will destroy America, do you plan to refuse a Medicare card when you become eligible or turn yours in if you have one now? If not, why not? If your reason is “I already paid into this,” isn’t that just an acknowledgement that it’s a taxpayer-funded system?
If you claim Obamacare is a “socialist takeover” of the American health care system, please explain how the terms “socialism” and “takeover” apply to a system of privately owned insurers paying privately employed doctors with support from privately paid premiums.
If you don’t think “enhanced interrogation” techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, being locked in small boxes and subjected to extended “stress positions” are not torture and therefore not legally actionable, would you say the same if those techniques were used by terrorist groups against American citizens?
Would you consider being strapped to a board, having a cloth put over your face, then having water poured on the cloth until you had the sensation of drowning to be torture if you had to undergo that yourself? If waterboarding isn’t torture, do we need to apologize and pay reparations to the families of the Japanese officers we prosecuted for war crimes for using similar techniques?
If you’re upset about government gathering of private data, were you as upset about it when the government’s ability to do so was greatly expanded by the Patriot Act? If not, why not? Do you support rolling back the Patriot Act? Do you think we should re-examine the principles set out in Smith vs. Maryland, the 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that getting “metadata” about American citizens’ phone calls (i.e., information about who called who when and for how long) was not a “search,” since that information was not “private” at all? If not, why not, if you claim to be angry about government spying on us?
Normally, when I pose these sorts of questions to my fellow Americans, I get attempts to change the subject or angry denunciations of President Obama and/or “libs,” “leftists,” “statists” or “Obama-bots,” none of which have any connection to the question asked.
Can you do any better?
(Author's note: if you follow the link to the paper's website and check out the comments, you'll see that the answer to that last question is "no").

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whose Side Are They On?

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: Your neighbor has spilled toxic waste in your yard. You take him to court. Your lawyer stands up and tells the court the neighbor should clean up the mess he made in a “reasonable time.”

“I’ll do better,” His Honor says. “I’ll tell him to clean it up immediately.”
“Hooray!” you think. “I got more than I asked for!”
Then your lawyer announces he’s appealing the judge’s ruling. Immediately is too soon, he says. We want that nice, squishy “reasonable time” language.
You might be upset. You might wonder whose side your own lawyer is on. And you’d be right. But that’s pretty much what happened last week when our state Environmental Management Commission was in court over the problem of coal ash contamination by Duke Energy, aka Duke “Progress” Energy.
State regulators have known for years that coal ash is nasty stuff. It’s a byproduct of coal-fired power plants and contains poisons like arsenic, selenium and cadmium. It’s been piling up in wastewater ponds owned by Duke Energy for years.
But they’ve been sitting on their hands until a coalition of environmental groups sued last year under the Federal Clean Water Act. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources finally got off its butt and filed environmental violations against Duke’s coal ash pits, but only after meeting with Duke Energy’s chief lobbyist.
Then they immediately offered to settle with the $50 billion company for $99,112. Duke could probably pay that out of the change in the couch cushions at its headquarters.
After a stormwater pipe in one of the ponds sprang a leak, dumping as much as 39,000 tons of the ash into the Dan River, the public outcry caused DENR to back out of the sweetheart deal with Duke. So you might have thought that when the matter came to court, the EMC, which “oversees and adopts rules for several divisions” of DENR, might take a sterner line, especially after Gov. Pat McCrory suggested that his administration would get tougher with Duke.
You might have thought that, but you’d be wrong. The EMC argued that it didn’t have authority to order an “immediate” cleanup. When Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway said, “Actually, you do,” you might have thought that EMC might go, “Cool. We can do a better job defending North Carolina’s environment now.”
You might have thought that, but you’d be wrong again. EMC, apparently deciding that a toothless watchdog was a good thing to be, announced that it would be appealing the ruling to the N.C. Court of Appeals. Tell me again: Whose side are these guys supposed to be on?
I’m sure all this has nothing to do whatsoever with the fact that McCrory worked for Duke for more than 28 years. I’m sure the fact that Duke has provided more than $1.1 million in support to McCrory campaigns since 2008 has nothing at all to do with the fact that the people he tasked with protecting our environment are in court arguing for an easier ride for the people who are trashing it.
It’s true that the governor directly appointed eight of the commission’s 15 members (including one of Duke Energy’s former lawyers), and the remaining seven members were appointed by Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, both McCrory allies.
But I’m sure that has absolutely no influence over the way our so-called environmental regulators are bowing and scraping to McCrory’s former employer and biggest supporter and asking, “Sirs, we don’t want to bother you, sirs. How much time would you like to clean up the horrendous mess you made, sirs? … Until you’re doggone good and ready? That would be fine, sirs. Please excuse us, and feel free to kick us in our behinds on our way out.”
If you truly believe none of that is connected, I have some waterfront property to sell you on the Dan River. Cheap.
Oh, and by the way, shame on you, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, for your complicity in this farce. I actually had some hope for you for a while, but you’ve turned out to be just another remnant of the limp and weak Perdue administration, whose fecklessness and corruption made it possible for these oligarchs to take over and sell us out to the highest bidder while you drew up the sale papers.
Thanks to McCrory and his cronies, thanks to the people who voted for them, and thanks to the lame and wimpy Democrats who made it all possible, it’s Duke Energy’s state now. Their state, their water, their dumping ground.
They own it. We just live in it, unless we get off our own behinds and vote these rascals out.