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.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And That's the Way It Was

When Otis Chandler died, I found out how difficult it is to write about someone that I admired. I'm a life long news and political junkie, and when I moved to L.A. and discovered the Los Angeles Times, and had daily access to a great newspaper... well let's just say I was pretty unhappy when Chandler was ousted from the Times and it became a far more ordinary paper.

I grew up on Walter Cronkite, and I think if he had never been born, I would not have the appreciation for news and politics that I do. It may seem weird, but when I was a kid, fooling around was done before, after, but never during the CBS Nightly News. Cronkite, in a mere 30 minutes, minus commercials, managed to get me excited about the greater world beyond my small, home town. Following the space race, the presidency, the cold war, and even the Vietnam war, didn't just make me a better informed person, it made me a curious person. Cronkite, Eric Severied, Roger Mudd, and all the rest excited my interest in what was going on in the world, and also made my want to know about the history that was the foundation for so much of what was going on. Cronkite made me a newspaper reader, as I sought to get more detail on the stories that he reported. He also made me a student of history, as I sought to understand how the past influences the present. I've got to say, I really feel sorry for all the younger people who have grown up on new media, and completely lack any sense of the historical precedent, and the interconnectedness of the world around them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Tour of California Part 1

Like most American cycling fans, I'll probably never have a chance to see one of the three European, grand tours. While I'd love to join the caravan and follow the Tour de France, seeing all the action, in person, it's unlikely that I'll ever get both the time and money to do so. My only hope, is for there to be a fourth grand tour added, and that it be run in North America.

As a Californian, I think that the best bet for such a race, would be an expansion of the present Tour of California, but as an alternative, a Tour of North America, moved to a different region of the continent every year, would also work. California has the deserts, sea coast, and the Sierras. It also has some pretty large urban areas, media outlets, as well as cities and large communities, just over the state border in Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona. As the three European grand tours often cross borders into neighboring countries, there is no reason why a future grand tour of California couldn't go through Las Vegas. Other possibilities for a Tour of North America could include the Rockies, and the Cascades, straddling the U.S./Canadian border. And while the mountains of the east aren't as challenging as those of the west, a grand tour that finishes in New York City would work. Even the flat sections of the mid west could work, substituting distance for elevation gains. Why not a 21 day, 3,500 mile race that includes, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.

One of the few advantages of being semi-unemployed, is that I can stay at home and follow live updates of the Tour de France. I've also got the time to think about a fourth grand tour. And so, with nothing better to do, I sat down, used Mapquest and have worked out a future, grand Tour of California. I've used some of the routes from the past couple of years, sometimes with minor variations, and I've also moved my fictional race to the fall, to ensure that the high mountains are snow free and the deserts have cooled enough so that no riders die of heat stroke. In some of my stages, I've used a specific start point, and a specific end point, and when I have, I'll give those locations. If not, I've just fed the town name into Mapquest, and let the web site choose a central location. I've also set things to avoid highways, and use the shortest route. I won't write all of the road numbers and street names. If anyone is so taken by my idea that they have to have more deatils, they can go to Mapquest and look it up themselves. I've tried to include as many of the large urban areas as I could and also took into consideration that television money and sponsorships are important, so I did my best to include as much spectacular scenery as possible. All distances listed are in miles. My math isn't good enough to do all the conversions to kilometers. At the end of each stage I'll put down the mileage for that day, as well as cumulative distances to date. When I've used the same route as the 2009 Tour of California, maps can be viewed by going to

1. I've started my Tour of California with a true prologue. Any Tour of California has to include the state capital, and the quick 2.4 mile ride through downtown Sacramento is as good as any other way to have a Bear Flag Jersey awarded for the first real stage of the race. 2.4/2.4

2. Stage two also follows the same route as the 2009 Tour of California. Starting at the intersection of C St. and 3rd St. in Davis, it ends at 3rd St. and Santa Rosa Ave. in Santa Rosa, ending with three circuit laps. It goes through the Napa Valley and Calistoga. 107.6/110.

3. If you're going to run a grand tour in the United States, it can't be as lily white, or middle class and above as the Euro tours. My stage 3, is a semi loop of the San Fransisco Bay area, passing through both upscale neighborhoods, and some of the poorer areas in Oakland. It starts at the same place that the 2009 stage 3 started, in Sausalito, 100 Spinnaker Dr., goes over the Golden Gate Bridge, and heads south to San Jose, at the intersection of San Fernando St. and Almaden Blvd. then turns north to Jack London Square in Oakland, and then on to it's finish in downtown Berkeley. 106.9/216.9.

4. There are going to be some drives between start and end points for this imaginary Tour of California, and I've tried to keep them as reasonable as possible. Stage 4 starts in Ukiah and heads over the coastal mountains to Chico, a college town north of Sacramento. The climbs shouldn't be all the hard for pro cyclists, there is a long bit along Clear Lake, and then a descent towards Williams and then onto the college town of Chico. 143.3/360.2.

5. Moving up the I-5, the next start point is in Redding, a small city near the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area. The route heads east, going over Hatcher Mountain Summit (4368 ft.) and Adin Summit (5188 ft.) and ends in Alturas. This is as far north as this tour gets. I've checked the numbers twice. It's the same distance as stage 4. 143.3/503.5.

6. Moving south, the next start point is at Susanville, a smallish town in the southern Cascades. This is volcanic country, not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. Expect flats from riding over pumice. Avoiding the four lane 395, takes the route through Quincy, another smallish community , but ends in Reno, Nevada. The first day outside of California. A casino sponsorship is a good bet to help pay for the tour. 147.2/650.7

7. It's time for a team time trail, before any of the teams get down to less than five riders. From Nevada's capital city to the old mining town of Virginia City is only 15.2 miles, but it does end with a steep, though short climb. Virginia City is where Mark Twain got his literary start. 15.2/665.9.

8. This stage starts with another day in Nevada, but then returns to California. With a start in the casino and resort town of Stateline, Nevada, on Lake Tahoe, crosses into Stateline, California, and then starts to climb over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, over Carson Pass (8573 ft.) and then has a very long series of climbs and descents, eventually nearing sea level at Stockton. 128.5/794.4

I've put a rest day after stage 8, and will continue this in another post in a day or two.

American Cassandra

In my last post, I wrote that Ronald Reagan was the worst disaster to befall the United States since the civil war. I just found out that today is the thirtieth anniversary of Jimmy Carter's speech on the OPEC oil embargo caused energy crisis of the late seventies, a perfect opportunity to give another reason for my low opinion of Ronald Reagan, one of America's worst presidents.

I've always thought of Jimmy Carter as the American Cassandra. In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of the king of Troy. The gods gave her the gift of prophecy, but also cursed her. She could see the future, but no one would ever believe her. Looking back, Carter was right on so many things, but he lacked the political skill to convince the American electorate of the need to change the way we lived, for the long term good of the country.

Thirty years ago today, President Jimmy Carter gave a speech on an energy crisis, caused by the OPEC oil embargo. In it, he noted that the United States was so dependent on foreign oil, that we had lost our foreign policy independence. He laid out an ambitious, Manhattan Project type plan to make us energy independent. While he could have limited his remarks to freeing ourselves from OPEC oil, through conservation, higher efficiency standards for cars, and alternative fuel production, he also talked about the need to move from a carbon based energy system to clean, renewable sources. Thirty years ago today, Jimmy Carter was laying out a plan to increase solar, wind, and geothermal energy production. If only we had listened.

And then Ronald Reagan became president, with his hostility to government and his belief that markets solve all problems. Well, markets don't solve all problems, markets make money, and if money can be made by making things worse for the majority of Americans, so be it. If we had followed through on the Carter, energy initiatives, today, we'd probably be the world's largest producer of solar energy, as well as the world's leading manufacturer of solar generating equipment. Ditto for wind. We'd probably be driving around in a mixed automobile fleet, powered by oil, natural gas, electricity, hybrid technology, and very likely the first generation of hydrogen cars. And as a bonus, we'd probably be living in a much cleaner environment, and a world far less threatened by global warming.

But, of course, we didn't. In the end, OPEC folded when it became evident that Carter was willing to push energy independence, no matter what the oil producing countries did. Ronald Reagan hailed it as the market solving problems, when in fact it was government's willingness to use direct action to remake the world into a more energy diverse world, that weakened OPEC. Reagan, as only a doctrinaire conservative could, misidentified the problem, and, in the long run, made us more dependent on foreign energy sources, while doing, very likely, irreversible damage to our environment.

So thank you Ronald Reagan. Thank you for a world where we fight wars for oil. Thank you for global warming. Thank you for permanent drought, rising sea levels, and dependence on oil companies, foreign and domestic. You really did screw the American pooch.

Killing Reagan

No, I'm not dealing in hyperbole. I really do think that Ronald Reagan was the worst disaster to befall the United States since the Civil War. Too, if it were possible to quantify, I'm sure that Howard Jarvis would go down in history as having killed far more Americans than Osama bin Ladin.

It isn't just the insane tax cuts, and weakening of the central government that Ronny has to answer for; the big sin of Ronald Reagan is also his greatest success; the successful campaign to rebrand government as stupid, incompetent, and evil.

Before Ronny came along, most Americans looked to government to solve problems. No, the citizenry didn't have blind faith, and we were quick to criticize when things went wrong, but by and large, there was an expectation that government was an important part of our lives, and it existed to deal with problems, and strike a balance between competing interests in our society. The dark cloud of Reaganism changed all that. What was the quote? "Government is the problem, not the solution." We still live in Reagan's America; people still believe that government can do nothing right; that it's better for business to regulate itself, because government will only screw it up. No matter that government was very successful in preventing an economic boom/bust cycle for over fifty years, from the age of Roosevelt to Ford. (And even the economic problems of the Carter administration can be viewed as a temporary hiccup caused by the bills coming due from the Vietnam war.)

For Obama to be a successful president, he will have to reestablish faith in the American government. My guess is that if Obama went to congress, right now, and asked for funds to create jobs in the quickest and most effective manner, something along the lines of the WPA or CCC, he would be attacked, mercilessly, as a big government liberal, and even a Democratic congress would deny him. Too, he has to convince the American people that enforcing anti-trust law and breaking up some of our "too big to fail" business and banking institutions is a good thing. Let's hope he starts with Goldman Sachs. (See my post, Obama's History Lesson, published 6/19/09 for more on this subject.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

State Funerals

Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Woody Guthrie, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, John Lee Hooker, Mary Lou Williams, Andy Warhol, James Jones, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Newman, John Wayne, John Ford, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Alberta Hunter, Johnny Cash, Billy Strayhorn, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Norman Mailer, Katherine Hepburn, Howard Hawks, Vladamir Nabokov, Greta Garbo, John Frankenheimer, Burt Lancaster, and Ella Fitzgerald are all cultural figures of equal or greater importance than Michael Jackson, who have died within my lifetime. ( I was born in 1955.) Not one of them was given the equivalent of a state funeral.

If I had months to go through the records, I could come up with thousands more.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How Jamie Lee Curtis Destroyed California, Once Again

This is another one of those things where you'll just have to take my word for it. Back when The New Common Sense was hosted by Typepad, and before I deleted the whole damn thing and moved to this free service, I wrote an article called How Jamie Lee Curtis Destroyed California. I've been moved to rewrite, and expand, on that post for a couple of reasons. The first is that California has become even more of a failed state than it was six months ago when I wrote my original post. The second reason is the appearance of Robert J. Elisberg's HoPo article condemning the California initiative system. He closes his article with the line, "There is only one proposition worthy of having on the ballot and voting for. A proposition that would get rid of the California proposition system." I closed mine by noting that the only proposition that I would vote for is one getting rid of propositions. No, I'm not charging plagiarism, just a coincidence. The fact is, the damage done by our many propositions is so obvious, that I'm sure others must have voiced the same sentiment before I did. So, let's see how good my memory is.

In the last presidential election, actress Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in a commercial for proposition 3, a ballot initiative to provide funding for children's hospitals in California. I don't know whether Curtis was a true believer or a paid spokesperson, but she was effective enough that the prop. 3 passed easily. The ad started with Curtis leading a children's choir in a rendition of John Lennon's Imagine. She then went into a brief bit about the necessity of passing Prop. 3. In the last shot of the commercial, Jamie Lee Curtis turned to the camera and said, "Remember, Proposition 3 has no new taxes."

Yes, Proposition 3 had no new taxes. In that, she was 100% honest. What was left out of the ad was the eventual cost to the California state treasury. By the time all the interest is paid, and all the incidentals are taken care of, the total bill will be closing in on two billion dollars. Maybe we'll get lucky, and when it's time to pay things out, the state will be swimming in cash, and it won't matter. Highly unlikely. The facts are, the people of California have used the initiative system to cut taxes, make it almost impossible to re-raise them, while passing one expensive, and unfunded, bond measure after another.

We've also passed expensive social experiments, one of the best examples being the three strikes law. Playing on a, mostly, unfounded fear of crime, we the people, bypassed the state legislature and passed an initiative that greatly expanded the states inmate population with no way to pay for the new prisons, guard salaries, utilities, food, clothes, and medical care needed to house all those extra prisoners.

The fact is, every initiative that's put before the electorate comes as a singular thing, with no thought that paying for one proposition takes money away from other state programs and obligations. An informed legislature that works on budgets for everything at once, can see how an increase in the education budget, with no new revenue streams to pay for it, means a decrease in, let's say, the parks budget, or more debt. And since the park's budget may, in fact, have built in restrictions passed by the voters, the only choice may be to pass another bond to paper over that years budget short fall.

Of course, we don't' really have an informed legislature anymore. We the people decided we were offended by the idea of professional politicians in Sacramento. So what did we do? Why, we passed term limits. Now, just when someone in the state assembly finally learns how the system works, and just as importantly, doesn't work, they're out, only to be replaced by another amateur. I have nothing against assembly speaker Karen Bass. I'm willing to accept, without reservation, that she's the best we have to offer, but she's only been in the assembly for four or five years, and in one or two years, she'll be term limited out. In other words, she hasn't been around long enough to really understand the system, and she'll be gone before she has a chance to master the process. What a waste.

Direct democracy may work in a very small town, where the electorate is a couple of hundred people, but in a state as large as California, it has proved to be a disaster. California is a failed state. Not failed in the way that Somalia is, but a failed state nevertheless. Probably the one hope for our salvation is a state constitutional convention that could dump the current mess, and replace it with something simpler, and more workable. And as far as propositions go, the only one I'm interested in voting for, is a proposition to get rid of propositions.

So there it is, from memory, a rewrite of a deleted post from six months ago. Of course it's not the same, my memory isn't perfect, but it does convey my thoughts on the ongoing destruction of California, helped along by the smiling and effective spokesperson, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sweet Sarah, Artiste

Over the past several days, I've heard all sorts of theories about Sarah Palin's strange and abrupt departure from the Alaska state house. Most of them make some level of sense. It's quite possible that Palin thinks her resignation will allow her to run for president, and win. I tend to doubt she would be right, if that is her intention, but, as a reason for quitting, it makes sense. Maybe she's in some sort of legal trouble, and she's cut a deal with the feds; resign and the investigation goes away. Maybe she wants to move on to Fox, or challenge Rush as the talking head for the Repugs. Maybe, maybe , maybe.

Well here's my totally illogical theory: Governance as performance art. Every time I turn around, I hear of some politician who claims to love governance, but hate campaigning. Makes sense. After all who would want to spend all of their time begging for money, glad handing strangers, and making the same stump speech over and over again. Politics is the means, to the end of power. And, by the way, that's not a criticism. Power, ambition, those are two things that are at the root of government. We like to think that great leaders are at heart, humble, and altruistic. Humble never, altruistic, who knows.

Palin strikes me as one of those people who loves politics, but hates governance. The woman barely shows up in Juneau, and let's be honest, she's not the brightest bulb in the world. Running a state is probably pretty overwhelming for such a limited intelligence. She does, however, have a real talent for moving people. She can work up a crowd as well as anyone out there. Of course, from my point of view, she's more Mussolini than Lincoln, but that's a whole other story. I think she loves the adulation of the crowd, and the best way to be loved by the masses, is to get out of Alaska and get on the stump speech circuit. My guess is that she's going to be working up conservative crowds about abortion, gun ownership, and Obama, and making a good living at it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The 4th From Samuel Johnson

I love the Samuel Johnson dictum that"Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels." Conservatives, and the illiterate, love to read that line as a criticism of patriotism, though I've always seen it as an observation on the tendency of scoundrels to wrap themselves in the flag.

It is the fourth of July, and once again, we Americans are wallowing in patriotism. Well, I think, as a people, we're way too patriotic. All of us, including we liberals, are constantly trying to prove how much we love our country, and I think that's why scoundrels do so well in the United States.

While I haven't agreed with everything that president Obama has done, I'm hopeful that he'll do well. Still, on this holiday, I think it's important to remember that we've just got through eight years of scoundrel heaven. The scoundrels appealed to patriotism and brought us one unjustified war and one ill managed war; they sold us on the patriotism of the market place, our American way of doing business, and we have the worst economic crisis since the crash of 1929. It's hard for me to be patriotic when I can't even afford to eat every day. Love of country, as defined by the scoundrels, has brought us a country that's now owned by the oligarchs, while most of us dig in our nails, trying to hold onto the cliff's edge.

No, I'm not damning patriotism, America, or hope for a better future. I am damning the scoundrels. I'm damning our George, Ronald Reagan and their legacy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Coup In Central America

No, I don't approve of the military coup in Honduras. As fragile as it's democracy was, it's still an elected government, and we should support the return of President Zelaya. But...

As a liberal, I do wish that my fellow American leftists would stop heaping praise on people like Zelaya, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales. You can't have a democracy without an election, but an election does not a democracy make. It is also the rule of law, rather than the rule of the individual that makes a free state. None of the leaders I've mentioned are harsh dictators, but each has shown a tendency towards, what I would call, a soft dictatorship.

They've all tried, on some level, to allow themselves to be elected president for life, and each has also shown a tendency to rule by decree. They're all a long ways (Well maybe not Chavez) from secret police and disappearing the opposition, but they're all laying the ground work for a hard dictatorship, with no limits, that are not self imposed, on their power.

Being a true liberal should not include support for left wing dictators. If anything, being a liberal should involve opposition to a dictatorship of any kind.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The White Hell of Pitz Palu, Silent Movie DVD of the Week...

...Or when ever the hell I get around to it.

The mountain as character. Dr. Johannes Krafft (Gustav Diessl) and his wife, Maria, on the north face of Pitz Palu. Grandly romantic, this film starts with a kiss that coincides with an avalanche that sweeps Mrs. Krafft to her death. The doctor imagines that he can hear her cries for help deep with in a crevasse. Or is it his imagination. Descending into the glacier, it's only the sound of running water.

On the anniversary of her death, another young couple have arrived on the mountain, Hans (Ernst Petersen) and his fiance Maria (Leni Riefenstahl) are staying in the climbing hut beneath the north face, when Dr. Krafft, compulsively climbing in the mountains, shows up at the hut. After spending the night with Hans and Maria, he rises early to attempt the north face, as yet unclimbed. A mountain guide had showed up the night before to let him know that five students from Zurich would also be attempting the route. Joined by Hans and Maria he starts up the mountain. There is another avalanche that sweeps the students to their death in the crevasse that was the final resting place of Mrs. Krafft. The same avalanche has injured both Hans and Krafft, and along with Maria, they are now trapped on a narrow ledge, where all they can do is await rescue from the local mountain guides.

Hans is at first, unconscious, while Johannes Krafft, with a broken leg, stands on the ledge trying to signal for rescue. During the day he calls out, at night he waves a lantern, to attract attention. The mountain guide, who is also a loyal friend of the doctor's, climbs the mountain searching for the students and Krafft, and finds the dead students. He returns to the village to get the other guides and leads them on a night time, torch lit, climb of the mountain. In a spectacular sequence, the guides descend into the glacier, lit only with their torches, to recover the bodies of the dead students. They then begin, again, to search for the living. Meanwhile, a pilot and friend of the young couple, Ernst Udet, playing himself, has flown into the mountains and locates the stranded party. Over the course of three days, the guides climb to the group's rescue. Hans, losses his nerve and tries to throw himself of the mountain. Krafft and Maria tie him to the ice to save his life. As the temperatures drop, Krafft wraps Hans and Maria in his hat, sweater, and coat to prevent them from freezing to death. With his last ounce of energy, he climbs up to an ice shelf and then freezes to death, and is buried in the snow by a storm. Nearing death, Hans and Maria are saved when the guides finally climb down from a ridge, to their rescue.

Melodramatic at it's core, this movie excels with it's depiction of the climbing world. The constant shots of the mountain and it's avalanches focuses attention on the plight of the three stranded climbers. Krafft, doomed from the start, finds a level of redemption in saving the young couple, something he couldn't do for his wife. Stunning photography brings the mountains to life. The night shots of the mountain guides, climbing up the mountain, lit by their torches, followed by their day light skiing back down the mountain to the village are almost abstract in the way they are photographed.

Before she became a director herself, and, sadly, became associated with the Nazi Party, Riefenstahl was known as the star of a series of mountain movies. She is stunningly beautiful, shot against the snow and rock of the mountain. Diessel is great as the doomed climber and doctor.

The White Hell of Pitz Palu was shot in Germany, and released in 1929. Co-directed by Arnold Fanck, and the under rated G.W. Pabst, who also made Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. The original negative has been lost. This version was mastered from a surviving nitrate print. I've written about the Kino Video version of this film. A few scratches hear and there, but over all, the condition is excellent. Highly recommended. This DVD also has an hour long interview with Riefenstahl and a sound sequence from a 1935 rerelease.

California State Parks Seized!

Our own Governor Action Hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been warned by the federal government that some of our state parks could be seized should he follow through on his plan to shut all the nonprofitable units of our parks system.

It seems that Angel Island, Mount Diablo, Point Sur, Fort Ord Dunes, Point Magu, and Border Fields were all once federal properties, and when they were deeded to California for use as parks, part of the deal was that they be kept up and running in perpetuity. That's got to hurt. Action Hero has positioned himself as the tough, fiscal conservative willing to do anything to bring fiscal responsibility to the golden state. Every time he turns around, he finds out that some pesky law is tying his hands.

Of course, his biggest problem isn't with the state legislature, unions (a favorite whipping boy for Action hero), or the feds. His big problem is us, and while I think the Gov is, to put it mildly, in way over his head, I kind of feel sorry for him.

The people of California have used the initiative process to cut taxes, make it almost impossible to re-raise taxes, while passing all sorts of social programs, and expensive bond issues, all with no way to pay for them. We've even gone so far as to use the ballot box to dictate to the state government how to allocate funds. And let's not forget, we didn't like all those evil professional politicians, so we passed term limits to guarantee that our state will be run by amateurs, the worst of the lot, governor Action Hero himself. It's time to put the gov out of his misery. The amateurs in the Sacramento legislature should impeach the amateur in the governor's mansion.

Solar Power and the Desert

For those of us who love the deserts of California, the announcement by the federal government that 676,000 acres, 351,000 of those in California, will be set aside for the next two years for study and environmental review for the possible location of solar power generating stations, comes as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, even with the miles of high tension wires fanning out across the landscape, it's a whole lot better than coal fired plants. On the other, it signals a commitment to the continued, large scale, industrial style model for power generation.

Here in Los Angeles, we have thousands of large, flat roofed buildings. From movie studio sound stages, to big box stores, to industrial properties, we have hundreds of thousands of roof top acres that could be used for roof top solar arrays. Too, while as a city, L.A. may be turning to vertical housing, most people still live in traditional, single family, stand alone homes, most of which could easily be retro-fitted with solar panels, as well as small, wind turbines. The only thing stopping such usage is money. While the cost of solar panels, and small wind turbines is coming down, they're still pretty pricey.

The obvious solution is for utilities and government to pay for the installation of solar cells and small wind turbines. If California would make the commitment to pay for any retrofits to homes owned by people whose income is below a certain, to be determined amount, we could rapidly move towards generating a high percentage of day time electricity without the use of coal, nuclear, or natural gas. Of course, the people of California have used the initiative process to block tax increases, so it would be almost impossible to pay for, unless....It's time to view power as part of infrastructure, and get rid of private utilities. Pay for solar panel retrofits out of utility bills rather than paying dividends to investors. We've already got a start towards the public ownership of utilities. In the L.A. area we have the DWP, the Department of Water and Power, as well as other publicly owned utilities through out the state. Use the state's power to take over ownership of private property to take over Cal Edison, and the other private companies, and run them all as a break even operation, and we can move more rapidly to clean, renewable power generation for all. This whole, only the market can solve problems, private property is sacred notion,will be the rope that hangs us all.

Too, while we're examining power generation in California. Why not the oceans? We've got tidal energy, as well as reliable ocean currents in abundance just off our coast line. Could it be that we're reluctant to tap the oceans for power generation because people with money like ocean views, while people without money live in places like Barstow and Baker?