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.