Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A new year's eve recommendation

I bought a lot of Christmas presents on Amazon.com, along with stuff like a new cartridge for our kitchen faucet. Today I spent a few hours writing reviews of the stuff I bought.

As a consumer, Amazon.com reader reviews have benefited me a lot, and anyone who harbors communitarian political ideals should pay back by helping others in this way, just as others have helped us.

It's not only the particular things said that help, but the knowledge they convey that so many people give of their time to help others, with no direct reward. Seeing community spirit nourishes community spirit.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Shoe Throwing: Wrong Question

Newspapers are printing many letters defending throwing shoes at Bush—or being offended by such defenders. Well, they're all wrong. The actual question is whether a journalist should use a press conference as the time and place to make a partisan statement.

If lefties had their wits about them they'd denounce this breach. Civilization depends on us all acting, well, civilized. Its exact essence is people who disagree profoundly agreeing to coexist in a common framework. And the exact test of that civilization is how you treat people you despise.

I despise Bush. (Though I do admire his agility. He dodged both shoes neatly.) But all the shoe-thrower showed was his disregard for his profession and his incomprehension of what we all must do to keep civilization going. Same goes for those who defend his actions.

There's a place to show what you think about Bush: the ballot box. And that worked out pretty well, didn't it? Besides, if you defend the shoe-thrower, then you're defending Cheney cursing out a Senator on the Senate floor.

Think about it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Is it time for revolution in Zimbabwe?

A Zimbabwean senator wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, proposing that powersharing with the Mugabe regime was the only nonviolent option. Here's the comment I posted there:

I'm sure Senator Coltart's assertion is correct: the powersharing agreement is the only nonviolent alternative.

However, that doesn't make it the only alternative.

No one should propose violent revolution lightly, and I don't. My own country--America--tried everything before resorting to revolution, and in that revolution, many people died or suffered grievously. And in our case perhaps it wasn't necessary. Certainly Canada and Australia and New Zealand all transitioned to independence peacefully--as did Zimbabwe's southern neighbor, to the astonishment of the rest of the world.

That said, surely we all agree that there are conditions under which violent revolution is the least worst alternative. the question is whether this is true in the case of Zimbabwe, and, sadly, I'm afraid it is.

Mugabe has become a tick firmly embedded in his country's body, bleeding it dry. He has stated recently that Zimbabwe is his personal possession. He appears to have veered into clinical megalomania. And an insane dictator is even more dangerous than your ordinary despot.

And in this case it really looks as though Mugabe and his cronies are already at war with the people of Zimbabwe. Maybe we just have to recognize this fact.

But then the question is will South Africa's government stop aiding and abetting the Mugabe dictatorship? This quiet collusion is shameful and flies directly in the face of S.A.'s own commitment to democracy.

Of course there's the issue of Africa's general inability to transcend its bitter memories of the colonial era. Mugabe fought colonialism, therefore he's a fine fellow. Well, the colonial era ended several generations ago. Africa needs to get out of reactive mode and deal with the present in terms of the present.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Somali Piracy--should we fish or cut bait?

We can't leave Somalia alone, notwithstanding Bush's blunders and regardless of whether you think America is the Great Shaitan or the world's last best hope for international peace--for the simple fact that Somali piracy is wreaking havoc on international shipping. 

The pirate's apologists can rant all they want about how it's all our fault and they're just peaceful fishermen forced into this. Whether we played a role in their turning to piracy or not, and whether they'd (re)turn to fishing after making hundreds of millions of dollars from piracy (yeah, right), they're a menace to navigation and must be stopped. 

The Somalis do have a legitimate grievance against many other nations: foreign trawlers have not only removed most of the fish Somalis used to catch but have also destroyed the fishes' breeding grounds (that's what trawling does). 

But to the no doubt disappointment of those who think America's to blame for everything, those foreign trawlers aren't American. They're Portuguese, Taiwanese etc. 

Yes, Somali piracy is doubtless symptomatic of other stuff, and I doubt that stopping the piracy will do anything to fix that other stuff, and I agree that the other stuff needs sorting out--perhaps with a UN mandate, since self-determination would only be possible if you disarmed the warlords' militias so that traditional Somali institutions could function again. 

But we can't wait for that other stuff to get sorted out. Nor is an unfleet of warships from various countries--some of which are countries the poaching trawlers come from--working out so well.

We need a unified command imposing order on Somali waters--one that would both stop the pirates and expel the foreign poachers. International law needs to be updated to explicitly enable captains of ships who capture pirates to try them on board, sentence them to death, execute them on the spot and dump their bodies in the sea. All the Somalis on shore need know is that pirates go out and don't come back. 

This is also a perfect area for new technology like UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). UAVs could patrol Somalia's long coastline and notify patrolling vessels when pirates set out in skiffs (easily recognizable) or in motherships (which could then be interdicted and boarded by warships and/or choppers).

The ships now being held by the pirates (almost always under the control of several warlords) must be boarded and retaken--all simultaneously in a large operation. Some crewmen will die, but it's worth it in the long run.

Many left wingers quail at the brutal realities of the world. They believe in a Star Trek universe where everything is solved by sweet reason. The irony is that to the extent that they get control of nations' foreign policies they often cause as much human suffering as right wing warmongers do.

International peace isn't a freebie. If you study history, you'll sea that it has only been brought about by a tough, dominant nation, often administered unfairly and brutally--but better than the chaos that's the only alternative. The Romans did it. Now it's our turn. Bush gave war a bad name, but that's not because war isn't the only answer sometimes. It was because he's a fool in the purest sense of the term.

None of what I've said justifies Bush's blunders. I'm just trying to deliver a wake-up call to those who let their ideologies swamp their ability to perceive things as they really are, for better and for worse.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Coral reefs dying

A recent NYTimes science blog discussed the existential threat to the Earth's coral reefs, coming from a variety of sources, including acidification of the oceans due to carbon dioxide absorption, reef bombing, overfishing, etc. Here's my comment:

One thing individuals can do to help–odd as it sounds–is to become scuba divers.

We divers are eye witnesses to what’s going on beneath the surface of our seas. Talking to older divers reveals how greatly diminished many reef habitats are now.

Yet speaking as someone who only started diving in 1994, I’ve still seen–and continue to see–amazing beauty underwater, from the Caribbean to Indonesia and elsewhere.

I’ve also heard reef bombing going on, seen poachers at work in national parks, seen the devastation caused by humankind’s wasteful and destructive treatment of the ocean’s resources. And since I’ve seen and heard these things myself, I can be a more compelling advocate.

Humans understand specifics more than statistics. That’s just the way it is.

Also, the more divers take themselves and their money to tropical destinations, the more the locals have an incentive to conserve our reefs. I’ve seen what a huge difference this can make. It won’t help with acidification directly but it can ameliorate the situation in other ways.

True, diving is dangerous. In fact it’s as dangerous as driving a car on a freeway. Oh, wait. You do do that, though, right?

In fact, as long as you stick to sport diving parameters, you can get life insurance (unlike sky divers, for example). Insurance company actuaries are a great source of information as to which activities are reasonably safe, and which are not.

The key is training and common sense. Don’t get one of those InstaDiver resort courses. Take a proper course from a proper dive shop, and don’t do stupid things like partying ’till 3am then diving at 8am. I’ve been on over 400 dives worldwide in many conditions and have never had a problem, apart from a jellyfish sting twice on my lip–about as painful as a thistle sting. That’s it.

So go dive, enjoy one of the most exciting activities you can do, become a witness, help our planet.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The New York Times published yet another editorial proposing amnesty for illegal immigrants, along with asserting that illegals have a right to conduct their day-to-day activities here without fer of prosecution, and that local law enforcement should do nothing whatsoever about illegal immigration. You can find this editorial at:


Here's my response:

This editorial argues by anecdote. Anecdotes can illustrate an argument, but they can't prove it.

For every anecdote of illegals as innocent victims of Americans, you can find an anecdote of Americans as innocent victims of illegals. None of those anecdotes finds its way into this editorial, however. Nor does a single statistic. Nor does empirical reasoning.

All of which makes this editorial pure propaganda, playing on readers' heartstrings through a one-sided sob story treatment of a difficult issue, using loaded language to tilt the playing field even further. (Such as renaming illegal aliens "undocumented immigrants", which strips away the taint of trespass.)

It all works because even among the college educated, many get their BAs without any real exposure to scientific logic, quantitiative analysis, or training in how to spot propaganda and avoid being manipulated by it.

Once you scrape away the propagandizing, here's what this editorial claims:

1. The nation is inundated with hate crimes against illegals. (False—the FBI reported 7,622 hate crimes last year, meaning that 0.003% of the population is committing such crimes; and that number is down from 2006.)

2. Illegals are afraid to talk to police for fear of being deported, so crimes against them going unpunished. (Plausible, but also due to illegals coming from countries where police prey on you instead of helping you, and from countries that don't speak English; moreover, the offsetting value of local law enforcement helping rid America of illegals isn't even considered.)

3. Illegals are here to stay; we're powerless to expel them; therefore we must give them citizenship to avoid creating a permanent underclass. (The Left hopes that people will come to believe this trope through sheer repetition; but in fact, adopting E-Verify universally would make it impossible for illegals to work here other than as pick-up labor in front of Home Depots; and adopting a universal biometric ID system would force most illegals to go home the same way they got here.)

4. It's immoral to "tear families apart." (By this logic we mustn't arrest thieves with families; and of course illegals' families are welcome to leave with them. Moreover, those families are the product of the decisions of the illegals themselves, not us. It's called "responsibility." Look it up.)

5. Illegals have rights, just like the rest of us. (They have basic human rights, but they don't have the right to be here, nor to be paid for their labor, because it was illegal for them to do that labor for money in the first place. Nor do they have the right to "congregate in public places without fear" because, again, they don't have the right to be here, because they're trespassing.)

7. Local law enforcement should concentrate on keeping "off the books businesses from eroding pay and conditions for all workers." (You bet—but the easiest way to do that is through E-Verify and a universal biometric ID system, neither of which you mention or advocate, and without which local law enforcement is denied its best means of accomplishing this.)

This editorial's emotional appeal betrays total callousness towards the main victims of illegals: working-class Americans of all races and ethnicities, whose already low wages have been driven below the poverty line by competition from illegals.

For shame.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Obama's economics team--compromise we need

Republicans are generally rationalizing their reverses--at least in public. But it seems reasonable to suppose that members of past administrations who've signed onto the Obama administration will feel freer to admit past mistakes.

And while these centrist choices might not be the very best economic thinkers on the planet, Obama needs both good people AND people who can gain cooperation from both Democrats and Republicans.

If he practices the same majoritarian philosophy that the Republicans did for past eight years we're less likely to get the reforms we need.

Hillary Clinton's single payer medical plan was the best for the country, but she and her husband went at it from a majoritariam stance and the Republicans were able to defeat it (using their usual dirty tricks).

So though we may not get what we want...we'll get what we need this way (apologies to the Rolling Stones).

It's just weird to see someone who actually may be a uniter, not a divider.

Now if only he can finesse amnesty for illegal immigrants so that he doesn't enrage Americans of Latin descent while protecting working-class Americans from the wage-diminishing, union-busting tactics the boss class uses illegals to accomplish.

And since the plurality of independent who elected Obama pretty unanimously oppose amnesty for illegals, he'll need even greater skill than he's shown so far with the economy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Answering a Euro indictment of the US

This from a forum on The Guardian newspaper in the UK regarding Somali piracy:

Before he got down to critiquing my proposal--an elaboration of a Guardian op-ed piece advocating military action to stop Somali piracy--one commentor issued a classic leftist Euro indictment of America. My comments in brackets.

>>Nov 22 08, 12:17pm (about 7 hours ago)

>>...I can see that you have a modicum of intelligence blinded only by an
>>immediate recourse to violence in situations where the world doesn't work
>>in the way you would prefer.

[That would be Mr. Bush, not me. A majority of American voters--including me--voted for Gore in 2000, and around 48%--including me--voted for Kerry in 2004. But since Mr. Bush is a majoritarian, he completely ignored the wishes of half the country for 6years and has only barely acknowledged our existence--except as, basically, traitors--for the last 2. So when you say "America" relative to our international activities for the last 8 years, you're really only referring to the half of the country who, to this day, believe that Saddam Hussein planned the 9/11 attack, believe that we did not evolve, believe that Barack Obama is either a Muslim or some other non-Christian. How'd you like it if I characterized all of the UK by the ideas of its bottom half?

Personally I favor Polonius' advice to his son in regard to violence:

"Beware Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee."]

>>Now maybe this is a consequence of your being a member of a militarised society,

[Actually, since abolishing the draft, most of American society is almost completely untouched by our foreign wars. Only a few percent of our society comprises military families, mostly from poorer, rural areas. I advocate reinstating draft, actually. Then people would be voting to put their own children in harm's way. At worst we're a nation of chickenhawks--like the Draft Dodger in Chief who "leads" us currently.]

>>but I have a feeling that at the bottom of your aggressive attitude lies a deep intolerance for those of alternative beliefs.

[Tolerance is a great virtue within a civilization. It's probably the core value of a civilized society. However, society must be defended against those who won't live by the rules the rest of us abide by. We don't tolerate those who do or abet, for example, so-called honor killings, female genital mutilation (done to 99% of Somali girls by their own parents BTW), rape, so-called child prostitution, bribery of public officials, murder of those who insult someone's religion, bombing commuter trains because you have social grievances, etc. Those I don't tolerate. How 'bout you?]

>>That you fail to calculate that YOUR country created the mess it is in now be
>>it Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Iran, Venezuela, Russia &the many
>>other countries around the world alienated from western democratic forms.

[So if America suddenly vanished or had never existed, those countries would promptly adopt democratic governments? Dream on.]

>>So much of the responsibility for anti-democratic hostility lies in
>>the (fairly accurate ) perception that you claim not to be a colonial power yet you colonise,

[Colonization means your people going to live there, permanently, in large numbers. We did that in Hawaii, & nowhere else. Right now Mexico's doing it to us. Feel free to accuse us of, say, financial exploitation of other countries. But whatever it is isn't colonization.]

>>you claim to be democratic yet your elections are fixed,

[Iran's elections are fixed. Ours are skewed somewhat by various forms of trickery, but it's not enough to change results more than 1-2%. That's what happened in 2000. Fortunately Obama won decisively enough to overcome such trickery. And, unlike many countries, we abide by the results of our elections.]

>>you claim to believe in free trade but you insist on restrictive trade conditions with poor countries whom you have exploited.

[True and shameful, but exactly as true of the EU, as your poor nation trading partners will be glad to tell you. And BTW there's no such thing as free trade and never will be. What we all should seek is fair trade that does right by both trading partners.]

I suppose it's emotionally satisfying to turn a person or country into the boogeyman you can blame everything on, and the most powerful nation in the history of the planet is surely a tempting target. And as the world's oldest continuous democracy, we have creaky electoral mechanisms in need of reform...and when we sneeze, you catch cold. So I get it.

Still, what about Somali piracy? Even if everything you say were true, and even if stopping it now would have disadvantageous consequences...what are our alternatives? Do enlighten us.

Is "Islamofascism" a naughty word?

Is "Islamofascism" a naughty word?

Fascism: "1. a philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible repression of opposition. 2. a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control."
--Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.

The only stretch of this definition is adding "or religion" to "exalts nation and often race." That seems perfectly reasonable to me. "If it quacks like a duck..."

The term Islamofascism implies that it's a type of Islam, which it is, as exercised by the Taliban, by Al Qaeda, and by Wahhabism in general, as well as by the Shiite autocracy in postrevolutionary Iran--as opposed to, for example, the moderate Islam practised by a majority of Indonesians in the largest Muslim country on Earth.

It's not an indictment of Islam. Anything but, actually, since the term itself implies that "fascism" only characterized a particular type of Islam, not all Islam.

And of course there are fascistic strains/movements in pretty much all countries/movements/races/religions. The Soviet Union exemplified fascistic communism. There's a Dominion movement here in America that seeks to replace America's government with a Christian theocracy. Hindu fascism in India has grown greatly in recent decades, resulting in the persecution and murder of Christian Indians in some parts of India. Iran's mullahs have distorted traditional Shiite thought radically to create a fascist Shiite state there--something most earlier Shiites would have been amazed by.

Fascism even shows itself in small ways. Here in California we just passed an initiative banning homosexual marriage. You could claim that was fascistic. But opponents to this initiative habitually stole and destroyed lawn signs advocating the initiative. And that was what could only be called "liberal fascism."

In Somalia it evinces itself in a variety of ways--notably in the case of a 13 old girl recently tortured to death for the crime of having been raped, in a region now in control of Islamofascists. The Guardian reported this story, I believe.

Self-styled liberals abhor the term "Islamofascism" as being ethnocentric and demeaning to Muslims. And to be sure ethnocentrist people who dislike Muslims use it that way.

But that doesn't mean the term isn't accurate--just that, like pretty much all the terms in every language, it can be misused.

But just because you can use a hammer to bludgeon someone instead of driving nails doesn't mean that "hammer" isn't a valid term--or tool. Blame the misuser, where the fault lies.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Posting to The Guardian (UK) re: Somali pirates

So many posters here have so much to say about America, perhaps it's time for an actual American to weigh in. Better still, I'm in the group that represents a plurality of voters--that is, those who identify themselves as neither conservative nor liberal, but as moderate/centrist/independent.

When you talk about America doing this or that on the world stage, please note that we've just experienced 8 years of majoritarian rule by people who are essentially monarchists.

Majoritarians believe that if you got 50.001% of the vote you're entitled to act as though you got 100% of the vote--winner take all. Actually they believe you can act that way even if you got a minority of the popular vote, as long as you won--as happened in 2000.

So until the other side won a majority in Congress in 2006, 49% of American voters had no say whatsoever in the conduct of our government .

And since the 2004 election the vast majority of Americans have concluded that invading Iraq was badly botched, whether or not there was any initial justification. Ditto Somalia, to the extent anyone even realizes Somali exists.

Unfortunately our system of electing national legislators and a president has become skewed towards radicals of the left and right. The causes stem from the fact that as one of world's first democracies our electoral system is now about 200 years out of date, with entrenched forces resisting all attempts to update the system. If you want to understand the hurdles we face, look up Gerrymandering for a start.

The upshot is that while a majority of Americans are pragmatic and moderate, we tend to get governments which are neither, to both our and your disadvantage.

If you take advantage of the imploded dollar and visit America, you'll find it to be probably the most multicultural, accepting country on Earth--especially California, where I've lived all my life. For example, one neighboring family is a German physicist and his very dark-skinned African-Indian wife. They tried living in both Germany and South Africa, and only found complete acceptance here, both for themselves and their daughter.

Also please note that America just elected a Black president whose middle name is Hussein. In what other Western democracy has a comparable electoral event happened?

That said, allow me to comment on this article and the ensuing thread.

All large international problems--including Somali piracy--have complex historical roots and simpler immediate issues.

I'd compare it with forest fires. Such fires often stem from the buildup of duff on the forest floor due to indiscriminate firefighting and inadequate brush removal. That's a long-term problem which has long-term solutions. However, if the resulting conflagration threatens a community with thousands of inhabitants, government must stop the fire from reaching that community, regardless of how the fire was caused.

Thus we can argue about the causes of Somali piracy and the long-term solutions needed to address the problems that such failed states represent. Meanwhile, though, we have an immediate problem that threatens the peace and security of the high seas.

Bringing a quick end to rampant Somali piracy probably will do nothing to solve Somalia's problems. But that's a separate issue. Regardless of Somalia's internal issues, which are severe, Somali piracy must be stopped.

Those on this forum who downplay the importance of this problem fail to understand the foundations of civilization. It's not democracy, though I love living in a democracy. It's the fact that I'm sitting in my home typing on my laptop with my windows open to the world and my front door unlocked, because I live in a safe, peaceful neighborhood. That's what makes everything else possible.

Such stuff is so unexciting most people don't even notice how much they benefit from it--until it vanishes.

I've traveled extensively in the third world and seen how people live in countries where the police are not on your side, but are simply the armed guards of those who prey on the rest of society; where traffic rules exist but are not obeyed; where national parks are free-fire zones for poachers; where nothing that involves government happens unless you bribe everyone you deal with; where you're only physically safe if you live in a gated community and only venture out with guards accompanying you.

Whether you like the ships and the shippers and their cargo or not, we all benefit from them all being able to conduct their operations safely.

I'd advocate a high-tech blockade of Somali ports maintained by UAV reconnaissance drones backed by hunter/killer drones. All ships leaving port get boarded and searched. All small vessels carrying armed men--easily spotted with night vision optics on the drones--get sunk by hunter drones.

No one should advocate killing others lightly, and I don't. But failure to engage the enemy leads to more death in the long run, and by innocents, which counts for much more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pirates off Somalia

Currently pirates are capturing commercial vessels--including supertankers--at a rate of eight a month or more, and using the humongous ransoms ship owners are paying to finance motherships and teams of very well-armed pirates, along with support from local poo-bahs on land who want in on the loot.

The pirates got started with a legitimate gripe: foreign trawlers were clearing the seafloor of fish and everything else, leaving nothing for Somali fishermen. So some of them went after the trawlers. But now they're capturing anything worth capturing.

The shipowners would rather pay million-dollar ransoms than pay for putting squads of armed guards on their ships. But this isn't just their problem. The loot collected by the pirates is helping to protract the instability of Somalia, as warlords use it to extend their fiefdoms, and the black economy worldwide preys on the white economy--that is, legal trade.

We need to get the UN to declare the seas off Somalia a UN mandate until Somalia gets a real government, and authorize nations from India to the US to patrol the area. Many are now patrolling there but they don't know what to do with pirates even when they do capture them, and due to the reluctance of the shipowners to authorize force, they haven't tried to recapture ships the pirates have grabbed.

And now the pirates are venturing far beyond Somalia waters to capture ships, using motherships financed by previous fines.

The civilized world needs to forbid firms from paying ransoms and authorize warship captains to judge captured pirates on the spot, with the penalty being death at sea, after making sure the Somalis know this is what we're going to do. The UN mandate should also ban foreign fishing vessels from Somali waters and confiscate foreign fishing vessels found in those waters. Any Somali boat not from the Somali government and containing men with automatic weapons, RPGs or similar military ordnance should be considered a pirate vessel, with the vessel sunk and the men executed and buried at sea, without notice to the Somali mainland.

There's a huge area to guard--more than any navy can do. However, we can extend our reach greatly with UAVs equipped with night vision/infrared cameras (to spot human body heat). We could fly numerous reconnaisance UAVs at relatively low cost. When a pirate is spotted, Predator UAVs can be sent to the location to sink the boats, when found and ID'd as pirate vessels. The UAVs wouldn't patrol vast tracts of open sea--they'd patrol the Somali coast, following any vessels that set out from the Somali coastline.

The idea is that pirates go out to sea and never come back, and no one in Somalia ever finds out what happened to them. This would be the best deterrent.

Finally, we must retake captured vessels. That's the sort of thing Navy Seals are trained to do. The difficulties of patrolling such a huge area means that we won't be able to stop this problem unless we do this--unless we deny the enemy any victories.

Businesses are innately pacifistic. The shipowners won't want what I'm suggesting here. But civilization means guaranteeing the safety of citizens and of commerce. Without such a guarantee nothing else matters much.

Let's give Somalia its fish--and take our ships back.

silver card visa

Some real estate groups have proposed something called a silver card visa--this would be like a permanent tourist card visa. It would go to people who want to retire here on money they bring here. I think that's a great idea, and I'd give them a path to citizenship as well.

Educated, well-off retirees--sure beats day laborers with less than a high school education.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Japanese reaction to Obama

This entry was a comment on a Washington Post article discussing Japanese reactions to Obama (the photo is of one of many signs on businesses in Japan excluding foreigners--a growing trend):

I recall riding on a Tokyo subway back in '81. Every single person on that subway car--other than my spouse & me--had the same color hair, eyes, skin, and, roughly, height. And every single man was wearing a white--and I mean snow-colored white--shirt and a black tie.

Heck, even Japanese nonconformists operate in identically-costumed groups.

Any society that homogeneous and that isolated (i.e. on a string of islands) is bound to be racist, and the Japanese are, in spades.

How could it be otherwise? Rural Britain is no different. The difference is that urban Japan is no different--just quieter.

Their self-obsessed exceptionalism has also resulted in their inability, as a people, to own up to their part in WWII, in stark contrast to the German people.

I wasn't an enthusiastic Obama supporter because he believes Mexico's ruling elite should be allowed to outsource its homegrown overpopulation crisis to America. But I voted for him after McCain picked a vice-presidential candidate who was spectacularly unqualified to serve as President.

So from that perspective I'd say to the many right-wing posters on this thread: I can't prove it but rather than thinking that the Japanese response to Obama having nothing to do with racism, I'm more inclined to think that the paranoid frenzy of your opposition to him does have something to do with racism. Obama won because your leaders robbed us blind for six years and saddled us with multigenerational debts, and because you gave us precisely the gigantic, self-dealing, uncaring, incompetent, arrogant government you warned us about. Become actual Republicans again and the plurality of moderates will listen to you again.

Inserting these sour-grapes screends into a thread about Japan accomplishes nothing but making you sound like a bunch of whiners unable to man up and reform the Grasping Old Party.

As for Japan--I've been to Japan, as I indicated, and I've also studied the sociology of Japan for decades.

Japanese popular culture today is rife with the sorts of images of blacks that America sported in the 1930s.

But it's not just blacks. The Japanese are prejudiced against Japanese whose skins are slightly darker than other Japanese. You'll still see some Japanese women (mainly older, I'll admit) marching around on sunny days carrying parasols.

My brother was stationed on Okinawa during the Vietnam war, and he told me even the houses of ill repute there were segregated, with separate ones servicing black soldiers.

BTW the Japanese also consider themselves to be a different race than other Asians. Books are regularly published discussing how Japanese have different brains than other humans.

So it's both racism and exceptionalism.

I do cut them a little slack given their situation--they live with a level of racial and cultural homogeneity few Americans outside of, perhaps, Appalachia could imagine. They don't get many tourists because it's so expensive. They don't have many immigrants to multiculturalize them. They do have some thousands of Brazilians living in Japan--Brazilians who are the offspring of Japanese who'd emigrated to Brazil. So they're 100% Japanese racially, although they're Brazilian culturally. And they're generally not very accepted.

So I'm sure a fair number of rural Japanese perceive President-Elect Obama as some sort of talking monkey, while urbane Japanese give no voice to their thoughts but feel a sense of unease about him that stems from his race. Or, rather, his mixed race.

Note that mixed-race Japanese have a tough time of it--especially if there's a black in the mix.

This is the land where a popular saying goes "the nail that sticks up gets pounded down."

Obama's presidency will be good for them...even if they don't realize it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Affirmative action, GOP style

Federalists (nearly all of them Republicans) praise the Electoral College because it implements federalism. Federalism has states picking presidents, not us. The enemy philosophy is apparently populism, where the people pick the presidents (as in most democracies).

Federalists must despise Abraham Lincoln, who prayed "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Federalists would have Lincoln saying "that government of the states, by the states, for the states…"

Federalism gave us the U.S. Senate, in which each California senator's vote represents 60 times as many people as one Wyoming senator's vote. It also gave us an electoral system in which three California voters have less say in picking a president than one Wyoming voter.

Smaller states tend to be more conservative than larger ones (Hawaii and Texas notwithstanding), making the Electoral College an affirmative action program for Republicans. In the last election it took 104 Democrats to produce the same number of electors as 100 Republican voters. In a close election—such as in 2000—that's all the Republican Party needed (along with an activist Supreme Court).

But the real irony is that the Electoral College no longer preserves states' rights. Now only the priorities of a few "battleground states" count. The rest—including California—have become little more than ATMs for both parties, with up to 49% of voters in such states feeling disenfranchised.

What worked in 1798 has become dramatically out of date.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some blacks need racism pt. 2

Among those clinging to Oldthink is the Black Left. Just last night on News & Notes, the NPR Black News program, a panel of Black illuminati were claiming America is a "White supremacist society." This only a day after Obama won the presidency. A lot of Blacks cling to their cartoon image of America.

I wasn't an enthusiastic Obama supporter until I saw the world reaction. My Republican spouse dismissed the world reaction as not representing any real improvement in our nation's situation. I disagree--but more importantly, the world's reaction is important for the world, regardless of whether it helps America directly.

People weren't standing in the streets of New Delhi with tears running down their cheeks because they like Obama's 12 point plan for something or other. It was because they knew there was a country on Earth that was willing to elect a member of a racial minority to their highest office because he seemed to be the best candidate. That gives hope to everyone everyone who wants better for THEIR country. That speaks to the essence of American leadership. I don't know of one other country that would do what we just did.

Whether Obama turns out to be a great president or just a decent one, this gift to the world will remain.

I hope my conservative friends will be able to grasp this point through their disappointment.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Some blacks need racism

Listening to Friday night's edition of News & Notes I was treated to the spectacle of one of your guests (Robert Jensen I believe) calmly insisting that Obama's election meant exactly nothing--that America was still a "white supremacist society."

For sheer mean-spiritedness this matches Rush Limbaugh's diatribes after Obama's election. And it demands that the host knock him up 'longside the head both for his sourness and for his ridiculousness. Instead Chideya pulled a Larry King and let him get away with such overheated hyperbole.

News flash! White supremacist societies don't elect Black presidents.


Sure there's plenty of racism to go around. But speaking as someone who's done a good deal of international travel, as far as I've seen across three continents, America is one of the least racist societies on Earth. In which other countries could a member of a racial minority be elected President? It's a really, really short list, isn't it?

Of course American Blacks have to deal with daily racism, large and small. But it's small potatoes compared to other countries. The Friday night guests sounded parochial--as if they had no international context for their remarks--as if they've obsessed about every real or imagined racial incident in their lives and organized their lives around these incidents.

Actually if sounded to me as if Jensen and his ilk NEED white racism; need it as much as some antebellum plantation owner needed it.

All in all this installment of News and Notes sounded sad, and dated, and small of heart. I received congratulations from friends in Indonesia, Scotland, Brazil, the Netherlands and elsewhere over this singular moment in America and how it had made us once more a shining beacon for the world--not because we say so, but because they do, with tears in their eyes.

Malcolm X warned Blacks about what he called the Slave Mentality. That included a blindly cynical 'tude. I suggest doing a program on this subject. Bring back Jensen along with someone who can take him on if Chideya isn't up to the task.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

-- http://www.patrickmoberg.com/november-4-2008.jpg

Message for Republicans

To all the Republicans who are blogging and commenting in various media upon the occasion of Obama winning the race definitively:

Did you hear John McCain's noble and intelligent concession speech?
Did you hear him say what conservatives must do now?

Take his advice if you really love America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Leftist indoctrination on campus?

My conservative Republican spouse went back to school in the '80s to get her BA here in California. A number of Liberal Arts classes she took were radical Left indoctrinations with little or no relation to the course descriptions. Needless to say, my spouse did not become a leftist--these tenured radicals only hardened her conservative worldview.

The same thing happened to a young conservative friend a few years ago when she went to San Francisco State University to get her BA in Psychology. Many of her teachers were both leftists and militant feminists who taught that men are the enemy.

OTOH I've know younger people with vaguely liberal backgrounds who did become indoctrinated.

My guess is that there are indeed many leftist professors who don't just expose students to leftist/feminist ideas but do their best to indoctrinate students--that is, by brooking no dissent.

The danger is in giving students a narrative that's internally coherent (even though it doesn't map to reality). Humans find coherent narratives remarkably compelling, as every trial lawyer knows.

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the authors. These false, internally consistent narratives would have a lot less effect if students all got a solid fundamental education instead of being allowed/forced to specialize right off the bat. These narratives have force because they have no competition.

Both right wing and left wing ideologue live within such narratives, and they fit everything they encounter into their narratives. Liberals are taught how to do this by their college professors. Conservatives get it from talk radio demagogues like Limbaugh and Savage, and from GOP--er, Fox--TV. Both are badly served.

America is centrifuging itself into politically homogeneous enclaves in which the other side's point of view is never entertained--only despised and ridiculed.

As a centrist I find both sides scary. And I would certainly love to see colleges become actual marketplaces of ideas instead of leftist madrassahs. Both sides devote their energy to silencing opposing voices instead of debating them. Even on TV most political debates have degenerated into shouting matching in which the most unscrupulous and aggressive participants "win."

At least we still have the Lehrer News Hour, which actually is fair and balanced.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama helps Republicans

If Obama wins this election, conservatives should breathe a sigh of relief—because then they’ll at least have a chance to reclaim their party.

Once the GOP represented prudent, responsible governance. Its big tent gladly included many moderates, including people like Chris Shays, Dick Lugar, Olympia Snow, and General Colin Powell (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Now it has become the party of corruption, incompetent governance, ideological rigidity, rash policies, and viciously underhanded politics. These are nonpartisan failings that have all been exhibited by the Democratic Party in other times. But now the Democrats are led by someone with a strong, even temperament, a solid command of the issues (as shown in the debates), and an exemplary personal life.

I wish I could say the same about the GOP ticket.

Obama’s campaign has indulged in a fair amount of lies and spin, but has not resorted to nonstop slander, demagoguery, and character assassination—the trademarks of Republican campaigns for decades, which, again, have nothing to do with conservatism, but everything to do with an institution whose founding ideals have been swamped by the goal of Winning At All Costs.

Republicans will be tempted to blame red herrings like campaign finance (ironically), media bias, and vote fraud for this debacle. Even more dangerously, the radical right will say the GOP lost because it wasn't radical enough.

But real conservatives will take their lumps, face facts, and start the extraordinarily difficult task of reforming their party. I hope they succeed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Conservatives for Obama

The worst thing that could happen for conservatives next Tuesday would be a McCain/Palin victory.

When I was a kid in the Eisenhower era, "Republican" meant being conservative--i.e. conserve-ative: prudent, responsible, devoted to leading the whole country, fierce in war but reluctant to get into foreign adventures, not given to government solving all problems...yet it was Eisenhower who built our interstate highway system.

And Republican congressmen would have dinner with their Democratic compatriots.

Then the Democrats decided it was time to try to actually win the Civil War, and the White South became available as a bloc vote.

The Republicans under Nixon ate the rat poison and got the Southern White vote in exchange for adopting that region's 18th century mindset.

It's gotten so bad that they now call actual traditional Republicans "RINOs"--Republicans In Name Only.

The best, most thoughtful summary of all this showed up in Colin Powell's recent interview on "60 Minutes" in which he endorsed Obama, despite his close friendship with McCain over many years. The reasons Powell gave were a repudiation of the Bush/Rove direction they've given the party, which I'd sum up as winning at all costs through finding the low road, and then tunnelling under that.

Of course if McCain/Palin lose, these low-lifes in expensive suits will assert that they just didn't go low enough--as if that were even possible at this point.

But actual conservatives will at least have a chance of reclaiming their party.

America needs responsible liberal, conservative, and centrist voices in its politics. Not ranting left-wing whirlie-eyes and their right-wing soulmates. These morons have done their best to wreck both parties. I just hope and pray saner voices can stand up to them.

So if you're conservative, pray for an Obama landslide. I wouldn't have said that before McCain picked Palin and demagoguery as his running mates. But he did and made the choice simple.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The GOP is never at fault

According to the pundits at Fox News, this financial crisis is 100% the fault of the Democratic Party, through its enabling Fannie and and Freddie to make cheap home loans to unqualified buyers.

It's never mentioned in so many words, but the images accompanying these diatribes never fail to point out the black face of Fannie's CEO and the black faces of many of these unqualfied buyers.

By this reasoning the banks and other financial institutions are the innocent victims of the Democrats and all those vile poor people; so using the bailout to succor the real victims--the rich--only makes sense.

As for ordinary citizens, the obvious solution (to the GOP at least) is to cut government spending and lower taxes. These are also the solutions to all other circumstances, good times and bad.
So once we've rescued the rich from the Democrats with the bailout, the government's job is done in terms of any active role in the marketplace.
See how simple it is if you're a Republican?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wife-beaters and the GOP

The sad spectacle of roughly half the country continuing to support today's Republican Party reminds me of the woman who continues to make excuses for her wife-beater husband, continues to bail him out of jail, refuses to press charges, believes her abusive husbands' promises that he's changed--that this time it'll be different.

You betcha.
Honestly, I'm not a big fan of today's Democratic Party either. But it's hard to imagine how they could do worse.
And yet I was just listening to Rush Limbaugh this morning, and his followers calling in believed totally. Repub=God; Demo=Satan. And no, I'm not exaggerating. They're absolutely certain that this time it'll be different.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

General Colin Powell endorses Obama

General Powell represents the tip of the iceberg. Huge numbers of moderate Republicans--myself included--have been ethnically cleansed from the GOP by the Machiavellian corporatists and right wingnuts who hijacked it in the Reagan era.

Regardless of your opinion of either Powell or Obama--his comments on the current GOP's leadership and its vile campaign tactics ring true.

Remember Reagan's famous comment that the scariest words you can hear are "We're the government and we're here to help you."

Oh really? I didn't see the banks turning hanging up on Treasury Secretary Paulson lately.

Today's GOP has nothing in common with the GOP of Eisenhower--or General Powell. It has become profoundly corrupt.

I want a viable conservative alternative to the Democratic Party. Only a Republican rout on Nov. 4 will give us a chance of that. If you love what the Republican Party once was, pray for an Obama landslide. I'm not ga-ga over Obama. But given the actual alternatives, I find Powell's arguments convincing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pity Party for Conservatives

Kathleen Parker is the conservative Washington Post columnist who said Governor Palin isn't qualified to run the country. The comments to her latest column contained a lot of back and forth between angry conservatives and cheery liberals. Here's my contribution:

To the gloating democrats on this forum:

I think it's time to express a little sympathy for the conservatives. Think about it: we who didn't vote for Bush and his congressional co-conspirators have been tremendously harmed by these criminals. But we weren't betrayed. Because betrayel requires a violation of trust, and we never placed our trust in them.

Conservatives voters have been betrayed. They believe in limited government, limited taxes, prudent management of our country, avoiding foreign entanglements, and going after those who attack us remorselessly.

Their party has given them the biggest expansion of government in American history, a huge increase in taxes (albeit put off for a few years--but where do you think the payoff for that trillion-dollar debt's gonna come from?), management of our country by incompentent cronies and party hacks, foreign entanglements up the wazoo, and attacking the country that hadn't attacked us while making the most half-hearted of efforts to go after those who actually had attacked us.

So--you think we're angry? Imagine how they must feel.

The problem is that the party that betrayed them continues to betray them by working hard--and often successfully--to redirect their rage at the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee.

For example, here's the exact and complete text of the robocall that's going out to many thousands of GOP voters:


"Hello. I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayres, whose organization bombed the U.S. capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans, and Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country.

"This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee at 202-863-8500."


Now the rest of us look at Obama--his demeanor, his advisors, his innately cautious actions and proposals--and see anything but an "extreme leftist." I knew quite a few extreme leftists in college, and Obama's nothing like them.

The Republicans' efforts to paint Obama and his party as crazed socialist revolutionaries is despicable. They are seeking to delegitimize half the country and divide America into two warring tribes while our real enemies proceed with their plans.

But it's not hard to see how folks like the right wing ranters on this blog come by their beliefs.

Their only alternative is to repudiate the party they've trusted with their hopes and dreams--to realize that it has really, truly, profoundly betrayed them. These are people who respect authority more than we do, and to them such a repudiation feels like mutiny. Unthinkable.

I honestly feel sorry for them.

Friday, October 17, 2008

McCain: "I'm not George Bush"

McCain is right--he's not George Bush. His voting record makes him only 90% identical to George Bush. By Republican standards that certainly qualifies calling him a maverick.

But Obama has pointed out that this 10% divergence isn't in economic areas. Where pocketbook issues are concerned McCain is virtually identical to our current president.

I've no doubt that McCain would execute his duties better than Bush. I think he'd make more effort to actually enforce laws Congress enacts, instead of doing whatever he pleases, as Bush has done.

So McCain would be a better Bush.

Woo hoo.

Is ACORN the greatest danger to American democracy?

That's what McCain said in the last debate--probably the single most irresponsible statement made in the whole debate series.

I do agree that ACORN is doing something wrong: it's taking monies it has received for legitimate purposes and diverting those monies into handouts for street people, who then did their jobs with the kind of diligence you'd expect from, say, a crack addict.

The way the left pulls stunts like this--and the way the right morphs this nonsense into dark conspiracy theories in an effort to win elections by hook or by crook--exemplifies the perils of American democracy that Alexis de Toqueville warned about over 150 years ago.

How about this: make it illegal to pay people to register voters unless they're bonded. And stop sending taxpayer dollars to ACORN until they quit diverting voter drive money into their help-crack-addicts-gets-more-crack project.

And for some real election reform, how aboput a bipartisan national drive to make the job of state election chief a nonpartisan position? Having rabid partisans like Katherine Harris run their states' elections is a vastly worse problem than ACORN's idiotic malfeasance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Immigrant blues

San Jose, California has a large Vietnamese-American community which featured in a recent brouhaha, with V-A activists marching and protesting and getting a recall election set for a member of the city council--a fellow V-A named Madison Nguyen whose mortal sin was voting not to name a V-A shopping district "Little Saigon," but rather something bland like "Saigon Business District."

That's it.

So I entered the following in a forum about this topic hosted by the San Jose Mercury News:

I don't have a dog in this fight, living in Palo Alto as I do. But FWIW here's what this looks like from the other end of Santa Clara County: San Jose's Vietnamese-American community is following the example of South Florida's Cuban-Americans: dominated by revanchist obsessions, eager to assert their rights under America's constitutional democracy, but slow to shoulder their responsibilities--to learn the respect for others' rights that go hand in hand with asking respect for one's own rights. Negotiation, compromise, inclusiveness...you don't have to master these skills...unless you want others to respect you. Ruling through pressure, fear, intimidation--well, that's how it's done in Hanoi, and that's what you look like here. Recalls can be mandated if you get enough signatures on a petition. That said, they should be reserved for major malfeasance--usually involving large sums of money or criminal behavior. Naming a business district in a way you don't like doesn't rise to that standard. Not by a long shot. If you've got the votes you could vote out the council member(s) you don't like and get the name changed to one you prefer--at the regular election. Making the naming of a business district the subject of a costly recall election makes you look ridiculous: self-absorbed, petty, bullying, short-fused, and ultimately sad--like a group that lost its old home and can't figure out a way to fit into its new home, spending all its days gazing fixedly into a rear view mirror. And Nguyen didn't even propose naming the district "Little Ho Chi Minh City."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The conservative choice for President

I've heard a lot of Republican commentators tie themselves in knots trying to describe Palin as ready to become the President of the United States if McCain were incapacitated.

She is not. The Couric interviews were a truer measure of her readiness than the Biden debate, since it precluded responding with memorized talking points.

I'm not saying this because I think Obama's a cynosure. He isn't either, but he obviously has the intellectual capacity and general knowledge required, as well as what I'd call the "presidential temperament."

This is really important. My Republican friends--including my spouse--should not vote for the McCain ticket even if McCain and Palin espouse the same values.

So would many bright 15 year old conservatives.

A values match matters IF and only if the person in question is qualified to do the job.

I may have the right attitude for a fighter pilot, but it doesn't matter because I'm old, myopic, and lack the God-given physical coordination required of a fighter pilot. So my attitude/character/values are irrelevant.

Let me stipulate that you may well think poorly of Obama's political positions; ditto Biden. But they obviously meet the basic standard of competency. Heck, the way Obama's run his race--from zero to hero--proves it in spades.

But even if you think Obama is a liberal who will appoint the wrong Supreme Court justices and sign every pork-laden spending bill his party's Congress sends him (like Bush did)--he can run the country. Palin can't. You know she can't. And whether McCain can or not, his age and medical history mean that if Palin can't you can't vote for McCain--even if his values match yours perfectly.

This is a bitter pill to swallow. I realize that. And I don't feel exactly happy about voting for Obama. After all, Obama believes that the ruling elite of Mexico should get to export Mexico's home-grown overpopulation crisis to America, at the expense of working-class American jobs and wages. And his defense of this stance is completely specious. He's simply pandering to Latino voters. Too bad McCain isn't much better.

But I can't vote for a ticket that could put someone as unready as Palin in the most important job not just in America but on Earth.

And our votes must communicate to both parties that we won't let political positions trump incompetence.

If you don't believe me about Palin's unreadiness, go back and look at her long interviews with legitimate journalists. She didn't just flub the answers--she didn't understand the questions. Her performance went beyond nervousness. She. Is. Not. Up. To. The. Task.

I was honestly tempted by McCain until he picked Palin. But besides Palin's falling so far short of the mark, it reveals McCain as someone who's willing to roll the dice. I want someone more cautious for my president this time around. And I'd bet dollars to donuts that the thing Obama is probably keeping under his hat is that he's actually more small-c conservative--that is, cautious and willing to listen to knowledgeable others--than his most rabid supporters think he is.

Vote--however reluctantly--for Obama/Biden. It's the conservative choice.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Palin and the VP debate

A lifelong conservative Republican friend decided she couldn't vote for McCain after he picked Palin as his running mate. She has no love for Obama, but from her perspective at least Biden could hold down the fort if something happened to Obama. Palin can't, my friend concluded, and further concluded that McCain's picking Palin revealed a deep flaw in McCain.

I'm not a big Obama fan either. But I understand why Palin did so much better in this debate than she did in the lengthy interviews: the GOP demanded a debate structure that limited answers to 2 minutes--to sound bites she could memorize. Same Palin--just different rules.

This goes beyond all the partisan blather in this forum on both sides. And it goes beyond the lies and exaggerations both Biden and Palin deployed (you can see a comprehensive list on FactCheck.org).

Palin is not up to the job, and it should be obvious to anyone who watched both the interviews and this debate. As one commentator pointed out, she often didn't understand the question in the first place.

I'm not saying she's stupid. But at this point she's not prepared to run the United States of America. I'd say this if she were a Democrat. By age 46 she would have some grasp of world affairs and how the economy works if she had the slightest interest in these things. She just doesn't. I admire how she took on her own party's establishment in Alaska, but that's not enough.

And all the talk about how she's more prepared than Obama is just whistling past the graveyard. Go back and watch the first debate between Obama and McCain. I don't agree with him about a lot of things, but he obviously has what it takes to be president, as does Biden.

I was once a liberal Republican--yes, such people existed in large numbers back in the 50s. Now only a handful are left in the GOP, drowned out by chanting loons who are conservatives in name only. I miss the party of responsible conservative people like Eisenhower, who established the national highway system. Today's Republicans would brand him a So-shul-ist for having done so.

And now my former party gives me a VP nominee who falls short of the mark--breathtakingly so.

What has the GOP come to?

Communism is ownership of business by government. What do you call ownership of government by business? Whatever it is, that's what the GOP now stands for.

This economic fiasco isn't completely the GOP's fault--but it is mostly. I only hope the GOP will be able to reform itself so it actually represents actually conservative Americans again.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Water, water, far from everywhere

Today's LATimes published an editorial about the need for desalinazation as an energy-intensive but necessary part of the mix needed to keep LA swimming in water...so to speak. The editorial also mentioned conservation, wastewater recycling...the usual.

But it still presupposed that people can plant houses--and housing developments--anywhere they please, and that people can choose to live anywhere they choose. Well, that was a great ride while it lasted. But it's just about over.

Nowhere did it mention that most illegal immigrants live in California. If silence is assent, does that mean the LATimes believe we have to go on water rationing to accommodate the needs of Mexican citizens who are squatting here?

That's unfair. Somewhat. Because 80% of California's water usage is by farmers, and if farmers planted more water-conserving crops and watered them in more water-conserving ways (such as with drip irrigation), people wouldn't have to worry about water at today's population levels. They don't because they've swung some sweet deals in Sacramento that gives them no incentive to conserve.

All of these things show the lie that Republicans have spent 80 years fobbing off on the public: that Government = Communism. They don't say so in so many words, but that's the subliminal message. Meanwhile we get to see what happens when Government is neutered: the current mortgage loan crisis, echoing the savings and loan crisis, sandwiching the corporatist theft schemes such as Enron (both what it did to its own employees and its holding up the entire state of California for ransom, all while the administration its lavish contributions helped put in power looked on serenely).

Now, in California and more and more in huge portions of the world, water is becoming the gating factor of all gating factors: no water, no anything else. And humanity's population explosion (from 1B in 1900 to 7B now and increasing everywhere but in a handful of advanced countries) is outstripping the world supply of potable water, along with polluting a lot of what we do have.

Sooner or later we'll have to recognize that the Republican boogeyman Government is going to have to act on behalf of all of us and do some very hard things.

Such as:

1. Developers and local governments don't have some kind of God-given right to add housing if we don't have the added water for the added housing. States must be able to tell local communities here's your share. If you want to add housing, great. But your share of the water stays the same.

2. Farmers are going to have to lose their sweet deals and get in line with the rest of us--and get allocated water based on what they should be growing, given the short supply of water, not on whatever they'd like to grow.

3. Water allocations can't include providing for illegal immigrants in a community. If there are 12 million illegal aliens living in America today--and there could be twice that, since we lack a universal ID system that would tell us for sure--millions of them are in California. Giving them our water is exactly the same as building a massive canal system from the Sacramento River into Mexico and diverting, say, 3% of California's water into Mexico and parts south. That 3% is the difference between what we've had and water rationing and no more lawns and fountains and limits on what farmers can farm. How did we become so obligated to Mexico? Did I miss the war?

4. How can we tell who's illegal, you say? For that we need universal biometric identification. Probably at the federal level. And don't give me that stuff about Evil Government. Anyone who's traveled in the third world as much as I have will know how incredibly lucky Americans are to have as honest and non-corrupt a government as we have. Last I heard it ranked #4 in the world for lack of corruption. That's not to say it doesn't need reform. It does. But few Americans realize how good we have it already.

Do these things and we won't have to resort to desalinization. That's what Dubai needs. At least until the oil runs out. Then the Middle East will return to its true destiny: dusty oblivion.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dialog with a hard-line rightist

This thread comes from a conservative blog my spouse sent me a link to. The kernel entry complained about how radical feminists had harmed higher education. My interlocutor goes by ReCon USMC. He took exception to a centrist manifesto I'd posted earlier:


Ehkzu: Writes

A pox on both your houses, I say. A plurality of Americans are centrists, neither conservative nor liberal. Yet we’re nearly voiceless in talk shows, news analysis programs, blogs, and newspapers. Righties and Lefties both act as if only each other exist.

And so we get Obama and McCain to choose from–each an eager slave to his side, despite mucho independent posturing.

In all due respect I don’t believe there is really such a being a Centrist or No opinions . That is about as Interesting as Nothingness but a lot of it .
You either believe in Socialism or Capitalism …. You either believe in Abortion or not ….. You either in Big Government or not … You believe in the Death Sentence or not ……
You believe in European Courts laws being used rather than our own Constitution on occasions ……. You either believe in Unions or not ….. You believe the Rich don’t pay enough it Taxes or Not ….. You either like Steven’s ruling or the Supreme Court or Judge Thomas views . You either Think far left Judge’s Steven’s , Bryer ,and Ginsburg have more common sense that all Judge on the right do and interruption of the Constitution .
You don’t believe that riding in the middle of the Road you get hit from both ends . Your no fun in a debate about anything ….. In all due respect ?

Jul 9, 2008 - 4:01 am

ReCon USMC [Jul 9, 2008 - 4:01 am]: When people say "in all due respect" they nearly always mean "…and the respect you're due is nada." And when you say centrist = no opinion, you remind me of the conservative commentators who said Sandra Day O'Connor had no principles—because the pragmatic principles she used were invisible to them.

Righties and Lefties share this kind of black & white thinking, and both share this kind of disdain for centrists. On the process level there's not much difference between them. Ironic, since both groups believe they're entirely different.

But let's consider ReCon USMC's points:

1. " You either believe in Socialism or Capitalism"

The vast majority of Americans believe in the mixed system we have. Only a small minority wants to totally dismantle Social Security, Medicare, the public school systems, municapal police forces, our standing Army, government oversight of businesses and other financial institutions, etc. Actually if you want a purer form of Capitalism, move to Communist China. They've privatized their entire social welfare network. And does ReCon USMC really approve of the Republicans privatizing a huge portion of our armed forces, with contractors making $150K a year working across the street from grunts making a quarter of that?

And as with "Communist" China, not one country today is pure Capitalist, and few are pure Socialist either. Even Cuba's new Jefe Supremo is introducing capitalist elements. The tragedy known as North Korea's about it now.

2. "You either believe in Abortion or not"

The vast majority of Americans believe in the mixed system we have, where a 12 year old raped by her father can get an abortion (unlike in Latin America, whose dominant medieval religion regularly forces children in such circumstances to give birth to their incestuous offspring). According to the Catholic Church even using a condom = abortion (I checked the official website to confirm this because it seemed so bizarre). Even Americans who oppose abortion rarely go that far. And many who oppose abortion still believe it's permissible if a pregnancy puts a woman in serious risk of dying. Yet others believe abortion is permissible before the zygote implants in the uterus but not after. And yet others are OK with all but late term abortion. And yet others think it should remain legal but that government shouldn't pay for it. Meanwhile on the other side, few believe that abortion should be available free on demand for any female of any age without parental consent, though some do.

Though religious people never mention it in public, abortion is a religious concept that depends on whether and when you believe we're ensouled. If at the moment of conception, then it's only abortion thereafer. If at implantation, then it's only abortion after that. If not until the quickening…well, you get the idea. And I should add that there are devoted Christians who believe that we aren't ensouled until we're born and viable.

And since the Bible says nothing about ensoulment (except for one passage that implies ensoulment at some time before birth) and nothing about abortion. So your opinion about exactly constitutes abortion is just that—your opinion, with no biblical basis.

3. " You either believe in Big Government or not"

Both parties love big government when they're in power. The only difference is the Democrats don't lie about it. And the Republicans' pervasive privatization has mostly produced an intermix of business and government that plays like a sort of inverted Socialism—ownership of government by business. I don't like that any more than I do government ownership of business—and the result is the same: big, big government.

Personally I believe government needs to be just big enough to protect the little guy from the people and institutions that would otherwise grind him down. I've traveled extensively in the third world, and I've seen what corporatism looks like—the average citizen has zero protection. The big guy wants his land? The little guy has to go or die. The local officials actually work for the big guy, so there's no recourse with City Hall. And if you think that couldn't happen here, talk to the former employees of Enron.

4. "You believe in the Death Sentence or not"

The vast majority of Americans believe in the death penalty—but not for retards or children (with much disagreement over what should be the Age of Death, though—but mostly somewhere between 16 and 18), and not where there's any doubt of guilt. The Innocence Project has uncovered so many cases of prosecutorial misconduct (usually self-aggrandizing conviction fever) and witness misidentification that most of us need to know for sure that we've got the right person. Oh, and outside the most barbaric parts of the country we don't want the death penalty applied to those who haven't killed their victims—for the simple reason that we don't want to give them an incentive to murder their victims to silence them. And on the other side, we don't want it to take 20 to 30 years to carry out justice. So the answer to youir statement, for most of us, is "It depends." Not yes without qualification. And not no.

5. "You believe in European Courts laws being used rather than our own Constitution on occasions"

This is one of those "Have you quit beating your wife?" questions, since no one has ever done this. Some of the Supremes had the temerity to mention the world outside America in discussing the context of some cases. Suddenly the wackos think the black UN choppers are about to land and hand over our country to the Bank of Rothschild.

6. " You either believe in Unions or not"

Most Americans believe unions have a right to exist but need to be regulated. Interestingly, some of the most corrupt are some correction officer unions here in California—very right wing. Not to mention the left wing ones. "How many Teamsters does it take to change a light bulb?" Answer (in a gruff voice): "Eight. You got a problem with that?" But do you have any idea what labor conditions were like before unions? Child labor, seven day work weeks, twelve hour+ days…in other words, exactly the labor conditions workers in Communist China endure today in their union-free environment.

Every locus of power needs checks and balances. And precious few Americans are so deluded as to think that absent unions the wealthiest ½% of Americans wouldn't turn this country into Haiti.

That ain't the same as the blind union worship of aging lefties. It's a centrist view—balanced, clear-eyed, acknowledging how messy life is—especially when power's involved.

7. "You believe the Rich don’t pay enough Taxes or Not"

The crowning achievement of the Republican Party has been convincing its most devoted members to betray themselves, their families, and their country through supporting the class war by the wealthiest ½% of the country on everyone else, including ReCon USMC.

In American in the '50s and '60s—one of our most affluent periods ever, for everyone, rich and otherwise, corporate CEOs made 20 times the wages of their lowest-paid peons. That's still the case in the rest of the industrialized world. But starting in the Reagan era, CEOs have contrived to get more and more of the pie. Today they get 400 times what their peons make.

As a consequence we've seen a massive shift of America's wealth from the lower and middle classes to a handful of people at the top—those with incomes of $1M a year or more.

The recovery from the 2001 recession is the first in American history in which no one's real wages went up except for the wealthiest. Today most people's earning power is dropping substantially due to rapid inflation of most things ordinary people buy, coupled with ongoing deflation of our homes' values. Through the same period the CEO/investor class's income has zoomed upward—even for many CEOs whose companies' profits have dropped substantially.

Today most Americans believe America has a graduated income tax, but it actually has a flat tax, because wage earners can't evade the IRS's computers, while the very rich can, through labyrinthine tax dodges that the IRS hasn't been budgeted to pursue, and because the various substantial withholdings for wage earners function as regressive taxes.

So if you believe in the flat tax, congratulations—it's here. But the vast majority of Americans' opinion about whether the rich are taxed enough is accurately represented by their opinion of today's Republican Party, which has gradually morphed from a small c conservative organization Eisenhower and Goldwater would recognize into an enabling organization for the corporatists' class war on America.

I'm sure most Americans would agree that CEOs, investors and rentiers deserve to make 20 times what entry-level workers earn. That's enough incentive for entrepreneurs around the world to do what they do. That's vastly different from Marxism, whose theory advocates paying everyone pretty much the same. It's also vastly different from Corporatism, which advocates letting rich people do whatever they like or else our economy will collapse like it did in the '50s. Not. Letting them do as they please caused the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Giving them free rein from 2000 through 2006 produced a titanic deficit our great-grandchildren will still be paying off.

Taxes aren't inherently evil. They're how we keep our country going. I've been a many places where tax revenue is extremely low. You wouldn't want to live there.

8. You either like Steven’s [sic] ruling [sic] or the Supreme Court or Judge Thomas [sic] views. You either Think far left Judge’s Steven’s [sic], Bryer [sic], and Ginsburg have more common sense that all Judge on the right do and interruption of the Constitution"

Stevens and Thomas have voted together on a number of occasions. How does that fit your either/or model? Stevens is a decorated WWII veteran, a Republican appointee, a self-described legal conservative, and more Libertarian than Liberal in his voting patterns, and sometimes right over on the Right. For example, he authored the opinion that the Feds could prosecute medical marijuana cases within states—something I disagree with since it's based on an activist interpretation of the Commerce Clause. He voted to reinstate the death penalty. Are you some bleeding heart who objects to that? He voted to uphold states' rights to require photo ID from voters—a hot button right wing issue that solves a nonexistent problem. Overall his voting record over the last several years has been described as moderately conservative.

A plurality of Americans are pragmatic centrists, and if they studied the different justices they'd probably like Sandra Day O'Connor best. Thomas is an activist whose contempt for stare decisis shouldn't be very appealing to a small-c conservative. Stevens is a Republican appointee—as are seven of the nine justices. There are only two actual liberals on the court—insufficient for anything but writing impassioned dissents. The other seven comprise a range of Republicans from moderates to ultra-big-C Conservatives.

As a centrist I think the court's ideological composition should mirror that of America, with three conservative justices, two liberal ones, and four moderates. So for me it's not whether I like Thomas' opinions or Stevens' or any one else's, but whether the court's mix of philosophical stances mirror's America's dialog. That's the best way to get a broad buy-in on the decisions the court makes.

And as I've shown, it's ridiculous to call Justice Stevens "far left." If you think he's far left you don't get out much.

As for Breyer, even though he's considered to be the intellectual leader of SCOTUS' so-called liberal wing, calling him "far left" is almost equally ridiculous. For one thing, over the last 14 years he has voted to overturn congressional legislation less than any other justice, and that's over a period when Congress was controlled by the GOP. So you can't accuse him of rubber-stamping a liberal Congress. It is true that he isn't an originalist or a literalist, but that's not anything like pushing a left-wing agenda. It just means he's a pragmatist. I'd call him a moderate Democrat--nothing like the tenured radicals who pollute college liberal arts faculties.

Justice Ginsberg is certainly liberal, and I wouldn't want a whole court of Ginsbergs, as I've said. But one like her is good for the country, giving at least a quarter of the electorate a voice on the court. And here's something you might not know: she and Justice Scalia are close friends, often dining together and going to the opera.

8. "You don’t believe that riding in the middle of the Road you get hit from both ends . Your [sic] no fun in a debate about anything." Well…don't you think the viewpoint of at least 40% of the electorate should be represented in policy debates? As for getting hit from both ends…I've gotten used to it. And to me "both ends" are the same: people who derive reality from their ideas, while we derive our ideas from reality.

And on a practical level, any faction that won't talk to us won't win elections. And we're your natural allies in so many areas, such as illegal immigration, which most centrists stoutly oppose; English as the national language and ballots only in English, ditto; the death penalty under the guidelines I mentioned earlier; support for legitimate war efforts, such as in Afghanistan; amending the Constitution to close the loophole that permits anchor babies, and also to eliminate the loophole that mandates counting illegal immigrants in the census for the purpose of apportioning congressional seats.

I'd also amend the Constitution to mandate nonpartisan redistricting and requiring the position of state election chief to be nonpartisan, and to require all states to apportion Electors to the Electoral College by % of the popular vote in a state. That would force both parties to pay attention to all the states instead of just a baker's dozen battleground states.

These are all reforms that are neither Left nor Right—just fine-tuning our legal framework to make it work more fairly for everyone, not just Repubs or Demos.

You'd be well advised to focus on where we agree rather than on where we differ.