Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Ranting and Venting (I, Terrorist)

If political shennanegins aren't your cup of tea, just scroll on by, because I have some bitching to do...

Yesterday was an eventful day in the world of hobby rocketry. Especially if you define 'eventful' as being bent over and screwed royally by two moronic congress-critters in the holy name of 'security'.

From their press release:

Lautenberg, Schumer Join Forces to Stop Republican Attempts to Pass Legislation That Would Make it Easier for Terrorists to Build Missiles in US

Ashcroft Justice Dept. Opposes Legislation

Washington, D.C. - Today, United States Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) joined the Bush Administration in opposition to a Republican sponsored bill that would exempt the purchase of certain explosives used to launch 'high-powered hobby rockets' from federal license, permit and background check requirements currently in place.

This 'Republican-sponsored' bill is co-sponsored by two Democratic Senators.

The legislation (S.724) which Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) attempted to pass without debate or a vote, would allow terrorists and criminals to acquire large amounts of explosive rocket propellant without law enforcement's knowledge; placing Americans at further risk and jeopardizing homeland security.

The bill first went through the Senate Judiciary Commitee, where it was hotly debated (and much modified).

I'll say it again (not that its helped), rocket propellant doesn't explode. Imagine NASA's surprise every time they launch a rocket and it takes off into the sky, instead of going kablooie right there in front of them.

Furthermore, it's already against the law for terrorists and criminals to acquire explosives, so this doesn't make us any safer, it just lets these nitwits pose in front of the media and claim they're protecting us all in the holy name of 'Security' (I should trademark that phrase) while further restricting the freedoms of Americans.

"Allowing anybody to walk into a store and buy huge amounts of rocket fuel is crazy. We need to protect our homeland from terrorists; not give them even more tools to harm Americans," said Lautenberg.

The 'huge' amounts we're talking about here are measured in pounds, of a compound proven by scientific measure and practical demonstration to be non-explosive. But once again, we're doing it (all together now) for 'Security'.

"The bottom line is that some of the rockets people are building these days aren't "models" - they are missiles with tips that can be filled with explosives or biological or chemical weapons."

Let's not let reason get in the way. Why in the world would Joe Terrorist go to the trouble of constructing and using an inaccurate (missiles are guided, hobby rockets are not) delivery system for his payload of 'terror'? He can simply rent a car or truck and drive it to the target, park it and walk away. Better start requiring background checks for car rentals too.

The hobby is already federally regulated, this bill is to relieve us of the additional and unintentional burdens caused by Homeland Security and the Safe Explosives Act (which almost shut down the 4th of July too).

"Sometimes the things you see in Congress make you scratch your head in wonderment."

Something we agree on, but my wonder is if my tax dollars pay for the short bus they send to pick you up for work.

"Why anyone in the post-9/11 world would think that making it easier to get bomb-making materials is a good idea is beyond me," Schumer said.

It's not bomb-making materials, stoopid. I bet shoelaces are beyond you too.

"This bill would essentially create a new loophole that lets terrorists and criminals accumulate large amounts of the same kinds of explosives that the Unabomber and other terrorists have used. We should be tightening the restrictions on this stuff, not loosening them. This is legislative lunacy."

No, this is political grandstanding.

It's also cute little piece of revisionist history. The Unabomber used black powder for some bombs. Guess what? You are allowed to store up to fifty pounds of black powder in your home without regulation if you have an 'antique firearm', aka muzzle-loader. Can't go after gun owners though, the NRA is a lot bigger and richer than the NAR.

"The legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) and supported by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) would exempt high powered model rocket users from going through the federal permit process, allowing anyone to purchase up to two pounds of certain explosives at a time, up to .9 pounds of rocket propellant, as well as fuses, matches and igniters without getting any kind of permit or undergoing any kind of background check."

The 'certain explosive' is black powder - two pounds. As opposed to the fifty pounds already exempted. The rest of the list is already federally regulated and has been for decades.

"The Homeland Security Act law requires purchasers of the explosives most commonly used in high-power hobby rockets - ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (APCP) and black powder to undergo background checks and get permits from the ATF."

APCP is not explosive, as demonstrated by the New Hampshire State Police.

We were already required to get permits before HSA. This just lowers the limits to where practically everybody over the age of 18 needs to be fingerprinted and personally interviewed by an ATF agent, as well as giving implicit permission for he BATFE to inspect your home at any time they desire, on top of the already existing annual inspection.

Once again, big government keeping America safe from already law abiding citizens.

The Justice Department sent a supporting letter full of lies, innuendo and misinformation designed to justify the expansion of the scope of Homeland Security. Their unofficial motto is 'Everyone is a terrorist'. And they act like it.

"Passing legislation to loosen rules on buying explosive rocket fuel is not just irresponsible, it's crazy," said Lautenberg.

Rocket fuel is not an explo... damn, why do we bother. His mind is made up and facts won't change it. So in order to remove the one who's truly barking mad, we'd like the Senator to meet Mr. Ballot. New York and Jersey happen to be hotbeds of hobby rocketry, and you can bet that rocketeers, their families, and the owners and employees of the numerous small businesses you put out of business will be voting.

Former Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmidt served one term in the Senate, and said something to the effect that "In congress - logic, rationality, and scientific evidence don't count for anything."

Sadly true, to all appearances.

Now of course, one windbag speechifying before cameras does not a debate make. Here's the official response from the National Association of Rocketry:

As reported here previously, using inaccurate and scientifically insupportable information, two U.S. Senators attacked amateur and hobby rocket enthusiasts across America. In response, [the NAR] drafted a rebuttal press release for the NAR and TRA, which was delivered to all media outlets attending the Lautenberg / Schumer press conference. The text of that announcement will be available at the NAR website ( shortly.

I have prepared a direct NAR response to Senators Schumer and Lautenberg which I will fax to their offices in the morning. That response reads:
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I am writing you again on behalf of the hundreds of members of the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) who reside in your state.

I am deeply and terribly disappointed in your participation in a news conference with Senator (insert Sen. name here ) on July 29, 2003.

That news conference contained numerous factual errors and distortions regarding both the chemical properties of the propellant used by NAR members and the capabilities of our rockets. Additionally, no examples of any terrorist or criminal use, or attempted use, exist in the Department of Justice's records. The material presented in this news conference ignores a demonstrated 46 year track record of safe operation, and community service provided by NAR members and is a tremendous disservice to a safe, educational and fun hobby representing absolutely no threat to the safety of the American people.

I and the members of the NAR stand ready to meet with you and your staff to discuss your concerns, and present solid scientific evidence of both the capabilities of our rockets and the properties of our propellant, generated not by ourselves, but by carefully and fully researched government, industry and educational institution studies on APCP rocket fuel and rockets. These studies were done by groups such as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the National Fire Protection Association, the United Nations, the U.S. Air Force Phillips Laboratory, Edwards AFB, Johns Hopkins University's Chemical Propulsion Information Agency, and the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. I urge you to let these facts, not the hysteria of well meaning, but misinformed government officials, direct your thinking on this important matter.

And again, I urge you to allow the substitute S 724 to be voted out of the Senate.

Mark B. Bundick, President
National Association of Rocketry
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This is likely to be only the first in a series of politically motivated distortions of our position, which we must be prepared to counter. [Our counsel] did an excellent job today, turning around a response to this news conference in under 3 hours, making sure it was properly coordinated with Sen. Enzi's office, and hitting EVERY news outlet that attended the conference. That effort meant our position in opposition to these distoritions made the initial AP news story that went out at 5 PM Eastern today.

Finally, I also received a call from and granted an interview to the New York Times today. Members may wish to check tomorrow's edition to see what might come of that. There was nothing posted to the Times' website as of 9:15 CDT tonight.

Members who wish to receive a summary of talking points to use with the press on S.724 are welcome to contact me directly via email.
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Mark B. Bundick
NAR President www - dot - nar - dot - org

And in an article from AP which includes the following (misinformation alert!):

The Homeland Security Act requires the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to monitor the purchase and transfer of any chemical mixture or device with the primary function of causing an explosion.

Which means that we should be exempt, because it doesn't EXPLODE!!!

Tim Lehr, rocket manager at Al's Hobby Shop in Elmhurst, Ill., said the restrictions are killing the rocket hobby business and are an unnecessary hassle for hobbyists. "It's going to put dealers out of business, period," said Lehr. He predicted the hobby will die out within five years because no one new will pick it up knowing the bureaucratic hurdles of background checks, storage requirements and governmental oversight.

Two rocketry groups, the National Association of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association, accused the senators of equating hobbyists with terrorists. In a statement, the associations called the issue "a prime example of the government overreacting to something that is not a threat."

And finally, the response from Senator Enzi. Excerpts follow.

"It's a sad state of affairs when we see a government agency and senators go to such lengths to squash efforts to preserve a constructive, educational and important hobby enjoyed by millions of Americans. This kind of opposition to my legislation serves to discourage innovation and darken spirits. It doesn't make Americans that much safer, but it does make us more fearful and less free.

"When I introduced this bill I hoped it would pass quickly. I thought that surely it was not Congress' intent when it passed the Homeland Security Act to make it more difficult for young people to enjoy model rocketry and hobby shop owners to make a living, but it appears this was the intent of at least two members.

"You can drag out all the dressed-up props you want, high-powered rockets are already regulated and this would not change under my bill.

"My bill is not a license to build bombs and the senators know it. A National Research Council study, Containing the Threat from Illegal Bombings, listed the top 29 common explosive and precursor chemicals with demonstrated potential and history of criminal use. It did not list APCP or recommend controls on it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

"My colleagues must be hearing complaints from back home about their holdup of my bill. I hope rocketeers will continue to educate their elected leaders about the merits of my legislation. I will continue to work to pass this common sense bill."

Thank you Senator Enzi.

And if you've read this far, don't think that this is ending here. Radio-controlled airplane clubs are reporting that they are beginning to come under the scrutiny of the BATFE. All in the holy name of "Security", I'm sure.