Friday, July 20, 2012

The Shooting in Aurora, Colorado

     As I'm sure just about everyone not living in a cave knows, a man named James Holmes entered a crowded theater showing The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, threw down smoke bombs or tear gas (I have heard conflicting reports on this), and began to shoot people in their seats.   He killed 12 and wounded 38 people.  Police arrested him outside of the theater, and his apartment was booby-trapped.

    Those are the facts out there.  From a great many sources, however, there is speculation.

     Some people speculate he was a member of Occupy Black Block, which is a violent anarchist movement that participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement condemn.  The sources for this speculation, of course, tie Occupy Black Block to the Occupy Wall Street movement--which is a good reason for movements to actually have a coalition with leadership, even if it's by committee, rather than just have anyone show up--but nobody has cited a source of information regarding an actual connection between James Holmes and this group, so this speculation is unfounded as far as anyone knows.

       Others think he will turn out to be a right-wing Christian evangelical, though nobody has presented a good argument why they think this way, other than pointing to people like Timothy McVey and abortion clinic bombers.  I can explain why McVey bombed a government building in Oklahoma City (his anti-government ideology--he wasn't an evangelical, as far as I remember) and abortion clinic bombers (they believe abortion clinic "murder babies" and think their acts will prevent it), but why go to a crowded theater and kill people watching a movie?  What point does that make?  And why make any point with violence?  It just turns people against your cause, if they weren't against it already.

.  Still others think he might be a Batman fan who didn't like the choice of villain.  There is even some speculation that he was re-enacting a Batman comic where a man goes and shoots people in an adult theater after listening to a song forty times.  Who knows?  It sounds more plausible than the other explanations so far, but we don't know for sure.

    A corollary to this incident is the idea that Holmes' mother knew his son was disturbed, and she should have done something about it.  Even if she did know something was wrong with her son, what mother wants to admit there's something wrong with her child? .  Imagine how difficult it would be for a parent to believe his or her child would be capable of mass murder.  Come on, folks!  Don't put this on Holmes' mother, because you don't know her situation.  If it comes out later that the parents were abusive or something, then that discussion can happen, but you're speculating at this point, and it's not fair.  You're not in her shoes, and I'm sure at this point that if she has any hint of empathy, Holmes' mother is heartbroken to an unimaginable degree.

     There's speculation that if more people carried concealed weapons, this shooter would not have gotten away with putting bullets into 50 people.  There are three things about this speculation that make it clear that the people who believe it aren't thinking it through.  The first is the fact that Holmes threw out smoke bombs or tear gas first.  It would cut down on visibility and increase confusion.  It would also increase the likelihood that anyone trying to shoot Holmes would instead shoot an innocent bystander.  If several people shoot, then they may shoot each other, thinking that another shooter was the original shooter.  The second aspect of this case that defeats the conceal-and-carry argument is that it's a theater--if you are standing with your back to the screen, it is very difficult for other people to see anything but your silhouette.  Throw in smoke and such and your silhouette is camouflaged.  However, you can see everyone in the theater quite clearly.  If there is such a thing as an usher in your theater, ask that person--you can see every face from front to back pretty clearly.  Or hell, next time you're in a theater, sit in the front and look back at the rest of the people when the previews start.  The third aspect of this incident that makes the idea that someone shooting the shooter highly unlikely is that people who were there reported confusion about the location of the gunfire--some even thought it was coming from the cinema next door.

    Finally, there is speculation that stricter controls on automatic weapons (one of four of the weapons Holmes used was thought to be automatic) would have prevented this tragedy.  What would have prevented someone like Holmes from making homemade pipe bombs or bringing Molotov cocktails?  If we want to have the gun control debate, we should stick to talking about what things stricter gun laws would actually prevent.  Take away guns--even if it's just from this guy through a mental health screening--would not necessarily prevent mass murder through other means.

     Speculation, speculation, and more speculation...I can forgive it to a degree, because people are trying to make sense of a tragic and senseless event.  For all we know, Holmes was the kind of person Alfred described in the Batman movie before this one; he could be a person who just wants to watch the world burn.  We just don't know.  What we do know is that there are families of 50 victims, 12 dead and 38 wounded, who are mourning over this horrific event.  Let's set aside our views on gun control, party affiliation, religion, and disturbed comic book fans and keep that in mind today.  Have some empathy for them and stop speculating about the shooter's motives.  Leave that to investigators and let the story come out when it will.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More archived argumentation on climate change

Here's some more information from a five-year-old debate on climate change I had on a message board.  Enjoy!

I'm so tired of this "global warming is a religion" nonsense.  It's nothing but a smear.  With all of the polls concerning scientists and their religious leanings demonstrating that scientists are NOT religious, by and large, how can one say that they're applying magical thinking in the case of global warming?  If you read the actual science (some of which is contained in the articles you posted, actually), you'll see that scientists are more cautious about their predictions than, say, Al Gore, or non-scientists who are active in the environmental movement.  As with many Atheists who try to argue about evolution with scant knowledge of biology, many environmentalists know very little about the environment.  It's not surprising.  There's a lot to know.  The point is to leave the science to the scientists.  The media and activists for both the environmental and the free market ideological movements (if you want to talk about a religion, let's go there; people think that utopia will magically appear if everything is owned, it seems) want to cause alarm or suppress the facts to stop action from being taken, depending on what side they take.  The media typically reports that one side thinks one thing and the other thinks the opposite, not only presenting false dichotomies at times, but also creating controversy when a little research of the facts would give one side or both less clout, ending up somewhere in the middle.
That said, let's examine the articles Al presented to see if they back up his assertion:

The Sunday Times is the source for this article.  I'm going to try to forget for a moment that Rupert Murdoch owns the paper (  I'm also going to forget for the moment that Murdoch issues talking points to his news organizations that, shall we say, strongly encourage his employees to give a conservative slant to every story.  I'm just going to look at the story and see where it takes me.
From Times Online: Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap, writes Jonathan Leake.
Here's a tidbit on Jonathan Leake:
From the above site:

Post-science Journalist of the Year is Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times. He has published so many stories revealing the triumph of imagination over scientific evidence that it seems invidious to pick out one. However, one of his many global warming stories is head and shoulders above others, see Leaf Mould in November. A subsequent analysis (aptly entitled Making the News) showed that all four graphs used in the story benefited more from creative imagination than they did from the original scientific data.

Jonathan Leake's credibility (or lack thereof) aside, the article from the Times Online says:

The mechanism at work on Mars appears, however, to be different from that on Earth. One of the researchers, Lori Fenton, believes variations in radiation and temperature across the surface of the Red Planet are generating strong winds.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, she suggests that such winds can stir up giant dust storms, trapping heat and raising the planet's temperature.

Here we have a scientist saying that the mechanism on Mars is different than the mechanism on Earth.  How is this article an argument against anthropogenic global warming again?
Here's the rest of the article:

Fenton's team unearthed heat maps of the Martian surface from Nasa's Viking mission in the 1970s and compared them with maps gathered more than two decades later by Mars Global Surveyor. They found there had been widespread changes, with some areas becoming darker.
When a surface darkens it absorbs more heat, eventually radiating that heat back to warm the thin Martian atmosphere: lighter surfaces have the opposite effect. The temperature differences between the two are thought to be stirring up more winds, and dust, creating a cycle that is warming the planet.

Once again, I'm not seeing anything here that would constitute a blow to anthropogenic global warming.  I would also argue that two studies of Martian surface temperature in thirty years do not provide enough data concerning the climate on Mars to draw any sort of parallels to the patterns on Earth.  The high and low temperatures on Mars are wildly different.  There are no heat exchangers like ocean currents to moderate the climate.   There is far less moisture, and most of it is frozen.  To draw the conclusion that Mars is warming for the same reasons as Earth (as Al seems to be doing) just because both have had temperatures rise by the same amount (never mind that Mars could have warmed and cooled a few times in thirty years--how would we know otherwise?) is similar to drawing the conclusion that bats and birds have a common ancestor because they both have wings.   Let's stick to comparing apples to apples, and not oranges.

Here is an excerpt from the article:
Jay Pasachoff, an astronomy professor at Williams College, said that Pluto's global warming was "likely not connected with that of the Earth. The major way they could be connected is if the warming was caused by a large increase in sunlight. But the solar constant--the amount of sunlight received each second--is carefully monitored by spacecraft, and we know the sun's output is much too steady to be changing the temperature of Pluto."

Do you read the whole article before you post it as evidence?

This whole exercise reminds me of the subject of the book I'm writing on a certain political operative (real, not fictional).  He read James Madison's letter to Jasper Adams, in which he says, "Christianity is the greatest religion in the world."  My subject uses this statement as a quote to demonstrate the religiosity of one of the most well known Founding Fathers, in a book about how separation of state and church is a myth.  Madison may very well have meant what he said, or he could have said it tongue-in-cheek, but whatever the case, he goes on to mention that Catholicism is a mixture of church and state, and it represents the worst form of government on Earth.  He says later on that Jews, Muslims (Musselmen), and Atheists should not be taxed for that which they find repugnant.
So far, I've gone through two articles, and in both cases, information contradicting the apparent conclusion we're supposed to draw has been found.  We're supposed to think that obviously, because a few of the planets are also warming, the sun must be responsible and anthropogenic global warming is simply myth.  Instead, we're finding that warming is occurring on a few planets for reasons other than why it's occurring on ours.

This excerpt is from the article on the Science Daily site (

In agreement with most other climate researchers, the Lund group is not concerned about a complete shut-down of the Gulf Stream as envisioned in the apocalyptic film "The day after tomorrow". However, future warming induced by anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions may influence the system.
We don't know with certainty what will happen. Some attempts at measuring ocean currents suggest a recent weakening of the Gulf Stream, and the transport of heat to the North Atlantic region may well decrease in the future as a result of increased precipitation. Such a scenario might lead to less warming in Europe than predicted by the IPCC, but we will probably not face an arctic climate, summarizes Svante Bjorck.

From what I know of global warming, all we're looking at here is another factor to take into account when predicting the effects of anthropogenic global warming, not an argument against its existence.  Because of this seesaw effect described in the article, some places on Earth may not experience as much warming as others. 

Finally, we have this article:
Reid A. Bryson's statements have already been addressed in the article and video I posted earlier.  As these items were also in "The Great Global Warming Swindle", I will address them one by one with evidence from other scientists, if I do get time to complete that full refutation (I'm working on it).   I do say "refutation" at this point because it's the same few people making the same few arguments against anthropogenic global warming, and they've all been refuted by people more qualified than I.  I am working through some of the scholarly work on the subject to put it into my own words.
Now we're on to the "spirituality" of global warming.  Al Gore did disappoint me when he made global warming into some sort of moral issue in the religious sense.  It's not a moral issue.  It's a survival issue.  He's being a politician here; he's trying to appeal to the emotions of people who would never understand the science involved.   It's the same tactic people use when they call the inheritance tax the "œdeath tax", going on to say that people will lose farms that have been in their families for generations.
Politicians and celebrities are not the best spokespeople for what to do about global warming, especially since the first thing politicians--acting in their own self-interest--want to do is regulate through legislation, and celebrities do not have the academic credentials to face the critics of their movement.   They care and they mean well.  Hell, they might even be extremely well-informed.  They are still not scientists.

To address anthropogenic global warming, we need innovation, not legislation, and an embracing of science, not appeals to emotion.

As for Al Gore: he's a religious guy.  A religious guy is going to reconcile his faith with what he knows about science.  It's unfortunate, but you have to remember that Al Gore is not the person who made up the idea that the planet is warming and we humans are to blame for some of it.   He's just a guy who really cares about the issue and is religious.  I see the same people in the separation of state and church movement; religious people who actually defend the United States Constitution do exist among those of use who want the total separation of state and church.  The head of Americans United For Separation of Church and State is a minister.  I'm going off on a tangent now, sort of, but I want to add that unless religion diminishes among the citizens of any country, it is impossible to separate state and church, because religion is nothing but appeal to emotion, and people will vote based on such appeals.  I want the religiosity out of the environmental movement (in which I haven't even been active) as much as I want it out of the separation of state and church movement.   

Archived message post about climate change

Five years ago, I got into a debate with someone on a message board over climate change.  He linked me Senator Inhofe's site on how global warming is a hoax.  Here a is a partial tearing down of Inhofe's links:

First of all, posting anything from Senator Inhofe should raise alarm bells.  He has an unmistakable bias.  He also doesn’t have enough of a grasp on science to draw any conclusions on anything.  He’s a Bible-beating fundamentalist who denies evolution, thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old (give or take a couple thousand years), and buys into the Christian Nation movement’s historical revisionism.  He’s one of the Senators I can put in the same room with David Barton of Wallbuilders several times over.  His credibility is shot with me from the beginning.

Next, I know this is an exercise in futility, but I figured I would go and see what the scientists mentioned in the article you posted ACTUALLY said.  Of course, if your posting history is any indication, you’ll just ignore it, deny it, or simply insult me as some sort of rabid believer.  I would take a look at whom you’re trusting for your “evidence” before criticizing anyone.

Let’s take a look at what Dr. Claude Allegre ACTUALLY said:

Some of it gets lost in translation (the last paragraph is kind of awkward), but what I’m getting from the article is that he’s telling scientists to be cautious of jumping to conclusions about climate change and how it manifests itself, and about man’s role in it.  That’s fine.  He’s a scientist, and if he weren’t skeptical to some degree, it wouldn’t be healthy.  He also says that it is likely that there IS climate change.  He’s not saying that man ISN’T causing it, but he IS saying that scientists should be cautious about pointing the finger.  I’m more than comfortable with that statement. 

The press elaborated somewhat on what he said, but they could have taken it from a different source.  He says ( that environmentalists should be more practical in coming up with solutions to what they perceive to be the problem, rather than doing it through changing government policy or through demonstrations.  I HEARTILY agree with him here.  Of course, the solutions come at a price to the energy industry, which means big oil and big coal will resist the change.  How do they do it?  They lobby politicians and buy patents that they will NEVER use to ensure their future, rather than letting the market decide. 

Bruno Wiskel is a conservationist, but not a climatologist.  He teaches courses on energy efficiency at the University of Alberta (he is not on the actual staff of the university).  They’re not university degree courses, but adult education courses; he teaches them because he’s an author and the builder/owner of an energy-efficient home.  He is critical of Kyoto, but I can’t find anything on him critiquing the IPCC.  I am also finding several articles that say that he presents no evidence at all for his conclusion that anthropogenic global warming is a myth, but I’m not finding anything detailed.  I’m not buying his book to find that it’s full of empty, misleading, or ill-conceived arguments. 

Some of us might remember Dr. Nar Shaviv from “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, which was a swindle itself.  That little blot on his record aside, I have read some articles from him, and, unlike the paid shills in the propaganda film, Shaviv is an actual scientist.  Like Allegre, he is cautious about anthropogenic global warming.  He does not deny that carbon dioxide COULD be a cause of anthropogenic global warming; what he IS saying is that his reading of the IPCC report tells him that nobody knows the signs of anthropogenic global warming, that indirect aerosol effects (like emissions from smoke stacks) are unknown, and that the sun COULD be an alternative explanation.  He does NOT say that carbon dioxide is not the culprit and that the sun is; he is merely saying that we don’t know enough about the role of carbon dioxide in global warming in the 20th century.  It is worthy of note that he begins by saying that carbon dioxide is more likely to play a role in the 21st century.  Here is the article:

Next, let’s examine the actual words of Dr. David Evans:  Again, we have a cautious scientist who is being used to say that global warming is a hoax, when all he is saying is that the causation of global warming is not entirely understood.  What IS understood—and it is in this article—is that carbon dioxide IS a greenhouse gas.  There are other factors that COULD cause global warming, and—he makes a great point here—politics have played a part in under-funding the research of other possible causes, such as industrial pollution and cosmic rays.  However, he does NOT say that carbon emissions are NOT responsible, only that they might play less of a role than other causes that are not entirely understood at present. 

Anyone else getting tired of the spin yet?  I sure am.  People like Inhofe grasp at straws to try and support their claims, but once his sources are investigated, we find that they’re not quite what they appear to be.  So many global warming deniers say that the sun is DEFINITELY the cause, but the scientists that they say support their claims are not as sure as they are.  That’s good to know, because science is all about caution, skepticism, and not jumping to conclusions.

I’m going to stop here.  It appears that many of the scientists are cautioning policymakers not to make policy on science that is not fully understood, but most think that there is good reason to diminish use of fossil fuels.  I can understand that position.  Adopting policy on global climate change before all factors are understood could lead us down the wrong path.  I have been arguing that policy isn’t the way to go, anyway; innovation is the best option—as long as it isn’t hindered by oil and coal interests.

Friday, July 6, 2012

What Atheism Is And Is Not

My friends and family know I'm an atheist.  I've been out for a long time.  I haven't spoken about it for awhile, but recent events in my personal life have prompted me to reiterate what the word "atheism" means, and what it does not.

Atheists have exactly one thing in common: they all reject the claims of theists regarding deities.  That's it.  They may have arrived at that point from many paths; some rejected the religion of their families because they read the sacred texts and found them inconsistent with reality.  Some came to it through philosophy, either rejecting the claims of theists for lack of evidence or positing that the gods theists claim to exist cannot because the attributes assigned to them are inconsistent with the way the world works.  Some just came to it on gut feeling alone.  Whatever the reason, aside from this one commonality, atheists are diverse as any other group of people. 

Some people can't give up on the idea that atheism is much more than a rejection of the claims of theists.  They define atheists in all sorts of ways from the outside looking in, going by what their preachers say, what their friends say, what holy books say, or what their few confrontations with the more vocal atheists taught them--often in cyberspace.  I want to touch on a few of the characteristics people have assigned to me and atheists in general.

 The one statement I used to hear the most is that I worship money.  I don't worship anything, but I definitely don't worship money.  I think the origination of this idea comes from the observation of Ayn Rand followers, but those who believe in her philosophy of "enlightened" self-interest are not in the majority of atheists I have met.  I put "enlightened" in quotes because I don't think her philosophy demonstrates an enlightened worldview, but my disagreements with Ayn Rand aren't the subject of this discussion.  I will go into that in a later article, perhaps.  Suffice it to say, money is not a god replacement, at least for me, and not for several other atheists I know.  Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has the goal to become wealthy.  Some of us just want to live well, and want others to do so, as well--but again, I am not speaking for all atheists.  Nobody does.

The next most common thing I've heard is that I am my own god--that I worship myself.  Hardly!  While I have been known from time to time to have a huge ego, I know that I'm little more than a microbe on spec of dust circling a bright point with other specs of dust and gas on the edge of a grouping of a couple hundred billion points of light, many with their own orbiting specs of dust.  My place and role in the universe is minuscule, and I stand in awe of the vastness, beauty, and harshness of the universe.  Once again, I don't speak for all atheists, but I haven't met a single one who says that we are gods ourselves.  

Next comes something that I have heard recently: that atheists have an agenda.  Really?  A unifying agenda for all atheists?  Sign me up, because if there's something that can rally all of us, it must be really good.  In a couple decades of interacting with individual atheists and various atheist groups, I have not found one agenda to rule them all (apologies for the cheap Lord of the Rings reference).  Even separation of state and church doesn't unify us all; I have heard some atheists muse that if the government supported religion, what happened in Europe would happen here: the urgency for conversion would disappear, and churches would suffer from empty pew syndrome to a greater degree every year, until religion becomes something old traditionalists do.  Some remnants--probably Christmas--would remain, simply because people like the traditions, but it would be what it really has become here: a commercial holiday with its original meaning lost. In any case, there is no agenda I can think of that every atheist rallies behind.  Taxing churches?  Sure, a lot of atheists are for it, but every atheist?  No.   I've heard several opine that if we taxed churches, it would give them even more leverage in politics.  Converting people?  I don't know about you, but I haven't had a couple atheists knocking on my door lately.  I know several who have written books to this end, but those are individual atheists, each with their own personal agenda--not a single one speaks for us all.  Besides, people can pick up books or leave them; nobody is forcing anyone to read.  Indeed, reading seems to be discouraged by some people these days. 

A fourth idea that non-atheists project onto us involves the worship of science or that evolution is our religion.  I didn't become an atheist because I learned about evolution--I was an atheist for several years before I had a real understanding of how evolution works and why it is inevitable.  I became an atheist because after rejecting Catholicism, I looked around for something else to believe.  I found Christianity lacking; the Bible was inconsistent with reality and was not a practical guide for life in the modern day.  I looked into Buddhism, Jainism, paganism (which takes on many forms and means different things to different people--it's a terribly inadequate label), and all sorts of other religions, and found them all lacking because they had one thing in common: they all required faith in something without demanding evidence.  I just don't see faith as an inherent value.  To accept something without requiring some sort of evidence to me made no sense.  Besides, it was the behavior of people I respected (or didn't, depending on how they behaved).  Telling me that you believe something doesn't show me what sort of person you are.  In any case, my rejection of faith did not make me turn to a worship of science; I think science is great, and that it gives us the best method of understanding of the universe than any others available, but I don't worship it.  I'm not sure what that worship would entail, anyway.  

I could touch on many other things people have said about atheists--that we're hedonists, Satanists (?), liars (hey, the Bible says so!), children or young adults going through a rebellious phase (mine has lasted around 20 years--no end in sight), and people who became angry with some god or another for whatever reason.  I could probably write a book on the subject if I wanted, but I will address last the one that perplexes me the most: that atheists are people without morals.  My values derive from empathy--from my ability to put myself in the situations of others.  As such, altruism is one of my deepest values.  I have wanted to help people all of my life.  I have this constant urge to want to fix things so everyone can live in peace--but I don't know how it's possible, given that not everyone wants the same thing.  My personal feelings aside, I think if we didn't have religion at all, our values would come from our ability to put each other in one another's shoes.  Or maybe they'd come from the necessity of cooperation to continue our survival. Whatever the reasons, I find it hard to imagine needing faith that eternal rewards or punishments await me in the afterlife to be good to other people.  I realize that not all religious thought includes such rewards and punishments, but those that don't offer me no alternative sources for values.  


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why privatization of public services is bad for the economy

     Living in civilization makes necessary the existence of certain services.  To live comfortably and with relatively low levels of disease, we must have garbage removal, sewage systems, and clean water supplies.  To enforce the laws we create to keep society civil and safe, we need law enforcement.  To protect our homes from fires started from careless people, arsonists, or even nature, we need fire protection services.  Expand the list or shorten it, but we agree to pay for certain services in order to maintain a civil society.  Some people believe that the free market should provide these services; they think that private entities can do the job better than government-run bureaucracies at a lower cost to the taxpayer.  However, the movement to take these services out of government hands and put them into the hands of the market has had several negative impacts.

    First, whenever a private company takes over a public service, the workers have been laid off, then either rehired at a lower wage with no benefits, or replaced with workers who would take a lower wage.  In both cases, the difference in money these workers would have received no longer gets spent within the community.  Some of these workers may not be able to maintain a home anymore, or might have to move to find work with equivalent pay.  This money no longer goes to the local restaurant, bar, convenience store, or grocery story they frequented.  They can't afford the day care or babysitters they could before.  Because their benefits are gone, we have to pick up their health care costs if they have a medical emergency, because it is not likely that they can pay case for these services.

    Secondly, the difference in pay the former government workers would have received now gets routed to private entities.  In many cases, these entities are corporations with executives and shareholders.  These executives and shareholders very likely do not live in the communities where their companies operate.  In some cases, these corporations even have foreign owners.  For example, the City of Southfield, Michigan, privatized the transportation of children to the local schools.  This company, Durham School Services, is a subsidiary of National Express Corporation, which is a publicly-traded company.  This company is in turned owned by National Express Group, which is a UK company.  As such, the City of Southfield saved a little bit off the bottom line by having Durham School Services run the school buses, but they funneled money that would have gone to government-paid workers into the hands of executives and shareholders who certainly don't live in Southfield, and some of whom are not even in the United States.  Other examples of publicly-traded companies that run public services include the Corrections Corporation of America (American corporation) and the GEO Group (multinational corporation), who run prisons; Waste Management, Casella Waste Systems Inc, Republic Services, and Safety-Kleen Inc, who run garbage collection; National Wildfire Suppression Association, which has publicly-traded corporate sponsors and is involved in privatization of firefighting; and Charter School Management Corporation and National Heritage Academies, who run charter schools, which seek to replace public schools.

    Finally, privatization of public services creates one of two situations: the city contracts with one company, creating a private monopoly, or the city allows competition.  The latter situation appears rarely with privatization.  In some cases, this competition appears to be good; it allows the cost of services to go as low as possible.  However, this competition is often a race to the bottom with workers' wages, and the quality of services can be a concern.  Additionally, competition in the area of garbage removal can be detrimental to a community.  Anyone who has private garbage removal knows how many trucks come down the street on trash day.  Imagine if your neighbors choose a myriad of garbage removal services.  The trucks from each company would come down the street endlessly.  These large trucks tend to be tough on the pavement on neighborhood streets, and the presence of all that traffic makes it unsafe for children, pets, and pedestrians.  One community in Arizona found this out to their dismay, and they ended up contracting with a single service again.

    Privatization has the potential to be good.  If the private company is local, the money involved stays in the community.  If the company pays workers a living wage and provides benefits, local entrepreneurs and citizens win.  However, these ideals are never the case, or so close to never that they are unheard of.  In most cases, as demonstrated, the money gets funneled out of the community and into the hands of the few.  It is taken out of the hands of many people who will use it to buy everyday goods and services, with some minor luxuries if they have disposable income, and into the hands of a few, who will not spend as much on the everyday goods and services--because they aren't going to buy extra toiletries and food for the heck of it--and who won't be doing it in every community where the privatized public services operate.  These services are natural monopolies, as competition sometimes makes it more difficult or even unsafe to deliver the services people need, or can lower the quality of services by cutting corners.  Natural monopolies should be run by the government, not the free market, because the free market does not have the best interest of citizens at its heart.  Private companies have the interests of owners, executives, board members, and investors in mind, not the good of your local community.

The war on drugs must end

     According to Mexico's public safety secretary, Genaro Garcia Luna, Mexican drug cartels make $64 billion per year from illegal marijuana sales in the United States.  Illegal growers in the southwestern United States often report to Mexican drug cartels.  Mexico is not the only source for illegal drugs in this country, but it is a prime example of how our prohibition on marijuana is making criminals wealthy.  Making criminals wealthy gives them power--power to buy police, federal officials, elected representatives, and elections.

    Our prohibition of marijuana and other drugs represents the repetition of a stupid mistake made in our own history--prohibition of alcohol.  This prohibition, ordered through an amendment to our Constitution, caused a subsequent repeal due to the recognition of the thriving criminal empires it created.  Illegal distribution and sales of alcohol proved extremely lucrative, and some criminal organizations who participated in these activities diversified into illegal gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, and all manner of illegal activity that would allow them to thrive long after the repeal of alcohol prohibition.  The same is true of illegal drug sales; the demand is there, and anyone who can supply has the potential to have it made, financially speaking.

    In addition to the fostering and support of a criminal element, keeping marijuana and other drugs illegal fills prisons with users, small-time dealers and middlemen, and other people who are underlings to or customers of those with the real money and power.  The American taxpayer contributes approximately $10 billion annually to house these prisoners--and two-thirds are in for use, which would not be true if drugs were legal.

    Another major cost of drug prohibition is federal enforcement.  The annual DEA budget is $2.4 billion, but the cost of enforcement of drug laws at the federal level actually totals over $15 billion every year, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  This figure doesn't include local law enforcement activity, but suffice it to say that the total for federal, state, and local enforcement of drug laws far exceeds $15 billion per year. Combine this figure with the figure from the cost of incarceration, and we spend well over $25 billion per year on enforcement of policy that creates and fosters criminal empires.  Money out of taxpayers' pockets goes to support laws that allow just the Mexican cartels alone to make over $64 billion annually--never mind other criminal organizations worldwide who make money off of this policy, as well.

      The drug war must end if for nothing else, the fiscal irresponsibility of paying to enforce policy that not only helps criminals get very wealthy, but also causes the government to borrow more money from China to cover the cost of enforcing it.  Aside from the financial and criminal issues--actually, the criminal issues are related--there is a human cost to the drug war.  Users and petty criminals (small distributors and runners) may not be violent, but where there is big money to protect, those who desire to keep their criminal empires thriving will defend that money violently.  Law enforcement officers must face this violence directly, and the criminal enterprises use violence to keep those who work for them in line, to settle scores, and to keep other organizations from encroaching on their business.  Prisons are full of violent factions, and there's no telling how many people in for drug-related offenses network with and become involved with other criminals doing other crimes.  After all, when someone has a prison record, that person finds it difficult to find honest work, and the pay for crime seems worth the risk for a person who finds it difficult to find a living wage in the labor force.

    What would be the consequences of legalization of drugs?  Sure, we would stop having to pay for enforcement, and the criminal empires would have to find their funding elsewhere or die, but what are the negative impacts?  People worry about drug abuse, but do we throw alcoholics in jail?  Unless they are arrested for disorderly conduct or drunk driving, we do not; we treat their problem as a "disease", and there are all sorts of programs for recovering alcoholics.  As such, abuses of other drugs--because alcohol is, after all, just another mind-altering substance--should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal issue.

    Another negative impact some people say legalization might have is easy access to drugs for minors.  However, if drugs are sold the same way alcohol is now, there would be no more access to them than their is to alcohol--and people have actually died from alcohol poisoning.  There are no known marijuana overdose deaths.  People who buy alcohol for minors are unscrupulous people; they would get kids drugs now if they had access, and those drugs aren't regulated.  They could be laced with poisons or could be mixed with other drugs.  Drugs purchased in a state store or marijuana dispensary are pure--not laced with cocaine, not dipped in formaldehyde, not poisoned.  I'm not advocating drugs for minors, but what I am saying is that if kids do happen to get their hands on these drugs, at least they would be safer than those they could (and do!!) procure illegally.  We also have to remember that kids get worse drugs out of the medicine cabinets of their own relatives, and we don't make those drugs illegal.

     Perhaps there are negative impacts I have not covered.  I'd like to hear any that people think exist.  I do know that there is another positive impact, aside from starving criminals of money from illegal drug sales and the ceasing of borrowing money from foreign sources to pay for enforcement.  We can tax drugs if they are regulated.  Taxing drugs creates revenue; prohibition only creates costs.  If we recover these costs in fines and seizure of the funds and possessions of the people we arrest, I'd love to see those figures, as well.  To me, it makes sense to support legalization of drugs, because the negative impacts of prohibition are far worse than any negative impacts I can think of legalization causing.  If you agree, please write your representatives. Reading this blog or posting on Facebook does nothing to affect policy change.  Tell your representatives; run for office; create a petition to support legalization at the state level.  Just do something.