Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Edge of the Cliff, Santa Monica Mountains National Park

I always love it when major media follows my lead on something I've written. In the original version of The New Common Sense, (See my very first post for an explanation.) I wrote an attack on U2 rocker, The Edge, and his foray into real estate development. On a ridge line over Malibu, with sweeping views of the ocean, The Edge, wants to build five McMansions, albeit, according to The Edge, eco-friendly McMansions.
The Ouch! As reported in today's edition of the Los Angeles Times, (Remember when the L.A. Times was still a major newspaper?) columnist Steve Lopez points out that if The Edge was really that concerned about the environment, he'd stay in his already acceptable Malibu home and leave the mountain tops alone. Lopez couldn't agree with me more.
If Lopez had actually read my original post, (And I'm not egotistical enough to think that he has.) he'd join me in my call for a Santa Monica Mountains National Park. Yes, it's time to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains in a new national park. There are many reasons to go for the much stronger level of protection than the current mish-mash of state and local parks; Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy holdings; and The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. To start with, and it's the single most important reason of all, the Santa Monica Mountains are a unique eco-system, found in few other places in the world, and the preservation of such an important habitat is exactly what National Parks are for. It also makes a lot of sense for us to stop allowing people to build in areas that are prone to both wild fires and landslides. Come on people! I don't have anything against the rich, but we can't afford to keep subsidizing their crazy desire to live in dangerous places. How many years must we pay an extra hundred million or so defending high end, stand alone homes, perched high on secluded ridges, as fires rage all around them. And while we're talking class war, what's so wrong with urban adjacent national parks that can be visited by people with bus passes?
This isn't a crazy vision for the future of the Santa Monica Mountains. Draw a map and decide what should be preserved. Of course, Malibu stays, and so does the somewhat more downscale Fernwood area of Topanga Canyon. But other than that, as properties come on the market, the Interior Department should have first dibs to match the selling price of any property transaction. It may take twenty years, and judicious use of eminent domain laws, as well as take overs of local and state parks, to complete a Santa Monica Mountains National Park, but it's a better path to take than more, senseless, development.
And while I'm on the subject, Tejon Ranch National Park, an idea whose time has come.
Want a good laugh? The Edge has named his five McMansions. "Clouds Rest" "Panorama" "Shell House" "Blue Clouds" and "Leaves in the Wind." There's nothing more pretentious than a rich, middle aged man who calls himself The Edge. Come on man, follow John Mellencamp's lead and use your real name.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Pay attention. I'm about to do something I rarely do. I'm going to defend a Republican.
Poor Mike Huckabee is taking it on the chin for his grant of clemency, while governor of Arkansas, to Maurice Clemmons, who killed four police officers in Washington state. Don't get me wrong, if this sends Huck's political career to the elephant's graveyard, I'll be quite happy. But, it is my opinion that we send too many people to prison; we send them to prison at too young an age; we keep them behind bars far too long. Huck was right to try and give offenders a second chance.
While it appears that Huckabee was making clemency decisions based more on references to Jesus, than appeals to reason, it should be noted that the impulse to not throw people away, like so much garbage, is a right one. I just went out to the desert for a few days of hiking and while headed home, I made a couple of stops at convenience stores and fast food joints. I saw so many young people, some working the counters, and some customers, and I noticed how ill educated they seemed. As I noted in my last post, we once had one of the finest education systems in the world, but, then we made the decision to cut taxes and defund education, destroying the foundation of our society.
It's been so many years since Ronald Reagan chose tax cuts over everything else, that these poor kids don't even realize that tax cuts for the wealthy few, has taken any future that they might have had, from them. We've now gone through several generations of young people that are fit for little more than menial jobs, drug abuse, and crime.
Huckabee's mistake was not an impulse to grant clemency, but rather membership in a political party that has created the under lying problem. In supporting conservative economic policies that have wiped out several generations of the young, he and his Repug cohorts, have guaranteed that crime will rise, and that granting clemency will be an issue.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ronald Reagan's Ongoing Attack on America!

There can be no other explanation! Ronald Reagan must have been an international secret agent bent on the destruction of the United States. The recent 32% tuition increase for California's UC system is the latest woeful example of Reagan's, evil, legacy.
There isn't a reputable economist on the planet who will say that it's possible to have a modern economy without a well educated work force. There was a time when we, in the United States, understood that obvious fact. But then, along came Ronnie and his cohort, Howard Jarvis, who cared more about taxes than the long term viability of the American economy.
It's hard to believe, but there was a time, not that long ago, when America had one of the finest public education systems in the world. Yes, it's true. Countries like Japan, actually sent educators to the United States to find out how we managed to provide a first class education for the majority of American children! What was our secret? It was very simple, actually. We were willing to pay for it! Ronnie, why did you destroy our future? Why did you insist that low taxes were more important than educating America's youth? Why oh why did we listen to your stupid ideas?
At a time when it's more important than ever to provide college education for every student capable of doing the work, we've made a college education prohibitively expensive. In less than 50 years, we've gone from having free higher education in California to a college system that is so expensive that only the elite can afford it. That's Ronnie's legacy. He even ran for governor on a platform of ending free college tuition! Ronald Reagan, the worst disaster to befall the United states since the civil war!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Crazy Guy at the Bus Stop in Burbank

My car broke down, and I had to take the bus home. There was a crazy guy at the bus stop, and these are some of the things he said.
"I'm a millionaire. I can document it all. I own five houses but they took them all away. I want to go to heaven. I'm an army man. I've got to go on a secret mission. I shot him in the chest. If I have to I'll take the poison. I've been alone since four. Since I was four, at four. Four, four, four. I want to shoot myself in the head. They made me take pills but I knew they were against me. The CIA. My father ate things. Fuck the bus. Are you an army man? Not that army, this army. Leave me alone. I've been alone always. They took my shoes. I'm an angel."
I can't believe there are those in this country who are opposed to national health care. I can't believe there are those in the United States who only care about taxes. If there weren't, the crazy guy at the bus stop wouldn't be so crazy and he wouldn't be sitting at a bus stop, in Burbank, at midnight.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alraune Silent Movie DVD of the Week...

...or whenever the hell I get around to it.
Alraune has to be one of the most lurid movies ever made. Prof. Jakob ten Brinken (Paul Wegener), a prominent geneticist decides to take on the nature versus nurture question head on. Using the semen of a condemned prisoner, he impregnates a prostitute and then raises the child as his own. Played with wanton abandon by silent star Brigette Helm, Alraune ten Brinken is first seen at a convent school where, to put it mildly, she has become a discipline problem for the nuns. Seducing a young admirer, the son of a bank employee, she gets him to rob his father of bank funds so that they can run away together.
It doesn't take long for Alraune to find another man to do her bidding, a circus magician who quickly has her preforming as his assistant. Pushed aside, her young admirer, also finds himself working at the circus. A flirtation with the lion tamer also complicates Alruane's existence. The real change in her life comes when Prof. ten Brinken shows up. While his science experiment was entered into as an examination into the nature of human personality, Alraune does bear his last name and is viewed by the rest of the world as his biological daughter. Her behavior at the convent and then her circus career has brought shame on his name.
The professor takes Alraune away from the circus. They take up residence at a resort of some kind. With the palm trees in the background, one can guess that it's on the Riviera. There Alraune seems to lead a more moral life. Courted by a Viscomte played by John Loder, she is surprised when the man she believes to be her father refuses the Viscomte permission to marry her. At first she agrees to elope with her love, but while packing, she finds ten Brinken's journal of his experiment. When she discovers that her life is a science experiment, she vows vengeance on the professor. At first she throws herself at every man she sees. If her behavior at the convent and the circus was questionable, her new life of sybaritic and sexual excess, is far worse. When she notices that her father seems to be not just shamed, but jealous, she seduces him. With Jakob ten Brinken under her spell she prepares to leave him behind, and just to make things worse, she walks out after he has lost all of his money in speculative investments. But the professor doesn't' want to let Alraune leave him. Rather she die than be with another man, he grabs a knife and peruses her. It is only the arrival of the professor's nephew, Franz Braun, who in the first scene of the movie hired the prostitute who carried Alraune, and had been summoned by Alraune so that she could know the truth of her birth, not necessarily found in the professor's journal, that prevents her death. Franz stops Jakob ten Brinken from committing murder. In love with Alraune, they leave together, leaving the professor to a life of loneliness and insanity.
The version that I've written about is from a DVD purchased on eBay from one of the public domain dealers. This DVD looks to have been mastered from 16 or even 8mm elements pieced together into a single whole. My guess is that it was also a download from the Internet. There are some scratches, speckling, and many of the high lights are blasted out. Still, this is a remarkable movie, quite entertaining and until a better version comes along, well worth what I paid for it. I can't remember the exact price, but it was under $10. There is a fully restored version that has been shown, with German inter-titles in the United States. Should a restored version with English titles ever come on the market, I would recommend it. My feeling from watching this movie is that some scenes may be missing. With so original silent film events preserved, many of the greatest movies made survive, pieced together from elements from many different prints. Directed by Henrik Galeen. Written by Galeen from the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers.
This film is on my great movies blog,

Tour of California and Road Rage

At last, some details about the 2010 Tour of California, and it's looking pretty good for those of us from the southern part of the state. There is one stage that goes into Sierra National Forest that should have some nice climbs. What's really nice is that it starts in Visalia, which is a decent distance form the L.A. area, but not so far that it would be a multi-day trip. That particular stage ends in Bakersfield, a bit less than 100 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Speaking of downtown L.A. a time trial that doesn't leave the center city is a poor substitute for, as an example, the Santa Monica pier to downtown, but with subway and light rail it should be easy to get to. A circuit from Thousand Oaks, over the Santa Monica Mountains to Pacific Coast Highway and then back over the mountains to Thousand Oaks should have some nice climbs and fast descents. The route that looks the most interesting to me is Pasadena to Big Bear. The route goes past Crystal Lake, up route 39. That should be fascinating since route 39 is closed past the lake. The road is still there, but hasn't been used by cars for more than decade. The route does go through Wrightwood, so it has to be route 39 all the way. I'm guessing that the riders will be going through, or near Victorville, before climbing up the north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains to Big Bear. Finally, a summit finish.
The L.A. road rage trial of Dr. Christopher Thompson continues. I'll never make the argument that we cyclists are little angels. I've seen far too much bad behavior from my fellow bike riders to write that! But, the Thompson case isn't a he said, he said case, it's about a driver who purposely stopped short in front of two cyclists. Witness, LAPD traffic investigator Robert Rodriguez has testified that Dr. Thompson told him that he did it to teach the two cyclists a lesson. One rider went over the doctor's car and rolled over into traffic. The other went through Thompson's car's rear window. I won't make the argument that the good doctor was trying to kill the the two riders, but he clearly meant to do some harm, and if found guilty, should do some prison time for what was clearly an assault with a 2,000 pound car on a couple of 20 pound bikes.
I do have another blog about hiking, and cycling. I try and limit that blog to posts about actual trips, so I thought The New Common Sense a more appropriate place for Tour news and observations on the Thompson case. Anyone interested can check out Self Propelled at Too, I've blogged about the possibility of a fourth grand tour in North America. Anyone interested in an imaginary Grand Tour of California can go to the archives and find posts published on 7/15/09, 7/20/09, and 8/3/09. For a post on the idea of a Tour of North America with rotating locals, go to 8/18/09. Hey, I needed a break from all of the political posts.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Master Plan?

Has this been Barack Obama's master plan? He must have known, when he became president, that the health insurance companies would fight any sort of reform and regulation, tooth and nail. From the start, the president held out his hand to the insurance companies, Republicans, and conservative Democrats, and from the start, they've been less than cooperative. But this week, things took a more dramatic turn, with the release of a manipulated study showing that any sort of government reform would actually make things far worse for our already intolerable health care system. Were the HMO's crowing in triumph over the body of a defeated Barack Obama?
Well, if they were proclaiming victory, it may have been a little too early in the fight. Obama, on his Saturday radio address to the nation, came out fighting. The gist of it was that he had bent over backward to work with the insurers and they would have none of it. It looks as if the president is beginning a campaign to paint the insurance companies as enemies of the people, which, let's be honest, they are. What a great tactic. The health insurers, despite all evidence to the contrary, advertise themselves as caring, benevolent defenders of public health. Obama has maneuvered them into showing their true colors. The fight is a long way from over. (And in my opinion it won't be over until we have single payer.) But, the insurance companies have suddenly found themselves attacked by the most influential man in the world. And the theme of the attack is that he tried to be reasonable and work with the health care monopolies, and they just spit on the American consumer. Obama's call for the repeal of insurers anti-trust exemption is a great counter-offensive. Now, if he can do the same to bankers and credit card companies.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Peace Prize

When I first heard that Barack Obama had one the Nobel Peace Prize it thought it was silly for the same reason that I think a lot of the criticism he gets from the left is silly: The man has only been in office for nine months. I agreed that he was awarded the prize as much for not being our George, as anything else.
But I've had a couple of days to think about it, and while I still think it's an anti George thing, I don't think it's quite so silly anymore. The real test is just how bad our George made things, and that turning things around, if not 180 degrees, at least 140 or 150 degrees, is a real move towards world peace.
The neo-cons that our George listened to wanted to create a world in which the United States was so dominant that we could dictate to the world on any and all issues; a world where we were so feared that no one would have the nerve to say anything but "Yes sir, what ever you wish sir, please don't hit me sir." Well guess what, the neo-con philosophy became one of the greatest threats to world peace, on the globe. No, I'm not doing what so many of my fellow liberals do, and immediately point out to anyone in ear shot that no matter what's out there we Americans are far, far worse. Only an idiot would look at the world today and try and draw an equivalency between some of the real horrors of the third world, and the United States. No matter how stupid some of our governments decisions are, there not as bad as most of the things that are done in Burma, as an example.
So no, I no longer think that Barack Obama's peace prize is silly. The United States is no longer wandering the world making threats to any and all who don't toe the neo-can line. He's reached out to our traditional allies, removed missile systems from the Russian border, and spoken directly to the world's Muslims. It may not be much yet, but it's a start, and the world is a much safer place today than it was a year ago.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Roman Polanski

I'm getting so tired of people defending Roman Polanski. Yes, he has suffered far more than most of us can ever know. And yes he is a very talented movie director. And yes, it's highly unlikely that he is a child predator. Still, he did rape a thirteen year old girl, and that shouldn't be forgotten.
Those who seek to defend Polanski usually make those three arguments. But, as far as I know, there is no exemption in the law for personal suffering. Having lost his mother to the Nazis, having survived in the Warsaw ghetto during World War 2, having had his pregnant wife murdered by the Charles Manson gang, are all pretty terrible things, and I'm not arguing any sort of equivalency, but I can go to some of the gang infested areas of Los Angeles, and find gang members who were abandoned by their fathers, who had crack head mothers, and who saw childhood friends and family gunned down in front of them. I'm often accused of being soft on crime because I think those things should be taken into account when those young men are arrested and tried for their crimes, but I've never argued that they should be allowed to walk.
Is there a talent exemption in the law? When one sees how some Hollywood people are treated by the LAPD, one might think so, but it's not true. The fact is, the grand jury transcript from Polanski's victim's testimony paints a picture of a child, drugged by a man 30 years older than her, who then proceeded to anally, and vaginally penetrate her. Had Polanski been charged with forcible rape, and had he been convicted, he would have been looking at a decade in prison. The fact is, when he was allowed to plead to the much lesser offense of statutory rape, he was treated very leniently. His position in the Hollywood community probably got him treated far better than the average defendant, but even his status as star movie director couldn't get him a complete pass. He may not have had a history of child rape, and he may never have committed another such crime, but that doesn't matter. He pleaded guilty to the crime he was accused of, and that's the only question involved.
And as far as his victim's wish to let things be forgotten. It's The State of California vs Roman Polanski. It doesn't' matter if she wants to forget things. Her wishes are not relevant. Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to a very serious crime. He was warned that plea deals aren't valid until the judge signs off. He fled the jurisdiction to avoid jail time, which is another crime in itself. I don't think the book should be thrown at him, but I do think, if he is extradited to the United States, he should be given some jail time, both for the rape, and for jumping bail.

Monday, October 5, 2009

South Rising

Okay, this is something I don't get. Before the Civil War, less than five percent of the southern population owned slaves. There was a small merchant class that profited from slavery. The slave owners and merchant classes used their wealth and position in society to rule the southern states in a way that was only a step or two above serfdom. About 80 or 90 percent of the white, southern population was economically disadvantaged by slavery. They were kept in a societal position not that much better than the slaves owned by the southern aristocracy. Yet when push came to shove, the wealthy few managed to persuade the disadvantaged many that slavery was a southern way of life that was worth dying for. They convinced the vast majority to die for a system that was to their disadvantage.
Since the rise of Ronald Reagan, there has been a huge transference of wealth from the middle and working classes to the wealthy. Public schools have been ruined, higher education has been made prohibitively expensive. Health care has been put out of reach for millions, and those that do have insurance often find themselves kicked off of their plans when they actually need help. Wall street rapes the world's economic system, and then they raid the American treasury when things go wrong. The wealthy few have taken effective control of the government, and the courts, and they've made it almost impossible for the vast majority to get any sort of redress for the wrongs committed against them.
So why do so many still support those who have made their lives miserable? Why are so many middle class and poor people in favor of tort reform, code words for shielding the rich from law suits? Why are so many opposed to national health care? Why do so many support their oppressors? (And make no mistake, we are being oppressed by the wealthy.) Let's be honest, we're like the old south, dying for the wealthy, because they've convinced us that it's the American way of life, and it has to be preserved at all costs.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tejon Ranch National Park

On several occasions, in the first incarnation of The New Common Sense, I advocated for the creation of Tejon Ranch National Park. Imagine my surprise, when I read in today's edition of The Los Angles Times, Erica Rosenberg's editorial advocating for the creation of Tejon Ranch National Park.
I'm not accusing Ms Rosenberg of plagiarizing my blog. Far from it. The fact is, I consider the reasons to purchase Tejon Ranch and preserve it as a park, so obvious, that not to come to the same conclusion can only be explained by America's insane attachment to private property rights.
In her editorial, Erica Rosenberg stresses preservation, recreation, and the economic advantages of national parks. These are all things that I have written about in the past. There are, however, a couple of points that I think she misses about the importance of a Tejon Ranch National Park.
In my post advocating for another Los Angeles area national park in the Santa Monica Mountains, (published on 8/7/09) I noted the importance of a broad based parks system. Gas prices may be going down as I write this, but the probability is, that as incomes continue to stagnate, or even drop, it is only a matter of time before fuel prices once again skyrocket. With so many of our parks located hundreds of miles from major metropolitan areas, with ever increasing costs for transportation and lodging, we run the risk of the parks becoming the destination of choice for an elite group of upper middle class Americans and above. National parks close to cities, connected from downtown by mass transit can open up the natural world for those people for whom it is becoming almost impossible to survive economically. I can drive to Tejon Pass in under two hours form my apartment in the Atwater Village section of Los Angeles. Tejon Pass is also close to Bakersfield. For many economically stressed Angelenos, to be able to make a round trip to a national park for half a tank of gas, or to be able to get up early in the morning and take mass transit to a national park, would open up the natural world to an economic class that is being shut out of the parks system.
Too, isn't it about time that we start thinking about parks, not as something separate from the urban landscape, but something that is a part of our urbanized world. While most people who have never been to Los Angeles, think of L.A. as a giant parking lot, a vast paved over area, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles is, in fact, a city almost surrounded by wilderness. It's not just the ocean. We are bordered by several national forests, the Santa Monica Mountains, and beyond that, the desert. A national park in the Santa Monicas, thrusting into Los Angeles, with trail corridors running the length of the chain, to downtown itself, green belts along the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, city and county parks connected with hiking and biking trails.... How many people know that the Pacific Crest Trail runs through Los Angeles County? A bike and equestrian trail runs from Long Beach harbor, one of the busiest ports in the world to the Angeles National Forest. With the right planning, it would be possible to hike from the Pacific Ocean to the national forest, pick up the PCT and walk to Tejon Ranch. With routes radiating out to the deserts, the city itself becomes a route into some of the finest wilderness areas in the United States. It is only private holdings like Tejon Ranch that stand in the way. Yes, a Tejon Ranch National Park is an idea whose time has come. It's time for a city like Los Angeles to lead the way, and integrate itself into a more natural world.
Added Sept. 30, 2009: I went on line to get any info on Erica Rosenberg, the author of the L.A.Times editorial advocating for the creation of Tejon Ranch National Park. I can remember when I first wrote about Tejon Ranch, going on line and finding the usual corporate boilerplate about the ranch. Google Tejon Ranch National Park and the first thing that comes up is a website dedicated to park status for Tejon Ranch. Go to I love it when other people come to the same conclusions I come to.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Republican Pornographer

Ex eBay CEO, Meg Whitman wants to be California's next governor. It took awhile, but what has been a pretty open secret, that she would throw her hat in the ring for the Republican nomination, with today's announcement, is a secret no more. Anyway, just thought I'd remind the values based voters in the Republican party that while Whitman ran eBay, eBay was one of the largest distributors of pornography in the world. I know it's hard to believe that American institution, eBay was pushing spread leg photos of kissing lesbians, and throbbing cock videos, but it is true. Don't take my word for it. Go to , on the home page, click on Visit All Categories, scroll down to the little Everything Else box and click on Adult. Now for all you minors out there, don't lie when prompted to certify that you're over 18. Hey, I bought the picture I'm using for this post on eBay. There are lots and lots of reasons I'd never vote for her, but being a pornography distributor isn't one of them. But then I'm one of those evil socialist, atheist, democrats.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Broadwell Dry Lake, California

Well, this one has got to go back to the Bush administration. It's the only way to answer the question of just why an energy company felt that it could build a major industrial project in the middle of a designated national wilderness area.
BrightSource Energy has given up on the idea of building a major, industrial sized, solar power plant in the Broadwell dry lake region of the Kelso Dunes National Wilderness Area. This is part of a 600,000 acre donation of railroad owned property, given to the federal government, for preservation. It has been the intention of California senator Dianne Feinstein to designate this donated land as a national monument.
The problem with this now abandoned project is that it continues the old model of large, privately owned, energy solutions to global warming and what will probably be future energy shortages. There are enough roof tops, both on private homes, and commercial buildings that can be used for solar power generation at the point of use. Of course, providing for our renewable energy needs in such a manor would mean getting rid of the idea that electricity should be provided by for profit companies. We may never get to the point where it's possible to get rid of large power plants, but it is possible to make power generation part of a government provided infrastructure, removing the incentive to build for profit rather than need.
I've spent a lot of time hiking in the Mojave Desert of California. Senator Feinstein is right in pushing for a national monument to be created from this land, and I congratulate her in stopping a major industrial project from being built in the middle of an already designated wilderness area. And just for the hell of it, I'll ask the obvious question: Where the hell was BrightSource going to get the water?
See my posts from 8/20/09 and 7/1/09 for more thoughts on California's desert and power generation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Questions No. 1 and 2

1. Is the Max Baucus health reform bill to HMO's what Medicare Part B was to big pharma?
2. If we do get a public option, and it's price is set at a neutral cost level, and if illegal aliens pay for it with their own money, what difference does it make?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, one of the most significant and least known people of the twentieth century has died. In a nutshell, Malthusian predictions were coming true. The population of the planet had risen to an unsustainable level, and the math of food and population was about to kill millions, perhaps even billions, of people in mass famines. Borlaug's work with plant genetics allowed for the development of high yield grains that saved those lives.
Norman Borlaug, one of the most significant and least know people of the twentieth century has died. In a nutshell, Malthusian predictions were coming true. The population of the planet had risen to unsustainable levels, and the math of food and population was about to kill millions, perhaps even billions, of people in mass famines. With no thought of future consequences, Borlaug's work with plant genetics put of the inevitable. By developing high yield grains, more people survived, causing rapid draining of water tables, increased production of green house gases, and will probably lead to a mass die off of the human race, with only a core group of survivors.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

School Days Indoctrination

Is the charge that president Obama's speech to America's school children was nothing more than an attempt at left wing, liberal, political indoctrination valid? Let's look at the facts. Before the Howard Jarvis/Ronald Reagan tax revolt, the United Sates had what was considered one of the finest public education systems in the world. College was free in California, and I think Arizona, and most other states provided enough subsidies to keep tuition low in state institutions. After Reagan, we made cutting taxes our number one priority. At a time when every economist in the world would report that a well educated work force was essential to a modern economy, the United States defunded public education and made college prohibitively expensive. So, it's true. The idea that students should study hard, stay in school, and make something of themselves is a liberal value. Oh those sneaky liberals. Next thing you know, America's school students actually might demand a quality education, taxes be damned.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The True Meaning of Labor Day

Contrary to popular belief, labor day was not declared as a means to honor American workers. In the 1890's, the United States was racked by yet another Republican caused great depression. With foreign creditors, primarily the British, worried about recouping their investments, a deal was made to sign over to the British the American territories of Arizona and New Mexico. Hawaii would go to the French. Faced with the dismemberment of the United States, American patriot and vulcanized rubber king, Samuel Labor stepped forward and bailed out the United States, bankrupting himself in the process. Labor Day was declared to honor Uncle Sam Labor, the savior of the United States.
Don't believe me? Ask yourself this, since when has American leadership cared about the working classes? Actually, during the two Roosevelt administrations, the Johnson administration, and after listening to Barack Obama's Labor Day speech, he might make the list. Until then, I stand by my Sam labor theory.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hell Freezes Over

With no reliable way to check weather in the netherworld, I'll have to assume that Hell has indeed frozen over. Yes, it's true, conservative icon George Will has called for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Conventional wisdom has it that Lyndon Johnson knew that he had lost in Vietnam when he lost the support of Walter Cronkite. I've always felt that that was an oversimplification. The World War 2 generation had been saved by big government. Even Ronald Reagan's life was improved by the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt. Too, that generation saw it's destruction of the twin menaces of Nazism and Japanese militarism as the high point of it's many accomplishments. It wasn't the loss of Cronkite, it was the loss of a generation that trusted government to do the right thing and thought of military opposition of tyranny as a moral calling.
So now Barack Obama has lost George Will. The symbol of conservative intellectualism (An oxymoron if I've ever heard one.), no longer believes in the war launched by our George, Dick Cheney and the whole neo-con crowd. Most Americans, I think, view victory in war in terms of World War 2. The Missouri sails into Tokyo harbor, the Emperor in his silly tail coat and top hat, crosses the deck and signs articles of unconditional surrender. Sorry to say, but most wars end in a far more ambiguous way. In a nutshell, both sides decide that it just isn't worth the effort anymore. Will isn't the first to feel that way, and he won't be the last. Iraq has cost us billions, and may end up costing us trillions of dollars as well as thousands of lives lost, and even more destroyed, with no resolution in our clear favor. Afghanistan is beginning to look like it will have the same outcome.
I'm an admirer of Barack Obama, but that doesn't blind me to the fact that I think he's making the same mistakes in Afghanistan that we made during the cold war. For reasons without any basis in reality, we persisted in believing that things happening in the third world were all about us. What bin Laden did to New York was about us. A massive military attack on his headquarters was perfectly justified. We, after all, know far more about bringing death from the skies than bin Laden will ever imagine. But Taliban rule of Afghanistan was another thing. A few well placed missiles directed at Taliban leadership? Hell, why not. It would have been good for the Mullahs to understand that allowing their country to be used as a base for international terrorism was not a wise career choice. But years, maybe decades, fighting nationalists in the mountains of central Asia is pretty much a no win situation. Before we leave, we should make major contributions to Afghan infrastructure. We should leave schools, roads, dam, and hospitals standing as we march off. With any luck, the people of Afghanistan will want the Taliban gone, and in time it will happen. But an endless drain of American treasure and lives isn't worth it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It's a little thing, but this is what I admired about Ted Kennedy the most: Ronald Reagan made the word "Liberal" a dirty word. The great propagandist had conservatives sneer out the word as if it was the worst obscenity in the world. Reagan drove liberals to use the word "progressive" as an alternative. Ted Kennedy always referred to himself as a liberal. I'm proud to be a liberal, just like Ted Kennedy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Torture Investigations

In the first version of The New Common Sense, I found myself defending Lynndie England and the rest of the enlisted, accused in the Abu Ghraib scandal. The way I saw it, there was no way that this small group of what the Bush administration called bad apples, were out there on their own. It was just too organized, and too close to the old line, School of the Americas playbook. As details of what Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Bush, himself, authorized came out, it became impossible to deny that the actions of Lynndie England, and the others court marshaled for Abu Ghraib, were not being directed by those above them in the chain of command. I'm willing to admit that those pulling the strings might have been CIA or civilian contractors. That's still in question, but clearly what they did was authorized, and it was unjust, that only those on the bottom of the torture food chain were charged.
Now, it looks pretty probable that Attorney General Eric Holder will be looking into illegal torture authorized by the Bush administration. If Holder indicts field agents of the CIA, and civilian contractors, as he should, but not higher ups, I'll think it all a wasted effort. I would hope that the four I've already mentioned end up in the dock. I doubt they will. I'm not sure the Obama administration is willing to take the political fall out, and I can see that harsh, political reality. Such indictments would be so big, that it might not be possible to address any other problem. But come on, at least John Yoo should go to prison.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Common Sense

When I started the first version of The New Common Sense, I wrote that I had not come to my liberalism from a sense of ideology, but from a sense of practicality. Specifically I noted that I didn't believe in a single payer national health care system because it was the darling idea of the American left, or because it emulated the French system of health care, but because I didn't want to die prematurely because I couldn't afford to go to the doctor.
This last week, here in Los Angles, Remote Area Medical, a charity that was started to provide free health care in remote areas of the third world, treated over a thousand Americans that either had no health insurance, or were under insured, or couldn't afford the co-pays. Because of the lack of a national health care system, RAM has found itself providing 60% of it's services in the United States.
There are times I'm ashamed to be an American, and one of those times was when I watched the television coverage of America's poor and lower middle class, standing in line for hours because they couldn't see, because they couldn't afford glasses; because they couldn't eat solid food, because they couldn't afford dental care; because they couldn't afford treatment for high blood pressure, or diabetes, and because their government and many of their fellow citizens didn't care.
Let's not make nice and try for a sense of bipartisanship. There are those on the right wing of America's political spectrum who care more about the profits of the health care industry than they care about the health of our citizens. They can talk all they want about death panels, deficits, the end of democracy if government guarantees access to health care. That's all window dressing. What they are actually saying is, if people have to die for the bottom line, so be it. They are expendable people.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cash for Clunkers, How About Solar Cells for the Middle Class

The cash for clunkers program is about to end, and only those ideologically opposed to any government involvement in the economy are calling it a failure. For a few billion dollars, (And yes, I do realise that's a lot of money.) we've increased fuel efficiency in the domestic auto fleet, lessening dependence on foreign oil, and started on the long, hard fight to control global warming by getting rid of older, heavier polluting cars. And as a bonus, we've saved a lot of auto industry jobs.
So what's should we do next? I think we should add a little box to everybody's income tax forms. If you make less than a certain, to be determined, amount, and if you own your own home, make a check mark. That amount should be the line below which individual home owners cannot be expected to pay for their own, home, solar arrays. For a few billion a year, with home owners chosen by lottery, congress could jump start the home solar industry in the USA. Put in a provision to use American made solar panels, and local contractors rather than national businesses like Wal-mart, and we'd get the domestic solar panel makers humming, and stimulate, small local businesses. We'd decrease the amount of green house gases by cutting day time, coal fired, electricity use, and if a couple of hundred thousand home owners suddenly weren't paying electric bills, they'd spend a lot of that money on other things, which would stimulate the general economy.
Of course, we'd have to give up on this whole idea that electricity should be supplied exclusively by large corporations. When electrification started, home electricity was being supplied to a small number of middle class homes, and above. That's not true anymore. Electricity is as much a part of vital infrastructure as roads. Perhaps those cities that own utilities shouldn't have their operations privatized. Perhaps private electricity companies should be taken over by local municipalities.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

California Crazy

Still in the signature gathering stage, the latest example of the stupidity of California's direct democracy: A petition to turn the state legislature into a part time body, limiting the days in session to 95 a year, with an additional five days to consider bills vetoed by the governor. Wow, not only will we be governed by politicians term limited out before they really understand how to run one of the largest and most complex governments on earth, but they'll only get a bit over three months a year in office. California, Somali without the militias.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Grand Tour of North America

The latest cycling news out of Colorado and Lance Armstrong is that there will probably be another major stage race in North America. As I noted in my three posts about a future grand tour in California, (Posted on 7/15/o9, 7/20/09, and 8/3/09) that while I favored the expansion of the Tour of California into a fourth grand tour to be contested in the fall, as an alternative, a rotating Grand Tour of North America would be just as good. With a Tour of California and a Tour of Colorado, there would be two established major races that could be expanded to a 21 day stage race. Add two to three more major races, and a rotation of race locations could be up and running fairly quickly. The Tour of Georgia wouldn't have the major climbs of the Rockies or Sierras, but the southern Appalachians are still fairly challenging. A tour of the Pacific northwest, running from the Eugene area in the south into southern British Columbia, and something in the north east could do it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The NRA, Glenn Beck, and President Obama

I grew up in a small town were the majority of men, and a sizable minority of women hunted. To say I grew up around guns would be an understatement. As a child, the National Rifle Association was such a common part of my life, that I didn't think there was anything odd about people getting together and shooting guns. Here's the thing, though, when I was growing up, the NRA was an organization that stressed hunting rights, sport shooting and gun safety.
What happened? Somewhere along the line, the NRA was hijacked by the gun extremists, who are more worried about the right to walk around in public, armed to the teeth, than they are about deer season. These extremists equate showing up at a presidential speech with AK-47's over their shoulders with the right to hunt, target shoot, and to defend themselves from crime. (An issue that's blown way out of proportion. Most Americans will never know crime beyond the level of irritation.)
Enter Glenn Beck and his border line endorsement of assassination as a form of political protest. Beck, Limbaugh and the rest of the far right hate mongers are playing to the gun extremists. Every time I read in the papers about an Obama town hall meeting surrounded by gun wielding nuts, I wonder just how long it will be until a few of these fools decide to rush the hall and try to take out the president. They probably won't get beyond the local police and secret service, but they'll probably end up killing a few people before they themselves are shot.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Let's Talk About Nazis

If Glen Beck wants to muse about poisoning the speaker of the house, and Rush Limbaugh wants to compare President Obama to Hitler....Okay, let's talk about Nazis, murder and civil disobedience.
The forces of the right in Germany realized that the Nazis were thugs, but they were fighting the communists. The business community in pre-war Germany knew that the Nazis were thugs, but they intimidated the trade unions. Lots of people in Germany knew that the Nazis were evil, but they were willing to do what the more civilized elements of German society wanted done, but were too refined to do themselves. And in the end, after all the dirty work was done, the good people of Germany would step in and control the Nazis. Too bad the Nazis weren't in on the plan.
Rush, Glen, Sean, Laura and the rest are having a fine time riling up the right wing mob. They should be very careful. If one of their followers kills a member of congress, the cabinet, or President Obama, their historical legacy won't be much better than that of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. I wonder if Rush and the rest of the right wing extremists even care. Somehow I doubt it. I suspect Rush would actually be proud to inspire an assassin.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Santa Monica Mountains National Park

There was a simple story about a land dispute in today's issue of the Los Angeles Times. Judge Charles F. Palmer ruled in favor of Harry Mansdorf, a retired airplane manufacturer. Mr. Mansdorf maintained that Michele V. Giacomazza, a former business partner of his brother, Lee Mansdorf, had tried to cheat him out of ownership of 1,291 acres of land. Normally I wouldn't care about such a story, but the land is in the Santa Monica Mountains; it's still semi-wild; now that the land dispute is ended, it's in danger of being developed.
The Santa Monica Mountains are a unique ecosystem represented nowhere else in the United States. A Mediterranean type environment, not found outside of southern Europe, is so rare, that further development should be stopped, and the land preserved in a new national park. A survey should be done identifying the reasonable extent of that ecosystem, borders should be drawn around it, and all land within those borders should, over time, be purchased and added to land already under park jurisdiction in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, combined with state, local, and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy holdings to create such a park. The business districts, and the most heavily populated areas along the ocean in Malibu, and along the 101 freeway, as well as the long established Topanga Canyon Community of Fernwood should be excluded from purchase, but all other private holdings within the Santa Monica Mountains as well as Pacific Ocean beaches should be part of such a park.
While preservation of a unique ecosystem should be enough, there are other reasons for the creation of a Santa Monica Mountains National Park, and one of the biggest is fire. The earliest Europeans to see southern California noted that fires were common in the Santa Monica Mountains. Whether it's dry lightning, an untended camp fire, a wind downed power line, or a discarded cigarette, the Santa Monicas burn. And when a fire starts during the Santa Ana winds, flames can travel from one side of the range to the sea in a matter of hours. Allowing people to build in an area that is prone to wild fires, and when the rains come, mud slides ,makes no sense. In the more densely populated beach communities, there is at least, the possibility of creating a defensible perimeter, but within the mountains themselves, individual homes or small clusters of buildings, built on ridge lines or canyon sides, accessible only by winding and narrow roads, presents an extreme danger to both home owners and fire fighters. And, the cost of protecting individual homes is prohibitively expensive. The cost of saving one building with fire trucks and, more often than not, helicopters or flying tankers, can cost millions of dollars, and from time to time, it can cost the lives of firemen. Several years ago there was a fire in San Bernardino county. A group of firemen died while defending a single, isolated home. The fire was set by an arsonist, and when he was captured, he was tried and convicted of murder. Had that fire been caused by a dry lightning strike, we might have asked ourselves if those fireman's lives were lost because someone wanted to live in a picturesque, though dangerous area. In the Santa Monicas, with an alternative to development, we can ask that question before the fire fighters die, rather than after.
Our national parks are meant to be the legacy of all Americans, but as gas prices get more expensive, as admission fees increase, as the economic disparity between the rich, and, well, everybody else, widens, those parks are becoming places for people of a certain income and above. A national park, adjacent to a large urban area, returns the park experience to all. The poor, and the economically stressed middle class, may have to get up early to catch the bus or subway, but a national park in the Santa Monica Mountains, would allow them access to a natural world that is becoming a rare experience for far too many of our citizens. The idea of an urban adjacent national park is not a new one. In Ohio, Cuyahoga National Park is bordered on the north by suburban Cleavland, and on the south by suburban Akron. A Santa Monica Mountains National Park would serve citizens of the second largest urban area in the United States. From mountain ridges to Pacific Ocean beaches; from Sunset Blvd. to Point Mugu, the Santa Monica Mountains stand as one of the last great wilderness areas, close to a large city.
We don't need to buy all of the land within the Santa Monica Mountains all at once. As land comes on the market, the federal government can establish a right to match the selling price, as the budget allows. Special tax zones within the mountains can allow people to donate land, with tax deductions worth 110, 120, or even 150% of assessed value. The creation of a new national park doesn't have to be done all at once. As soon as boundaries of what should be the park are established, we can begin acquisition, and if it takes twenty years to finish the job, so what. What matters is that a commitment be made to the preservation of a unique and valuable ecosystem.
Santa Monica Mountains National Park, an idea whose time has come. Tejon Ranch National Park, an idea whose time has come. The expansion of Death Valley and Redwood National Parks, an idea whose time has come.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Tour of California Part 3

The Tour de France has been over for a week. Lance Armstrong didn't win, which didn't surprise me, but his podium finish did. There is one more grand tour left, this year, and I'm hoping that it will be broadcast on the Universal Sports Network channel that, with the new digital converter box, I can actually pick up. Anyway, now that I'm not thinking about cycling every day, it's now or never. If I don't post the third, and final, part to my imaginary Grand tour of California, I'm guessing I never will.
To recap, with nothing better to do, I've been using Mapquest and former Tours of California to
create an imaginary grand tour for North America. My tour runs in the fall, which allows for snow free mountain stages, and deserts cool enough to prevent heat stroke. If I have an exact start or ending point, I'll give the address or intersection. If not, I've just fed the name of a town into the Mapquest data bank, and let the web site pick a central location. After each stage, I've put a mileage for that stage, followed by cumulative distances for the entire tour to that point. Should anyone be taken enough by my idea for a grand tour of California that they'd like more information, go to Mapquest and feed in the info, setting the filters to avoid highways, and to use the shortest distance. Parts one and two were posted on 7/15/09 and 7/20/09. Part three picks up after stage 16, and a scheduled rest day.
17. This route connects the high desert city of Victorville with the low desert city of Palm Springs. It starts at the Victor Valley Mall, connects to the 247 at Lucerne Valley, following a fairly flat route to the 62 in Yucca Valley. Then it's down a very steep road with a sharp turn towards Palm Springs on the 111. A fairly easy day, neither long, nor technical with only the steep down slope from high desert to low offering a challenge. 98.5/1839.6
18. From Banning to Carlsbad going through Idyllwild, Anza and Ramona. From Banning in the desert, it climbs high to the mountain town of Idyllwild, then descends on a long route to the Pacific Ocean at Carlsbad. This should be one of the most exciting stages of the race, with long hard climbs, fast descents, and a seaside finish. 149.9/1989.5
19. This stage starts at the famous Hotel del Coronado, takes a bridge over San Diego harbor, works it's way through San Diego and it's suburbs. A not very hard climb over the coastal mountains leads back inland and after a fairly rural stretch, ends in the much smaller city of Riverside at Citrus Park. 112.6/2102.1
20. The final stage that goes through mountains, this time the San Gabriels above Los Angeles. Starting at Magic Mountain Amusement Park in Valencia, the route goes through Santa Clarita, a city that has hosted stages in all four of the Tours of California, takes a back road into the Antelope Valley, heads east, before going over the mountains, passing through Wrightwood. The high point will be at Dawson Saddle, measuring in at over 7,000 feet above sea level. The Angeles Crest Highway will have plenty of ups and downs before starting a long, steep descent to the L.A. metro area, passing through the foothill communities of La Canada and Flintridge, to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. 130.7/2232.8
21. I've never liked the way the Tour de France ends with a, pretty much, meaningless stage into Paris. My imaginary Tour of California ends with a time trial. If the leaders are all bunched together, separated by only a few minutes, a rider in the top ten could easily take the race on the last day. Starting from the Santa Monica Pier, the route goes over to Venice Blvd., and wends it's way across the city of Los Angeles to the Coliseum, sight of the opening and closing ceremonies from both of Los Angeles Olympics. It would be great to build a temporary roadway on the stadium floor. The riders could enter through the tunnel that connects the parking area with the playing field. Just think 100,000 fans in the seats, following the race on the big screen TVs. And then, one by one, the competitors ride into the stadium. And if that's not possible, there are awfully big parking lots that can accommodate lots of fans. 14.01/2246.9.
I worked this out one afternoon when it was just too hot to go out and ride my bike. There are plenty of great routes through California, and just over the state line that could have easily been included in my imaginary race. I left out the Solvang time trial, a regular feature of past Tours of California, as well as other time trails in Palo Alto and up Telegraph Hill in San Fransisco. In the northern part of the state, there are great routes from Santa Rosa to Leggett along the Mendocino coast. Too, Leggett to Cape Town to Eureka. Crossing the border, Crescent City, California to Grants Pass, or Coos Bay, Oregon. Either Weed or Mt. Shasta in California to Susanville would pass through some great looking country, perfect for television, and the promotion of tourism. With the permission of the National Parks system, Bishop to a summit finish at 9945 feet Tioga Pass in Yosemite, or a route into Yosemite Valley itself. Bad Water in Death valley, the lowest point in North America to Whitney Portal is already used for a foot race, so running the same route on bikes shouldn't be a problem. And how about Needles to Blythe or straying into Arizona with routes from Parker to Yuma.
I admit it, I had too much time on my hands when I came up with this idea, which doesn't alter the fact that there is room for a fourth grand tour, and that having a grand tour outside of Europe would build a lot of interest in cycling in the United States. And like it or not, money drives competition, and there is a lot of it here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

I Was Born in the United States!

Just a quick note on the latest, right wing nut cause. I don't blame the birthers for questioning Barack Obama's citizenship. I blame the main stream media for covering the story, and giving it legs. It's the political equivalent of covering the search for big foot as real science.

Albania on the Pacific

When You're wrong, you're wrong, and it's important to offer up apologies. It's clear to me know, that Governor Action Hero and his conservative third in the state legislature are not trying to turn California into Mississippi on the Pacific. My mistake was in not acknowledging their grand ambition, and for that I'm truly sorry. The Action Hero must be looking to Albania as a model for the tarnished state. Mississippi is just too prosperous and liberal an inspiration for the Gov.
After the state senate and assembly voted on the state budget, it was still out of balance. Even the trick of pushing back the last state employee pay check from the last day of the fiscal year to the first day of the next, still left California in the hole. Oh well, what to expect from the fine bunch of amateur politicians that we insist are a better option than keeping people in office until they've actually learned how to run the state. Enter the Action hero and his magic, line item veto. A partial list of some of the cuts reads like the things that make a modern, first world government: $80 million from child welfare. If those poor kids were smart, they would have been born into the middle class. Of course, the middle class barely exists in California anymore so, even that shows a lack of fore thought. Couldn't Angelina Jolie have had a million more kids? $52 million for AIDS programs. What better way to encourage abstinence? Medi-Cal administration funds for counties. Hey, if it balances the state books, who cares if local governments go into bankruptcy? Just a reminder, the Action Hero, when he took office, signed an executive order cutting car registration fees, money that traditionally went to local government. Can't the Action Hero add? $50 million from children's health care, $50 million from services for developmentally delayed children? Again, those kids should have been smart enough not to have fetal alcohol syndrome; they should have thought ahead and not exposed themselves to environmental toxins in the womb; they should have foreseen autism. But please don't conclude that the Action Hero hates children. He also cut $6.3 million for services to the elderly. Euthanasia anyone?
It's hard to believe, but California, and the United States once had the finest educational system in the world. We weren't lagging behind Japan; Japan studied us to figure out how we could provide a quality education to everyone, rather than just the elite. Well, like all really bad things, it all started with Reagan. Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the great propagandist declared war on taxes, and with his victory, we started dismantling modern education in California, and then the United States. What the Action Hero and the third have done is to finish the job. Ronnie may have held the victim down, but Arnold took out the knife and cut the throat.
So what's the difference between the Action Hero's vision of California and Albania? The Albanians want to be what we once were. Another year of Arnold, and Albania might just over take California, and become a better option.
To read my post, Mississippi on the Pacific, scroll back to 7/26/09.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Michael Vick

As a sports fan, I've had my fill of the ongoing Michael Vick saga. To tell the truth, I'm so bored by it ,after all this time, that I'd rather just ignore the whole damn thing. But, every so often I hear or read something so stupid, that I feel the need to comment, and the latest example of Titanic stupidity I've run across is about Vick.
Huffington Post blogger, and assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University, Peggy Drexler, has, in my opinion, completely missed what should be the two main points to be made about Vick. In her latest piece on Huff Post, she argues that Vick's crimes were so depraved that he shouldn't be allowed to play football again. Work, yes, but not play football. (As if football, as a profession, is so special that only the sainted should be allowed to play.) To tell the truth, every time I hear that argument, I get the distinct impression that the person making that point, is less upset about the crime, and more bothered that it was an animal that was the victim. Come on people. I love dogs too, but let's not forget that the victimizing of a person is more important that the victimizing of a dog. But as I wrote, Drexler is missing two big points, and putting Vick's crimes into perspective, while a valid point to discuss, isn't one of them.
The first point is, most cultures have some elements of barbarism in them. Vick grew up in an environment where dog fighting was considered acceptable behavior. I'm not a cultural egalitarian who believes that there is no right or wrong, just different. The torturing of animals as a form of entertainment is disgusting to me, and I think it should be outlawed. I live in southern California, and we have a large Hispanic population, many of whom are immigrants from Mexico, and many of them see no harm in cock fighting. It's not that Hispanics are evil, blood thirsty, bastards. It's that they were raised in a culture that finds blood sport acceptable. When I hear on the news, or read in the papers, that there has been a bust of a cock fighting ring, I'm happy. However, thinking that cock fighters should be jailed for years, and have their right to make a living stripped from them, or have their future employment limited to certain professions, because they were entertained by chickens fighting to the death is ridiculous and way over the top. And if you think I'm making the argument that people of color are just not up to "white" moral standards, think again. Our proud, American culture, finds the death penalty acceptable. We have no problem with sending 12 year old children to prison for life. And as our California budget mess proves, we aren't all that bothered by having funds stripped away for health insurance for children whose parents are so broke that they can't afford to cover their kids. Proud, white America can live with children dying from preventable causes, as long as our taxes don't go up. Now that's barbarism! Should Vick be given a pass because, in the deep south, where he was raised, dog fighting is an acceptable practice? (Among poor whites, as well, I might add.) Absolutely not! Vick did the crime, and with the addition of the illegal gambling, prison time was just. It's just that dog fighting, like cock fighting, doesn't' rise to the level of extreme, irredeemable depravity.
And the second point that Drexler misses? There are laws, legal contracts, and social contracts. The social contracts I'm writing about are the things that we, as a people, agree to abide by, without the force of law. I was born in 1955, and when I was a child, if a person used a certain word that began with the letter "F" in general conversation, he would soon find himself ostracized. The use of polite and respectful conversation was considered an important part of a civilized existence. We now feel free to say fuck at any time and anywhere. Not a very pleasant way to live. Anyway, one of the things that was once part of the social contract was that when someone had committed a crime, once they did their time, they were free to make a new life for themselves. I don't know whether it's an out growth of the media age, always searching for content, or a genuine sense of never ending fear, but we seem to have entered an age of perpetual punishment. There are certain crimes, and dog fighting seems to be one of them, that, for many, can never be forgotten. Again, I'm not making light of Vick's offence, but he's done his time; he's lost his wealth; his name has been dragged through the mud, and he deserved it! But when does it end? Should he be punished forever because it makes us feel better? Forget about Michael Vick for a moment. Study after study have been done, and they all agree: A convicted felons chance of going straight is directly related to his or her ability to find housing, and employment. Perpetual punishment may make many feel better, to see the criminal suffer in perpetuity, but it's counter productive. It makes neither fiscal sense, or social sense, to set up prisoners to fail after their release. Vick is a big name criminal who should remind us, that we want convicted felons to succeed after they are released from prison. Let Vick play football again.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mississippi on the Pacific

I've been looking over some of the consequences of California's latest budget deal, and I can come to no other conclusion: Thanks to the wonders of direct democracy, a small minority of far right nuts, have turned California into Mississippi on the Pacific.

With a voter mandated two thirds majority required to either pass a budget or a tax increase, it's now possible for a one third plus one minority to dictate how California will be governed. Despite the fact that California is an overwhelmingly democratic and liberal state, (Despite the election of Governor Action Hero. Talk about buyer's remorse.) the Repug minority and the Gov. have managed to dictate massive cuts in the social safety net, and education.

At a time when health insurance is becoming more and more expensive, we've made cuts to programs for uninsured children, and home health care for shut-ins. Of course, the formerly insured are going to start showing up in emergency rooms, a far more expensive way to treat the sick. But then again, there are so few emergency rooms left in our state, so in the long run, thousands of premature deaths might end up saving us money. I wonder how many deaths of children, the long term disabled, and the elderly we're willing to adsorb in order to continue the Ronald Reagan war on taxes? Funny, I thought the far right was oh so pro-life.
And of course, let's not forget education. I dare anyone out there to find a reputable economist who will argue that what we really need is a less educated work force. So the one third on the far right have forced massive cuts to schools and universities. Every time I hear about a major employer leaving the state, I also hear from Repugs that it's because of taxes. Has it ever occurred to them that it might be because we're no longer providing a decent education to our future workers?
Yes California is becoming like Mississippi. I've ceased to be surprised about California's on going death spiral. What amazes me is that the Repugs are proud of what they are doing to our state. It's time for a constitutional convention, a rewrite of the rules, and an elimination of the initiative process.
Just for fun: California's latest decent into initiative madness is a, still circulating, proposition to require drug and alcohol tests for state senators and assemblymen. There might be some merit in this one. After all, you'd have to be on something to put up with the whims of the California electorate.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


The generals didn't want it. Secretary Gates was against it. President Obama threatened a veto if congress continued funding for the F-22 fighter jet. Well, to put it mildly, I'm pleasantly surprised that the military industrial complex lost one. Despite spreading manufacturing and jobs over a majority of American states, the U.S. Senate decided that it made no sense to build jets designed to deal with the Soviet threat, decades after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Still, I've got to ask the obvious question: With all those jobs at stake, couldn't we find something else for the defence industry to make? This is a point I've made before. (On the former version of The New Common Sense) We once had an extensive interurban system in the United States. Why not rebuild it?

For people too young, or with no sense of history, light rail used to not just connect neighborhoods within cities, but different cities as well. There was a time when, with some small gaps that required some walking, one could ride from the suburbs of Boston, to the island of Manhattan, albeit with dozens of transfers. Here in Los Angeles, we had the red car system that connected communities as far apart as Santa Monica and Riverside. I'm not arguing that we should build such an extensive light rail system. People do like cars, and will continue to favor private transportation over mass transportation. But, high speed, elevated rail lines, not subject to crossing traffic, and quiet enough to go through neighborhoods, and over buildings; that connect the already existing transit systems of different cities; or that connect rural communities with nearby urban areas, would do this country a world of good. Here in southern California, a line that would run from Santa Barbara in the north to San Diego in the south would take a lot of cars off the roads, allow people to increase the area in which they can hold jobs, and allow me to go to San Diego for the weekend for $5. Such a system could keep small towns alive, allowing easy and low cost commutes to urban centers. And a system built to bad weather standards, could allow quick evacuations from hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and blizzards. And since we're talking about an airplane fuselage on wheels...well, Northrup, Boeing, and General Dynamics are a natural to design, and build a modern, high speed, interurban system. All that's needed is for the federal government to get involved. Accept bids for a common track design for the whole country so that, if warranted, systems can be linked up over time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What a Country!

Great story from the business world. Last quarter, banking house Morgan Stanley lost $159 million. Despite that rather large loss, Morgan set aside $3.9 billion, or 72% of their net revenues for staff bonuses. Of course, it's the same old story. If these bonuses are not paid, they'll lose all of their talent to rival banks. I'd love to be in that job interview.

"So it says on your resume, that in your last job, you drove your employer to the brink of bankruptcy. That they only survived because of a massive government bailout. It also says that you almost destroyed the economy of the whole planet. So why are you leaving?"

"Well, I didn't feel like I was being paid enough for my work in impoverishing millions of people around the world. It's just not fair."

"Sounds good, so is half a billion enough?"

So I'm no math wiz, but if a company has net revenues of $5.4 billion, pays out $3.9 in bonuses, and loses $159 million, doesn't that mean that if that company paid out less, or nothing at all, in bonuses, that company would be profitable? Well, they are the masters of the universe and a lot smarter than me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Tour of California Part 2

Just to repeat some of the info from part 1. (Published 7/15/09) With plenty of time on my hands, and no way to actually watch this year's Tour de France, I've worked up a possible scenario for a North American grand tour to be run in the fall, late October through mid November. While I've used some of the routes from past Tours of California, mostly I've used Mapquest to piece together a 21 stage bike race around, and in a couple of cases, just outside of California. When I have an exact start point, I'll list the address, otherwise, I've just typed the name of the start and end cities, and allowed Mapquest to pick a starting point. I'm not going to type out all the street names and route numbers, so if anyone is really taken by this article, go to Mapquest, feed in the info, and then set filters to avoid highways and for the shortest route. I've ended each stage with mileage for that day followed by cumulative mileage to date. Part 2 starts with stage nine, following a rest day...

9. Merced to Fresno. This stage almost duplicates a route from the 2009 Tour of California that started in Merced at city hall, the intersection of N St. and 18th. St. and ended in Clovis at the intersection of Bullard Ave. and Pollasky St. Clovis is a suburb of the much larger Fresno, so I just pushed things to the campus of Cal. State Fresno. The route follows CA 140 and 49 into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Climbing, but nothing really serious. 118.5/912.9.

10. Visalia to Paso Robles. This route follows, exactly, a route from this years Tour of California. Starting point, the intersection of Aceqia Ave. and Church St. in Visalia and ends at the intersection of Spring St. and 11th St. in Paso Robles. The route starts in the San Joaquin Valley, and goes over the coastal mountains. 134.3/1047.2.

11. Monterey to San Luis Obispo. As I've noted before, there are some drives between stages. Monterey is a two hour or so drive north of Paso Robles. The route follows the coast highway through Big Sur and past San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst's Xanadu. Also Moro Rock. This should be one of the most beautiful stages of this imaginary tour. Perfect for television. 137.1/1184.3.

12. Bakersfield to Kernville, going around the southern side of Lake Isabella. Time for a time trial. After a fast, flat getaway from downtown Bakersfield, the route goes up an extremely steep and winding road that follows the lower Kern River, one of America's great white water streams. At the top things get flat again, as the route goes around Lake Isabella to Kernville. Some undulating climbs on the northern side of the lake. 66.6/ 1250.9

13. Lake Isabella to China Lake. This is the one stage where I couldn't get an exact distance. I don't think that the National Forest road this route uses is in Mapquest's data base. The route goes north from the town of Lake Isabella, through Kernville, following the river. Then it makes a sharp right turn into the Sequoia National Forest. The climb is steep and long, with many very steep sections and switchbacks. After it peeks, there is a long and technical descent to Kennedy Meadows, and then climbs again, before starting a long, switch backed descent to the Mojave desert. Safety nets will have to be put up along this section of road, since going over the guard rail would probably be fatal. Once the road ends in the desert, it follows frontage roads along CA. 14 and then cuts over to China Lake, an entrance town for a military base. I'm guessing around 120 miles, though I wouldn't be surprised to be off by 20 miles either way. Estimated 120/1370.9

14. There are lots of National Parks in California, and this is the only route from this tour that goes through one. The Park Service already allows a running race from Bad Water in Death Valley to Whitney Portal, so it wasn't much of a stretch to think that permits would be obtainable for the Death Valley National Park section. The route starts in Lone Pine, gateway to Mount Whitney, goes through the park, and ends in Beatty, Nevada. 114.7/1485.6

15. Las Vegas, to Lauglin, Nevada. This isn't a particularly long or difficult stage, but any tour organizer would be foolish to exclude Las Vegas from the route. Laughlin is another casino town, located on the Colorado River. 95.2/1580.8.

16. Needles to Barstow. I've done some reading about the history of the Tour de France and was surprised that there was a time when the route would often use gravelled roads. In the first five miles out of Needles, there are several short, gravelled sections. Expect flats, but as part of a neutralized role out, that shouldn't be a problem. Following route 66, the most famous road in the United States, it will be necessary to have race referees stationed at several railroad crossings. If any riders have to wait fifteen minutes for a slow moving freight train to rumble by, times will have to be adjusted. Also the longest stage of this made up tour. 160.3/1741.1.

Rest day and part three to follow.

Sotomayor, Global Warming, and Health Care

There was time, not that long ago, when California wasn't all that liberal. One Republican governor after another was elected, and it was only Democratic leadership in the state legislature that kept California from being a very red state. But things change, and the driving force of change in California was Republican governor, Pete Wilson. Pete decided that it would be a good idea to attack illegal immigration in a way that equated being Hispanic with being an illegal. Now there was a good idea. Wilson decided to antagonize the fastest growing minority group in, not just California, but the entire nation. Within a decade, Hispanic voters in California, became solidly Democratic voters, and Republicans became an ever shrinking minority in the golden state.

I tried to watch as much as the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings last week, and as I watched, all I could think about was Pete Wilson. Hispanics are still the fastest growing minority group in the United States, and Republican panel members chose to use there time on live television to attack Sotomayor on ethnic grounds. I don't think I've ever heard the word "Latina" used in such a pejorative manner, as I did last week. And when Tom Coburn decided to imitate Ricki Ricardo, well it was California circa Pete Wilson all over again. If Hispanic voters weren't overwhelmingly Democratic two weeks ago, they are now.

To hell with bipartisanship. I applaud the Repugs for committing electoral suicide. The fight against global warming can't be won with market based solutions. It's the market system that got us into this mess to start with, and as long as there is a significant Republican presence in Washington, the market will continue to fight any attempts to solve problems that aren't inherently a source of profit. When I read how Repugs are hoping to turn health care reform into Obama's Waterloo, I realize that bipartisanship isn't possible. So thank you, Judge Sotomayor. The racial hatred shown by Jeff Sessions, Tom Coburn and their ilk, will help to shovel the Republican party onto the dung heap of history.

P.S. to Tom Coburn. Ricki Ricardo was Cuban, not Puerto Rican.

Bye Bye Bankers

I've been reading an article about the TARP Inspector General's report. It seems that a lot of the banks haven't been making loans with the government bailout funds they got. They've been buying other banks, giving out bonuses, and generally misusing taxpayer dollars.

To hell with the whole too big to fail thing. It's time to let one or two of these super banks fail. Sure, there will be a god awful mess made, but I can't see any other way to make the "masters of the universe" listen. They should read a little history and realize that the economic system we have today isn't the same one that existed 200 years ago. Things change, and after a failure or two, we can move on and start breaking up Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and most importantly, Goldman Sachs. Like I said, things change, and you don't have to be an economist to know that we can't keep allowing a handful of financial institutions run roughshod over the world.