Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chris Cannon and NOPEC

NOPEC (H.R. 6074), a bill passed by the US House on May 21, 2008, is essentially an attempt to sue OPEC for operating a cartel or monopoly. (Official summary: To amend the Sherman Act to make oil-producing and exporting cartels illegal and for other purposes.) It passed 324 to 84 (with 26 no-votes).

My feelings about this bill can be summarized by quoting Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Tx): "Americans are facing real economic hardships that cannot be overcome with symbolic legislation. This bill would do little more than create another layer of bureaucracy at the taxpayer's expense."

The Republican leadership (Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) specifically) defended the more than 100 Republicans who voted for this bill by saying the bill was "meaningless" and "They [the "yea" voters] don't want to explain why they didn't." That particular sentiment ticked me off a little. Please treat me like an adult, Congress, and try explaining things to me. There have been a few too many times lately when Republican House members have done things that I disagree with, and occasionally I feel like voting ALL of the "bums" out would maybe send the right message.

Right now we are in a heated primary race (3rd District) between Chris Cannon and Jason Chaffetz, and my research has shown very little different between the two, policy-wise. (I haven't yet decided how I'm voting in the late-June primary.) I'm trying to balance "throw the bums out" with Cannon's seniority in D.C., what little differences the two candidates have, and how they are conducting their campaigns.

So I researched how Chris Cannon voted in the NOPEC bill. Imagine my (pleased) surprise when I discovered that he is one of the 84 who voted "Nay" (scroll down for Utah). Good for you, Rep. Cannon. Thanks for sticking to principles and not treating your constituents as too stupid to understand world energy issues. I still haven't decided whom I'm voting for, but that is a definite point in the Cannon column.

(For other Utah districts, Rob Bishop (1st District) voted "Nay" as well, and Jim Matheson (2nd District) did not cast a vote.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Using 9/11 (Erronously) to Denote Disaster

On NPR's All Things Considered broadcast on May 19th, Robert Siegel and Melissa Block report on the one-week anniversary of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Sichuan province in China. With alarms and sirens to mark the time, China is starting three days of mourning of the tragic loss of life (although the death toll will probably continue to rise, right now pegs it at over 40,000). The loss of life is truly mind-boggling, and the amount of rebuilding and resettling will occupy China for years.

In the first 30 seconds of the NPR broadcast linked above, Melissa Block states that "5/12 is now China's 9/11". This is not an unusual comparison, as it has been used numerous times before to denote a nation-altering disaster--usually terrorism related, such as Spain's 3/11 and London's 7/5 bombings. Those events, for those countries, are comparable to 9/11 for the United States. But large natural disasters, however huge the loss of life, aren't necessarily nation-altering. They also don't necessarily sear themselves into the psyche of those who didn't immediately experience them.

An event like the 2004 tsunami was a nation-altering--perhaps in some ways a world-altering--event. It was huge, unexpected, and unusual--something that hasn't happened in generations. An earthquake in the United States that killed over 40,000 people would be a huge, unusual event.

Unfortunately, in China, earthquakes with massive loss of life aren't unusual events. In fact, within living memory, an magnitude 7.5 earthquake in northeastern China had a death toll of over 240,000 people (which is actually a little higher than the official death toll for the tsunami). In 1974, a Chinese earthquake killed 20,000. Farther back, but still less than 100 years ago, an earthquake in 1927 killed more than 40,900 Chinese; an earthquake in 1920 killed more than 200,000 Chinese.

The tragedy of 9/11 was not the loss of life alone--although that was heartrending and horrifying. Rather, it was the fact that the United States had been attacked on our mainland, by an enemy almost completely unknown to the general public, out of a clear blue sky. It radically changed our society, our foreign policy, and our political landscape. We have declared war against terrorism, which is a generational battle if there ever was one. Comparing it to huge natural disasters is like comparing apples and lima beans.

This does not lessen the tragedy of the May 12, 2008 earthquake. But I don't foresee huge changes in Chinese politics or society based on it, if past earthquakes are any indication. Maybe I'm wrong--maybe the global connected age will make a bigger difference in this event than in previous ones. Only time will tell.