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The US is facing a crisis of functionality.  Between the abuse of the filibuster in the Senate, and a House of Representatives dominated by conservatives who would sooner see the government shut down than operate, Washington is broken.  The fiscal cliff debate capped one of the worst two year periods in the modern era for the US government.  Now, we have the debt ceiling debate looming, something we already saw unfold in 2011.  

Different ideas are being pushed by those that fear Republicans will let us default.  One idea that is really gaining steam in Liberal circles is the platinum, trillion dollar coin.  Essentially, they want the treasury to print a platinum coin, place its worth at a trillion dollars, then deposit it at the Fed and use it to pay our bills.  

While I enjoy the fact that the idea bypasses negligent GOP congressmen, I don't think this is the best course of action.  There is a certain "jumping the shark" feel to printing a trillion dollar coin.  I realize our government and politics have already become a bit of a joke, but this may be a step to far.  There are other options on the table after all.  

I believe a better course of action would be the constitutional option.  According to the 14th Amendment, the validity of the nation's debt shall not be questioned.  House minority leader Nancy Pelosi favors this approach.  Given the extraordinary circumstances, I believe this is the action that should be taken in order to solve this problem, and prevent Republicans from pulling this stunt again, which they definitely will if President Obama negotiates with them this time around.

This is not our first rodeo on the debt ceiling issue.  In 2011, Republican refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless the president gave them massive spending cuts led to our credit rating being downgraded by S&P.  It was the first credit downgrade in US history.  Previously, the debt ceiling was raised with little controversy.  By playing games with our credit rating, Republicans have put the entire world economy in danger.  

As some conservatives have pointed out, we can still continue to pay our debt obligations even if the debt ceiling is not raised.  However, doing so would mean we have to stop spending in other areas.  Furthermore, such a scenario would likely lead to our credit rating being downgraded again.  We did not miss a debt payment in 2011, but S&P still downgraded the nation, citing the ineptitude of Washington.  Failure to raise the debt ceiling would not inspire much confidence in our fiscal situation.  

All options should be considered, but we must be careful to take the most sensible approach.  It would be wise for Congress not to drag this problem out until the end as they did in 2011.  Our economy is on good footing, and it would be reckless to put that in danger to score political points.  Republicans can haggle over spending cuts during the sequestration debate.  The nation's debt ceiling is too important to play games over.

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On Friday, the US Senate renewed a warrantless wiretapping program that began under the Bush administration.  The vote was not even close at 73-23.  Democratic opposition to this program, and much of the Patriot Act, has seemingly disappeared now that Barack Obama is president and supportive of such measures.  

While it is legal for the government to use these methods to gather intelligence on foreigners, the fear is that it will be used against American citizens, a direct violation of the fourth amendment.  The constitution protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures, and any searches are supposed to require a warrant that is judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.  Since 9/11, this protection has been under constant attack in the name of fighting terror.  

Since the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, gun advocates have come to the defense of the second amendment in force.  As a resident of the South, my Facebook wall and Twitter feed have been inundated with posts and pictures on gun rights.  The threat of the simplest forms of gun control has millions up in arms.  One has to wonder why equal outrage has not been declared over actual assaults on the fourth amendment, which is arguably a more important right and freedom.  

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  In the post 9/11 world, we have come dangerously close to doing just that.  In the name of fighting terrorism, we have allowed the US to slip closer and closer into a police state.  

What is perhaps most shocking is how much Americans voluntarily give up their privacy.  Social networks now know more about us than we do about ourselves.  As recent dust ups at Instagram show, these networks are chomping at the bit to use this data.  While some feign ignorance, it would be foolish to think that anything put online at this point can not be found and used by someone, yet millions of people continue to put sensitive information about themselves on the web everyday.  

The prioritizing of the second amendment over the fourth leads me to believe that freedom is not the issue most are concerned with.  Rather, people are more worried about someone taking their toys away.  If freedom was the issues, the same people arguing over gun rights would have been fighting warrantless wiretaps for years, and probably would have been a lot less supportive of President Bush.  Sadly, while the talk has been about gun control and the second amendment, our real freedoms have been slipped out the back door.  

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Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 09:34 AM PST

A Sensible Approach To Gun Control

by merco

The recent shootings in Connecticut have reignited the gun control debate.  An issue that has been muted for much of the past decade is once again at the forefront of political chatter.  A week after the shootings, the nation's biggest gun lobby, the NRA, held a press conference in which they pushed armed guards at schools as the solution to the problem.  A gun lobby pushed for more guns.  Shocking.

We already know armed guards do not always work.  Columbine had armed guards.  The first step towards solving this problem is admitting that we can not completely solve the problem.  Bad people will always find ways to cause harm.  Our best bet is to try and limit the damage.  

The most talked about method of preventing tragedies like those in Sandy Hook is bring back the assault weapons ban.  While it would be a good start, a ban on assault rifles would not solve the problem.  The ban does nothing for the millions of assault weapons that are already on the streets.  A better solution is to regulate assault weapons like we regulate machine guns.  

Machine guns can be purchased in certain situations, but doing so requires jumping through a lot of hoops.  In order to preserve the rights of collectors, that is how assault weapons should be regulated.  Such restrictions also strictly prohibit the sale or transfer of weapons between people.  While transactions would still go on under the table, these restrictions would severely slow the flow of weapons.  The same restrictions should apply to large clips.  

As we attempt to come to grips with our gun obsessed culture, we must realize that more than just gun rights are at stake here.  Those pushing for outright gun bans must realize the danger in pushing that agenda.  The right to bear arms is a right enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  Do we really want to set the precedent of taking away some of our basic rights?  The Patriot Act has already crossed that line a time or two, as has the recent NDAA.  We should not be in the business of giving away our rights so easily.

On the flip side, gun advocates must accept the difference between gun regulation and banning guns outright.  As a society, we accept the regulation of machine guns.  We also accept that it is illegal to manufacture plastic guns.  Adding assault weapons to that list is not a stretch.  

Those who argue they need those weapons to fight a tyrannical government are delusional.  If the US military ever cracked down on its own population, an AR-15 would be of little use.  With drones and cruise missiles, the US military can suppress a target without putting a boot on the ground.  One can not fight these forces with assault rifles.  

These sensible reforms, coupled with a campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues, could go a long way towards preventing tragedies like those in Newtown.  The terrible nature of this recent tragedy may be the last straw that ignites change.  A newly elected President Obama, with no more elections before him, has a chance to push for real change.  After four years of ignoring the issue, the time is now.  

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