Public lands can’t afford another shutdown

Rocky Mountain National Park.

During the partial federal government shutdown and in its wake, we were witness to several stories of damage done to public lands facilities, and to the lands themselves.

Overflowing toilets. Truckloads of trash scattered in campgrounds and on trails. Acts of vandalism. And perhaps most troubling, the cutting down of ancient Joshua trees in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Some of these actions may take decades or even longer to mend.

There were other losses, too. Deferred maintenance got kicked down the road even further. Scientific studies carried out by federally employed researchers were delayed, and in many cases, possibly hopelessly compromised.

And all of this on top of the fact that thousands of employees went more than a month between paychecks, creating that much more strain on the caretakers of the lands that we treasure. While government employees will get back pay, thousands of private sector contractors are getting stiffed.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was a relief to see the shutdown end. It’s been said, numerous times, that forcing government shutdowns is a losing political tactic, as the one who makes that move invariably gets blamed.

That said, another deadline is looming in about a week. There’s no telling where this winds up – a deal on border security, another shutdown, or a raising of the white flag by whoever. But the threat of another stoppage still exists, and if that happens, we all end up being losers.

Now might be a good time to make a few phone calls, send a few emails and write some letters to your congressional representatives and to the White House. Enough of this foolishness. There are far too many lives affected by a shutdown, and far too much potential harm to the places we value so highly in this country.

It’s been said that the national park system is America’s greatest idea, and I’d extend that to the rest of our public lands. It’s about time those who govern us acted like they believe it.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Bob Doucette

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Scott Pruitt, the EPA and the looming legacy of Tom Joad

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is the Trump administration's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is the Trump administration’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

I’ve waited a bit for the fallout of the November elections to settle, to give myself a little time to take stock in what the results will mean when it comes to conservation. There are a lot of mixed messages coming out of Donald Trump’s transition team as to what we can expect from his administration concerning public lands and the environment.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know where I stand here. Federal public lands belong to all of us, and federal stewardship of these lands are key to preserving them for everyone. A lot is also at stake when it comes to issues of clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, public health and those who work in tourism and the outdoor industry, itself a $646 billion contributor to the national economy. A healthy public lands system and a vigilant stance on clean air and water are vital.

I’m not going to say much (at least not yet) of Trump’s pick for interior secretary, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. All I know for certain is she seems to agree lockstep with the Republican Party platform on public lands, that is to open them up for drilling, mining, logging and, if so desired, sale to the states or private interests for use of their choosing. She is also a climate science denier. Clearly these are stances in which I am in disagreement, and her leadership of the agency that manages federal public lands might be a good topic in the future.

But I do want to examine the broader picture of the nation’s air, water and land. And there is one particular nominee I do want to focus on, and that is Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. While my knowledge of Rep. McMorris is relatively thin, it’s different for the EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve lived here since I was a teenager. I’ve come to know Oklahoma’s stories well, some more than others. I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, if you’re not familiar with Mr. Pruitt, here’s a small primer…

Scott Pruitt is fairly typical in what you see in Republican political circles, advocating for smaller government and fewer federal regulations. Like Rep. McMorris, he’s a climate science denier, calling climate change “far from settled science.” When he was elected attorney general, he set up a unit in that office to monitor and take legal action on anything he deemed “federal overreach.” He sued the federal government over certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and joined Nebraska in suing the state of Colorado over its legalization of recreational marijuana use and sale.

But his biggest legal target has been the EPA, the very agency he is slated to lead. On at least eight occasions, the EPA has been sued by Pruitt’s office over regulations regarding emissions from oil and gas production and coal-fired power plants. He has close ties to the energy industry, taking in more than $316,000 in campaign contributions over the years from individuals and groups with ties to that sector; Pruitt’s PACs have received even more. In fact, those ties are so close that he once accepted and signed a letter to the EPA that was written for him (with a few minor edits) by officials at Devon Energy, a large Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company.

Politics being what they are, and with Oklahoma being a very conservative state, none of this should be much of a surprise, though in some instances, it does send up a few red flags.

But you’d think a guy who has lived in this state for any length of time would learn some of its history, and particularly what has happened when lax environmental regulations and practices run amok. The answer is stark, and at times, quite terrible. Here are four that come to mind, in case Mr. Pruitt needs a reminder…

1930s dust storm in Cimarron County, Okla.

1930s dust storm in Cimarron County, Okla.

The Dust Bowl. Back in the 1930s, crop rotation and soil conservation wasn’t much of a thing. Huge swathes of Oklahoma acreage (as well as significant chunks of Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado) were vulnerable to losing topsoil (and thus creating a perfect storm for crop failure) if the conditions were right. Around the time the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, record heat and drought created those conditions, wiping out crops, bankrupting farmers and creating huge dust storms that blacked out the sun. Lessons from the Dust Bowl days taught us a lot about proper soil conservation, but not before thousands lost their farms, livelihoods and homes. Great migrations of Oklahomans headed west, and a famous book, complete with Okie stereotypes’s personified by John Steinbeck’s Tom Joad protagonist, followed.

The Sequoyah Fuels disaster. Nuclear power seemed to be the answer for American energy independence, but funny things happen when you start playing with radioactive materials. The Sequoyah Fuels Corporation had a nuclear fuel processing plant near the small town of Gore, Okla., and in 1986, an explosion there released 29,500 pounds of gaseous uranium hexafluoride, launching a 30-foot column of poisonous fumes into the air. One person died and 37 people were hospitalized. General Atomics bought the site a few years later, then suffered its own troubles — a 20,000-pound spill of uranium tetraflouride powder, and the discovery of some 21,000 pounds of uranium under the site’s main processing building. Uranium levels in the groundwater underneath the plant were 35,000 times higher than federal regulations allowed.

The facility was eventually shut down, but there are still buildings near the plant site — including the old Carlisle School — that remain abandoned for fear of radioactive contamination. Several million cubic feet of contaminated material are on the site to this day, and there is fear that toxins could leak into groundwater or taint the nearby Arkansas River. Maybe a little more red tape and a few more regulations would have helped (though that would be an Energy Department and not an EPA function). In lieu of that, Sequoyah Fuels’ buildings, vehicles, toxic sludge and contaminated soil have all been buried underneath large berms, which will be monitored by the Department of Energy (and Rick Perry!) once the cleanup operation is complete.

Chat piles of toxic mine tailings loom over a neighborhood in Picher, Okla.

Chat piles of toxic mine tailings loom over a neighborhood in Picher, Okla.

Tar Creek. In what is Oklahoma’s biggest environmental catastrophe, and what is dubbed by some to be the country’s worst environmental disaster, a small corner of northeastern Oklahoma that was rich in lead and zinc deposits is now a major EPA Superfund Site. Dating back to the late 1800s (and seeing its heyday through much of the 20th century), zinc and lead mining in Ottawa County, Okla., as well as adjacent parts of southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri, was big business. As with any large mining operation, there are waste products — called mine tailings — that end up being left behind once the ore of the desired material is refined. So in the towns of Picher and Cardin, massive chat piles of mine tailings rose around and within the community like small mountains. But the chat piles were contaminated, poisoning ground water, creeks and streams. Children in these communities began suffering the effects of lead poisoning, and with no realistic way to clean up the mess, the government was forced to buy out all the properties in Picher and Cardin. Both communities are now ghost towns, forcibly abandoned by contaminants left out in the open during a time when mine tailing regulations were spotty at best. Waters in the Tar Creek area are still poisoned, and unlike the towns’ residents and many of their homes and businesses (a tornado wiped out many structures there in 2008), those giant chat piles remain.

quakes

Oklahoma earthquakes. This may be a shock to you, but Oklahoma has a history of seismicity. In 1952, a 5.5 earthquake shook the state, and even cracked the floor of the state Capitol. But most Oklahoma earthquakes were small and rare. Until around 2009. At that time, and with increasing frequency and strength, Oklahoma went from being a mostly earthquake-free state to the country’s most seismically active. Temblors went from infrequent to several hundred a year in that time, and in some cases, damaging — a 2011 event near the central Oklahoma town of Prague buckled pavement, damaged homes and toppled portions of buildings as far as 30 miles from the epicenter. In 2016, a series of earthquakes near the towns of Pawnee and Cushing did even more damage, with one quake registering a 5.8 magnitude — a state record.

The cause was not some new mountain range trying to break through the state’s famous red clay. No, it was caused by the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling activities. By drilling deep disposal wells and injecting wastewater underground, fault lines long dormant were exposed and activated. The severity won’t rival anything along the San Andreas fault of California, but the damage is enough to spawn a number of lawsuits. The state was slow to respond, and received a lot of pressure from the energy industry and its political allies to downplay any link between oil and gas activity and the quakes. Eventually, science won, and soon after we discovered that if you decrease or shut down disposal well activities in quake zones, the number of quakes diminishes. But scientists warn us that even with tighter regulations on disposal wells, the damage is done — Oklahoma will likely see more quakes, and the chance of something 5.0-magnitude or greater still exists. This will likely persist for another 5-10 years, according to one study.

Obviously, Pruitt is not to blame for these events, and the EPA’s scope wouldn’t cover them all. But as an elected official representing this state, they are things of which he should be aware, and the lessons therein point toward the need to keep a close eye on how human activity affects the environment. No one wants an overly intrusive federal government that squashes business. But the EPA’s role in protecting the nation’s air and water is vital. It’s one that shouldn’t be relegated to a “hands-off” approach until something bad happens. It needs to be a proactive watchdog.

It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed by it. Mr. Pruitt should look at Oklahoma’s environmental history and understand that when he heads to Washington, his job isn’t to serve the donors that have fueled his political ambitions. His job is to protect the land, the air and the water. It’s to protect us, so we don’t suffer calamities like the ones I described above.

Don’t let the legacy of Tom Joad come back haunt the entire country.

Bob Doucette

Standoff at Malheur: It’s past time for the Oregon occupiers to leave

The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge continues. (Sacramento Bee photo)

The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge continues. (Sacramento Bee photo)

It’s been about three weeks since a group of self-proclaimed militia members broke off from a planned demonstration, drove to a southeastern Oregon wildlife refuge and, fully armed but facing no one, camped out and “took over” the federal facility’s headquarters.

The original protest, which took place in the town of Burns, was against the resentencing of a couple of ranchers who had originally been convicted of setting fire to public lands in an effort to cover up poaching. They denied that, but served sentences a federal judge later said were too short to satisfy federal sentencing guidelines. So back to jail they would go.

This upset many locals in Harney County, who felt like the ranchers got a raw deal. But what really got people’s attention is what happened after: When Ammon Bundy, son of now-famous Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, took a crew of armed men to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, holed up in the refuge’s headquarters, and said they weren’t leaving until federal public lands were given back to locals. They vowed to stay for years, if need be, until they got their way.

The takeover highlights a couple things, first being the ongoing tension that ranchers and private landowners have with the federal government. When the government owns most of the land out West, it’s bound to happen, and any time you reach an agreement with the feds, there are going to be strings attached. Naturally, some landowners find common ground with the Bundy clan and their ongoing disputes with the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies.

But a second thing on which it sheds light is a disturbing trend much bigger than stakeholder friction with the government. It looks as if there is a growing desire to make public — and armed — stands against the authorities an acceptable tactic for earning concessions on public lands the rest of us would never enjoy.

Going back to 2014, Cliven Bundy made news when the BLM finally got tired of him failing to pay grazing fees that he’d racked up over several years. His debt to the government is in the seven- figure range, and he was warned that if he didn’t pay up or remove his cattle from public lands, his cattle would be moved for him.

But when the BLM showed up to make good on its promise, so did Bundy’s supporters — a collection of like-minded folks from closer to home and a number of out-of-state militia types, armed with weaponry that you might see soldiers carrying into war zones. When the groups met face-to-face, federal workers had militia weapons trained on them, so they backed down. Cliven Bundy got his way because the BLM didn’t want some of its employees felled in a hail of gunfire.

Fast-forward to earlier this month, and it appears the desire for armed confrontation is still high with this bunch. Ammon Bundy, a Montana rancher, his brother, and a gaggle of out-of-state militia men are standing guard at their new possession, with federal law enforcement watching from a distance.

None of the refuge’s employees were at the facility with the Bundy group arrived, so the takeover was pretty easy. But they’ve taken to social media, asking people to send food, clothing and whatever else might help them endure a lengthy stay in the Oregon high desert.

A growing number of Harney County residents are ready for the Bundy bunch to leave. (ajc.com photo)

A growing number of Harney County residents are ready for the Bundy bunch to leave. (ajc.com photo)

What they haven’t received, aside from their own small number, is any real support — not locally or nationally. The county sheriff wants them gone. A Native American tribe that calls southeastern Oregon its ancestral home has been very public about wanting the group leave. Most locals are wary of their presence, and weary of the standoff, noting that they don’t feel safe with the potential of the standoff escalating. And the call for supplies has been met by people sending the occupiers packages of plastic phalluses and sex toys instead of the requested snacks. You might say the public response to their pleas has been acidly comical.

But the occupation of the wildlife refuge is no farce. There are real costs here, something conservationists, hunters, birders and outdoor enthusiasts have made clear. The Bundy militia wants the government to “give back” public lands to the people, but fail to understand that those very lands belong to all of us. Even neighboring ranchers understand this. One of them in particular was angered when militia members tore down a fence separating his land from that of the refuge, and immediately had his crew reinstall the barrier, telling The Oregonian newspaper that he has no problem working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on grazing deals.

That’s not to say that the friction between private and public isn’t real. It is. Ranching is a hard life with razor-thin profit margins, especially in the vast, dry lands of many western states. And if bureaucrats aren’t working closely with stakeholders, arbitrary decisions can turn into blow-ups quickly.

But the wildlife refuge itself has belonged to the people — every U.S. citizen — since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. We set aside public lands knowing that there is more to natural resources than what we can cut, mine, graze or extract. Diverse ecosystems make the land healthier, which can actually help agriculture. Unspoiled lands attract tourism, and thus more jobs. Conservationists of old, like Roosevelt, knew that the country’s heritage was intertwined with the natural realm.

Now that’s being threatened. Threatened by people who dress and arm themselves as if they’re going to war (I’m continually amazed at how some people want to look, feel and be seen as special forces heroes without the sacrifice needed to be given that honor). Threatened by men itching for a fight, deluded by the lie that their battles will start a revolution (you can see how well that worked for Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols). Threatened by opportunists who keep saying God told them to do this, to take what really isn’t theirs alone (though shalt not steal, anyone?). While they haven’t come out and said it, the implication is they’re not leaving unless their impossible demands are met, or until blood is shed.

So far, the violence has been absent. Of that I’m grateful, and I tip my hat to federal law enforcement for learning the lessons from Waco that got some of their agents shot to pieces, then later ended in fiery horror. No one wants a repeat of that.

The only real action against the occupiers occurred when a couple of these dunderheads went grocery shopping in town, using government vehicles they didn’t have permission to use. I can only imagine the embarrassment the mighty warriors must have felt when they were relieved of their grocery sacks, cuffed, and hauled to jail in the back of a police car for auto theft. No glory in that, my friends.

The standoff is important because public lands belong to all of us, not just people with guns and free time on their hands.

The standoff is important because public lands belong to all of us, not just people with guns and free time on their hands.

But as the standoff persists and the feds keep watching, I wonder how it will end. Will the occupiers get frustrated and leave? Will the government cut off power and road access, trapping them in the compound? Will the militia mopes be prosecuted, or will they be free to go home like they did after the Nevada standoff in 2014? Or will this really end in a storm of bullets and clouds of tear gas?

However it goes, we’ve already lost something. For the better part of a month, out-of-staters with self-aggrandizing goals have disrupted the lives of the people of Harney County. They’ve called themselves “patriots” while forcibly commandeering and perverting the term. And with each passing day, they erode a part of what’s great about being an American — that we have wild places where all of us have ownership.

Bob Doucette

A lesson that ‘House of Cards’ taught me

"House of Cards" is a great show, but the lives depicted in it are not for me.

“House of Cards” is a great show, but the lives depicted in it are not for me.

 

After all the hype over the release of the third season of “House of Cards,” I finally gave it a whirl. You know, just to see what the fuss was about.

For the record, the show lives up to the hype. It’s that good. Kevin Spacey channels LBJ in a way I’m not sure many other actors can.

But something else I got from the show was a sense of “homecoming,” I guess, in that I recognized so many of the places filmed in the show. Those row houses in Georgetown, the lesser-known parks and greasy spoon cafes, and the Capitol office building cafeterias — all those Washington nooks and crannies that most folks don’t think about because the times they’ve been there were to see Capitol, or take a picture of the White House, or view the exhibits at the Smithsonian. The show includes the out-of-the-way places, and it was fun to pick ’em out.

I know a smattering of such locales because there was a time that I was certain I was going to be having a career there.

Funny how things turn out.

Back in my college days, I was all about finding a way into public service. I studied politics and government, learned about other countries, and dreamed of working for the State Department, or perhaps the CIA. Maybe I’d spend some time on the hill as a legislative researcher, or become a high-powered advocate for a  think tank or something.

But my time there, while making quite an impression on me, was limited to a summer as an intern at the Capitol, working for a Minnesota congressman by doing mostly benign administrative tasks. By the time I wrapped up college, I was snapping up the best available job I could find in media, with hopes that maybe one day I’d find my ticket to D.C. by being sent to a Washington Bureau. Or something like that.

Ah, the Capitol. Great place to visit. Not sure I want to live there.

Ah, the Capitol. Great place to visit. Not sure I want to live there.

Obviously, none of that ever happened. No stint in the diplomatic corps, no long nights at Langley, no big stories as part of the fiercely competitive D.C. press corps. I had to find work in a small Oklahoma community, and I had to do it right away – keeping a roof overhead and food on the table squeezed out far-flung dreams.

So life took me to other places. At first, small towns writing about football games and small-time crimes, then frying bigger fish for bigger outfits.

On my own time, I got to travel some, sometimes abroad. And of course, there was plenty of time hiking and running trails, climbing mountains and driving across the country finding — and making — stories far more dear to my heart than anything I could have done slaving away in the middle of the Capitol Hill  boiler room.

I’ve been back to Washington a couple of times since those intern days, and I must say it’s a fantastic city. So much to do and see, and filled with smart, dedicated and talented people. I have incredible memories of that place, but usually they have nothing to do with high-stakes politics or important figures. More often, it’s about meeting who was then my brother Steve’s future wife, playing softball in after-hours beer leagues and getting to know normal people doing normal things in one of the most extraordinary cities on the planet.

There are times when I wonder if I missed out. Had I not been so hard-pressed to find work instead of going to grad school — getting that doctorate, learning a foreign language, or doing whatever else it took to break into one of those sweet federal gigs — could I have somehow cracked that inner circle? Some of my college friends did.

Or what if I’d really put my media career first, gave my ambition a shot of steroids, and really gone for broke on joining the Washington media circus? Could I have done it?

If so, what sort of life would I have?

Here’s what I do know: When you’re working in high-stakes careers, the job comes first. Everything else comes second. Rare is the man or woman who can put their family, health or whatever before their profession in a place like Washington. I’m sure the same could be said in many New York circles, too. Power and riches come with a price, one partially purchased by your undivided attention. Other costs pile up, too.

And I guess you could predict that you might have to sacrifice other things in a “succeed at any cost” or “ends justify the means” sort of way, but I don’t accept that as a given. I know it’s common (or even expected), but I don’t think it’s automatic. Maybe it just seems like it is.

I believe that had things gone according to “plan” I might have had a shot at some or all of those scenarios, but I think I would have lost out in many other ways. How many friends would I have never met, or distant lands would I have never seen? Would I have bothered to ever return to the Rockies, except as a drive-through tourist tethered to a lodge? Would I have ever seen the expansive views from a high summit in the San Juan range if I were chasing political stories all day?

Would I have already died of a heart attack?

I'm pretty sure there is no view in D.C. that can come close to this.

I’m pretty sure there is no view in D.C. that can come close to this.

Life takes funny turns. I’m sure I never would have been a Francis Underwood-type politician (I hate the nasty side of politics too much), and I barely got out of German with a passing grade, so you can kiss that diplomatic career good-bye. The whole CIA thing was probably a pipe dream, too. Ditto for the Washington press corps.

But I did become a bit of a traveler. I got to see some great places on three continents. I somehow found a way to become a marathoner. I’ve even dabbled in mountaineering, which is every bit as cool as it sounds.

Could I have been all those things and had a big career in Washington? Maybe, but I doubt it. And given the choice, with hindsight as a guide, I wouldn’t choose any different. Quiet solitude on a mountaintop or breezing through the trees on a run just sounds way better than becoming a slave to the grind. When 2016 rolls around, or some new political or international crisis strikes, there is a good chance I could be somewhere much more peaceful and interesting than what my younger self envisioned.

A wise choice or serendipity, I’m not sure. But it certainly is a better fit.

Bob Doucette

So, Paul Ryan, what exactly was that marathon time?

You’re not going to see much on this site about politics. There are plenty of opinions regarding the elections out there without me chiming in here.

But there is an interesting story about the Republicans’ vice-presidential nominee regarding his past claims of a pretty fast marathon time.

Paul Ryan, a GOP congressman from Wisconsin, is noted for many things, including his high level of fitness. Believe me, most American men would do well to be as fit as Mr. Ryan. He takes it seriously, and has for many, many years.

Part of his athletic past is that of being a marathon finisher. He’d told a conservative talk show host that he’d completed the 26.2-mile run in 2 hours and “50-something” minutes. A pretty fast time which would more than qualify for the Boston Marathon and would put him well above the performance of most recreational marathoners. A lot of the folks I know just want to finish, and if they do it under four hours, so much the better.

Trouble is, it isn’t true. According to this report from The Hill.com, Runner’s World magazine did some checking and couldn’t find any evidence of this. The magazine did show him finishing a 1990 marathon in a shade over 4 hours, square in the middle of the pack of that particular race.

Big, big difference. As in, the difference between being a BM qualifier and a finisher in a local race.

Mr. Ryan later admitted his mistake, saying in a statement to The New Yorker, “The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin—who ran Boston last year—reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.”

Runners are the types who remember their times. Given the difference between the stated time and the real time, well, you make the conclusion.

This isn’t earth-shattering stuff. It doesn’t disqualify him from office or send some sort of message about a sinister, hidden character flaw. It’s more like bragging about a playground fight you had as a kid that was really nothing more than a short shoving match.

But it’s bad form. Trust me, Mr. Ryan, it’s enough that you finished that race (only a fraction of a percent of the American public can boast the same), and we all know you’re in great shape. No need to embellish the facts to impress us. Just don’t tell us you ran a 2:50 marathon until you’ve actually done it.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

America’s deadly and vexing case of deja vu

I don’t like to tackle political issues here. But I’m very troubled by what happened in Aurora, Colo., last week.

I have family that live there, and I visit there as often as I can. When I heard the news about the shooting I was relieved to know that my relatives and friends in that city weren’t hurt.

It didn’t take long for the issue of guns to come into the forefront. Some have argued that stricter gun control is needed. Others have argued, as they did after the Virginia Tech shootings, that a better armed populace – and more precisely, an armed person in the immediate vicinity of the shooter – could have stopped the bloodshed much quicker.

I’m very conflicted on this issue. I’m a gun owner and a supporter of Second Amendment rights.

I’m also appalled at the ease in which James Holmes obtained a nice little arsenal and found his way into a crowded theater to mow down unsuspecting moviegoers.

The United States has one of the most heavily armed civilian populations in the world. Tens of millions of Americans (including me) legally own firearms.

The U.S. also has one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths in the world. The majority of those deaths are caused by criminals, who also find it quite easy to obtain weapons in a nation that is awash in them.

It should be noted that the 70 million or so legal gun owners don’t kill or injure others with their weapons. Most of them are hunters, others are sport shooters. Some buy weapons for self-defense.

But again, Mr. Holmes was not (until Friday) a criminal. He obtained an assault rifle (why does anyone really need one of those?), a shotgun, two handguns and 6,000 rounds of ammunition legally. He played by the rules, armed himself and shot 70 defenseless people, killing 12, including a 6-year-old girl.

James Holmes in court Monday. He is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others in a shooting last week in Aurora, Colo. All of the weapons he used in the attack, including an assault rifle, were obtained legally. (Denver Post photo)

I don’t want to be the guy who denies others the right to arm themselves for self-protection. There are some rough neighborhoods out there, and indeed, some people live in fear of others who have threatened them.

But how far do we let that go? What weapons are too lethal for civilian ownership? Or is there such a thing? Firearms now are much different than they were when the Constitution was written more than two centuries ago. The contrast between muskets and MAC-10s is pretty stark.

There are a lot of voices advocating for stronger gun control laws. But it should be noted that Norway, with stricter gun control laws than the U.S., fell victim a year ago to a mass shooting that was significantly more lethal than what happened in Aurora.

There are spurious arguments here that need to be brushed aside. As well armed as our citizenry is, it is not a deterrent to government tyranny. If our government went out of control and then faced armed resistance from the people, all of the small arms in the U.S. would stand no chance against much-better armed police and soldiers. So that fantasy should be put to rest.

And then there’s notion that if we got rid of all guns people would still keep killing other people with knives, arrows, clubs or whatever they could get their hands on. While this may be true, those weapons cannot kill with the ease and efficiency of guns. It’s a dumb argument.

So that brings it back to my central question. What can we do? Is there anything that can be done that would really help? How can we curtail gun violence without trampling a constitutional right? How can we be safer without forcing ourselves to arm ourselves even more?

Would anyone feel safer with a law on paper on the books? Or seeing more people packing heat on their hips?

It’s a vexing issue. I just wonder if we’re stuck in a mode where no action is taken, a status quo maintained, and a population eventually feels safe again until the next sociopath arms himself, walks into a crowded place and opens fire.

And then we’ll be asking the same questions all over again.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

The politicization of grocery shopping

NOTE: This is a rare post that has nothing to do with the outdoors, fitness, or anything else of that ilk. But go ahead and read it anyway.

One of the things that has regrettably become a part of life today is that everything has become politicized. And I do mean everything.

If I put a description of a person here, you can guess their politics.

So, let’s say it’s a 30-something suburban mom driving an SUV, transporting her kids from soccer practice to church.

Or perhaps some dude attired in a second-hand-store outfit right out of “Portlandia,” sipping on gourmet blend coffee at a trendy coffee shop while updating his twitter status on his iPad.

Someone with a southern accent.

Someone with a Yankee accent.

Places are definitely political. Guess the party affiliation of a gated community. Or an independent book store. A Baptist church. A synagogue.

Even things can be political. For instance, a full-sized pickup with a gunrack. Or the gun in the gunrack.

Or maybe a pair or open-toed sandals. For men.

See what I mean?

Living in Oklahoma, politics take a decidedly rightward lean. We’re smack in the middle of Red State America. I mean red meat, red-blooded, redneck, Red State America.

This is a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater back in 1964. That means every GOP candidate since then, no matter how big of a stiff that guy was, got the Oklahoma vote.

In 2008, Barack Obama lost every county in Oklahoma, all 77 of them. Oklahoma’s lone Democratic congressman hinted that even he didn’t vote for him. (He for sure didn’t endorse him, and regularly votes against his own party.)

When they show those maps of red-vs-blue during elections, Oklahoma looks like a big red pan-shaped stop sign, telling liberals far and wide, “Don’t bring that s**t here.”

To me, it’s kind of crazy how politicized everything has become. Even grocery shopping has a distinct blue/red conflict going on.

A different crowd shops at Walmart than say, Trader Joe’s. Or Whole Foods.

We actually have Whole Foods in Tulsa. Sometimes when I’m feeling wealthy or really granola I’ll go there.

Other people will make the jump, too.

So there’s this suburban mom who decides she and her family need to eat better food. Less processed stuff, less stuff trucked in from the other side of the world, fewer GMOs, etc. She steps over that “organic” threshold (what would the neighbors think!) and heads on down to Whole Foods. She’s been watching “Oprah” and “Dr. Oz,” ya know.

So she heads out, her young boy in tow, jumps in the Chevy Suburban/Ford Expedition/name your big SUV, pulls out of the manicured anonymity of the ‘burbs and drives on down to the store.

They pull into the parking lot, get out and head inside. Instantly, the difference in clientele is apparent. Rail thin vegan women wearing smart eyewear and outdoor performance clothing. Yoga instructors and “runners.” Aging hippies and young hipsters. Dudes in skinny jeans, scarves and fedoras. A distinct lack of makeup.

This is obviously a much different experience than Junior is used to seeing when mommy drags him to the store. He’s heard of these people. Seen them on TV. Overheard whispers about them amongst the adults at church. Like a youngster addicted to nature shows who gets to see the real thing at the city zoo, little Junior is anxious to show mom how much he has learned.

He tugs on mom’s sleeve. She looks down.

Keeping hold of her sleeve with one hand, while pointing at the shoppers with the other, he lets it fly:

“Look ma! Democrats!”

And thus, the politicization of grocery shopping is complete.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

POSTSCRIPT: Some of this is made up. But I think you get the point. Peace.