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 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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Liberals have ruined Liberal Arts education--but they're not alone

I entered this in a conservative blog that was discussing how liberals have harmed higher ed.
The blog is -------------------------------------------

The corruption of the education process by liberal ideologues isn’t limited to colleges, of course. Participants in this blog would be well-advised to read

The Language Police: How presure groups restrict what students learn, by Diane Ravitch.

She details how liberal ideologues have ruined K-12 English and social studies textbooks, tests and curricula. But they haven’t stopped there. They’ve even forced publishers of math textbooks to inject leftist indoctrination and rewrittes of history into the math lessons.

However, unlike the contributors to this blog, Ravitch also lambastes right wing activists for the extensive damage to education that they’ve done as well.

And since the liberal/feminist failings have been detailed at length here, consider these fruits of conservative meddling in American education:

1. Evolution is no longer taught in a majority of American high schools (see the National Center for Science Education website for the details), due to Christianist pressure on individual teachers and school principals, as well as on science textbook publishers. As a consequence, a majority of American adults deny that we evolved, and many also deny that the Earth is more than 6K years old.

And of course this denial undercuts the rational, empirical base to all technical/scientific learning. You can’t be an empiricist except where it interferes with GoodThink–regardless of whether that’s Left-wing or Right-wing GoodThink.

2. All literature is vetted for themes and language conservatives object to. Since the Lefties do so as well, all that’s left is intellectual sawdust–textbooks that are almost literally unreadable by anyone whose prefrontal lobes are intact.

3. A significant proportion of American high school graduates don’t know how babies are made in enough detail to make sure they don’t make any babies inadvertently. A big plus: abstinence-only education victims are more likely to get STDs as well as unwanted pregnancies than those who’ve learned how their naughty bits work.

4. Hostility to literature that contains anything but G-rated pablum appropriate to a Disney Channel sitcom has produced several generations of adults who hate literature because they think it’s the sort of pap they were forced to read in school.

Of course in college students are given four years of leftist indoctrination in their liberal arts courses. This tends to roll off the backs of conservative students, however; the real work was done in high school by the unholy alliance of lefties and righties bent on producing students to know little but at least don’t know anything anyone doesn’t want them to know.

So yes, please struggle against leftist indoctrination in college. But how about struggling against ALL indoctination and pablumization? Then you won’t look like hypocrites.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” –Mathhew 7:3

Jul 8, 2008 - 1:28 am

Monday, July 7, 2008

Gas prices need to go higher

We just drove a 6,000 lb. camper van from Nevada to the San Francisco Bay Area. We stuck to 55-59mph in order to save on gas. And over hundreds of miles of freeway we were like a stone in a stream. Small cars, big cars, SUVs, trucks, cars pulling tailers--everyone whoshed by us.

And this is people who are paying the highest prices for gasoline in the 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii are even higher). We paid between $4.35/gal. in Carson City NV and $4.84/gal. in th Bay Area (that is premium, which our van requires, but Regular is only $0.20 cheaper.

I've found with our van that gas mileage varies from 13-23 mpg, depending on how fast I drive. And this isn't a linear function--above 55mph it goes way down, with most of our power working to overcome wind resistance.

So even though gas prices are really high...they aren't high enough to change mot people's driving.

Face it--we, as a country, need gas prices to be high enough to make us conserve. Right now it's enough for SUV sales to start tanking. What will it take to make people slow down to save gas? $5/gal. for Reguar? $6? $7?

Nothing we say about getting off our oil addiction will matter until this happens.

BTW I love driving fast--so I'm not one of those slow lane weenies who doesn't feel the need for speed, and talks about slowing down with that smug moralizing tone of people who live in their heads and don't understand the thrill of going pedal to the metal.

I've diverted my fast-urge into bicycles. I've had my bike up to 48mph (at a zillion miles per gallon), and it's a serious thrill. Try getting your rocks off on a bike next time you want to drive fast.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On home foreclosure rescue legislation

Certainly people who were deceived by predatory lenders should be helped. But what about the people who were complicit--who knew they were stating income and assets they didn't have? What about the ones in it for a quick buck--the house flippers?

And in the biggest picture, what about all the people who chose to live far, far from their workplaces in order to get a bigger home? What they did was perfectly legal and understandable, but as a nation our landscape has been build around cheap oil and the idea of pure residential areas from which one drives (often a vast distance) to where one works. We can address this with a very expensive but necessary train network like Europe has, but ultimately people need to live near where they work, in communities that combine these functions.

So bailing out all those people who want to hang onto their distant-from-work homes isn't in the national interest. I realize how much personal pain this means, but weaning ourselves off oil will entail mucho personal pain no matter what we do or don't do.