Archive for December 2008

The Rule of Law

Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.  The pundits are shocked, shocked, shocked. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who must certify the appointment, said Tuesday he will not do so. And U.S. Senate leaders reiterated that they won’t accept anyone appointed by Blagojevich, who was arrested Dec. 9 on federal corruption charges. President-Elect Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii with his family, said he supported the Senate Democrats’ decision not to seat the Blagojevich appointee. “Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. (MSNBC).

Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find some of the above quite troubling, the least of which is Blagojevich’s appointment.  What I find most troubling is that all of this is based upon charges by the U.S. Attorney based upon taped conversations that implied Governor Blagojevich would sell the office, but we have no idea whether this was just talk or not.  In other words we don’t know if a crime has been committed or not.  Let’s step back a minute and think.  The U.S. Attorney has charged the Governor, but there is no proven crime.  The State Supreme Court failed to act on removing him based on the evidence to date, and the impeachment process doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  So whether we like it or not he is the legally constituted Governor and his logic about having the State of Illinois properly represented is flawless.  So just on what grounds is Secretary of State Jesse White not going to certify the appointment?  Do we now have a government where you are guilty until proven innocent?

But even more troublesome is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s not well thought out refusal to seat Roland Burris.  Just exactly on what grounds would he not seat him?  He doesn’t like Blagojevich?  The 17th Amendment to the Constitution allows that “the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.”  So what law has been violated?  What grounds, and I mean legal grounds here as we are a nation of laws, not preferences, should this person whose ethics are not in question, and was appointed by a legally constituted authority to appoint him, be rejected from taking his sear?

Worse is that unless there are real grounds to question the appointment on ethical or legal grounds, what kind of precedent does it set that the Senate will decide who the states can appoint to the Senate?  We in the private club of the Senate don’t like your choice and so we will not grant him entrance into the club.  I don’t think that is what was intended by the Founders.

Whether you like Governor Blagojevich or not, think he is a crook or not, think he is a fruit cake or not, he is still the Governor with all the vested powers of that office until he is lawfully removed.  He has not been and he has carried out his duties to appoint a Senator.  If you don’t like the process or the result, that does not give you the right to ignore it.  I think we are still a nation of laws aren’t we?  I think they may have a hard time proving Blagojevich guilty.  If they can’t, on what grounds are you rejecting the appointment?  We have had George Bush as President for eight long years and I think he is a moron, but he still is the President and unless we remove him, he is in charge unless we want to destroy our democracy.

Last but not least think about this:  We have seen the Republicans use the U.S. Attorney’s office to play politics by falsely charging and prosecuting Democrats prior to an election to effect that election (and fire those who wouldn’t play ball).  I am not suggesting that Patrick Fitzgerald did anything like that, but right now all we have are his allegations and some tapes.  If we decide that is enough, then you are guilty until proven innocent and we have given tremendous power to prosecutors.  The court of public opinion has become more important than the rule of law.  We have legitimate processes for removing people from office or overturning their questionable appointments.  We need to follow them or we might as well run our nation like American Idol.  Call the 1-800 number if you think Governor Blagojevich is a bad guy and we should throw him out of office.  That is not democracy, that is mob rule.

Ending Stupidity Born of Fear

As this year draws to a close and hopefully we are rid of the Bushies and all they stood for (lack of critical thinking), I was cataloging some of the more stupid things we do as a nation and a people that I would like to see end.  So, without further adieu, here they are:

  • Our Cuba Policy – For forty years we have had a policy of isolation with Cuba and have pandered to the Cuban community in Florida that has resulted in nothing but failure.  Had we a more open policy to Cuba, Fidel might have been gone years ago.  Worse, remember the Elian Gonzalez fiasco?  That was when the courts ruled that Elian belong with his father (family law trumps international politics) and Janet Reno ordered his return to his father and Cuba.  This wonderful Cuban community voted in total for George Bush in the election of 2000 ensuring Florida’s close vote and enabling the disasters that have been fostered on us since.  So first and foremost quit listening to small thinkers and open up Cuba.
  • Drug Wars – This approach to our drug problem has been so counter productive and destructive of human lives that it boggles the mind.  This approach to our drug problem of punishment has failed us miserably.  Our prisons are full of non-violent drug offenders.  Drugs are readily available anywhere you want to look.  If you have teenage kids, they can get you anything you might desire.  Maybe it is time to refocus this whole effort on the demand side instead of on the supply side.  Maybe we ought to spend our precious dollars on prevention and treatment instead of chasing around the bad guys in a game of cops and robbers.  When you read about one of those “great” marijuana seizures, wonder about the waste of resources that went into this and how they might have been more effectively employed.  It has no impact on the availability of weed.  Maybe we ought to learn how to live with it.
  • Crime and Punishment – We have, in a similar fashion with the Drug Wars, taken a draconian approach to crime and punishment.  This has manifested itself in mandatory sentencing and three-strikes laws that are not effective as crime preventers and are filling our prisons to overflowing.  Worse, we forgot all about rehabilitation.  We became a nation that believes in Christian redemption but then denies it to our criminal element.  There are so many stories of injustice in prisons, that it is impossible to communicate them here.  We need to imprison the very bad and incorrigible, and rehabilitate the rest.  But we have too many people who still feel rehabilitation is coddling.  It is really working well isn’t it?
  • The International Court – What is it about America that does not think they should be subject to international law?  If we ever catch Osama bin Laden which would you rather see him tried in, an international court where the full weight of the international community would judge his actions or an American court where  those who hate us will deny its legitimacy?  We, like everyone else, must live by international law
  • Then there are the obvious domestic issues all of which revolve around the Religious Right/Catholic Church/Mormons wanting to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us:
  1. Recognize gays are equal human beings and quit worrying about who marries whom.  If you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person
  2. We have a perfectly reasonable abortion law that restricts most abortions in the late term.  If you believe abortion is wrong, don’t get one
  3. If someone makes an end of life decision, it is for no one else to judge.  Oregon has a perfectly rational approach to these decisions and why do others want to force people to live by their needs and desires?  Once again, make your own decision, but don’t make mine
  4. Don’t pass laws or regulations that in effect prevent people from exercising their legal rights to access to abortions, birth control, and the morning after pill.  Bush’s latest regulation allows the Kmart checker the right to refuse to sell you birth control pills.  Who the hell do these people think they are? God? No they are tyrants who have no tolerance for tolerance.
  • Finally on the Israeli/Hamas conflict, I am wondering if you finally get it.  Another cease-fire will just put off the inevitable.  It has to be decided and our actions to limit the damage are much like our actions to prevent forest fires.  It just delays what will finally be a monster firestorm.  There is fault on both sides, but the Israelis don’t launch missiles into Gaza to destroy anybody they can kill and they don’t deny the Palestinians right to exist.  And nobody in the Arab world gets upset about Israeli deaths.  Hamas is a radical Muslim group that has been arming themselves with ever more destructive weapons and needs to be destroyed.  Only when this true threat to peace has been removed, can the real grievances of the Palestinians be addressed and resolved.  Sadly had they taken the peaceful route after the Dayton Accords, they would be so much further along the road to a Palestinian State and would have the sympathy and support of the world.  Now they only have the sympathy of the Arab Street.  That would be a bunch of high testosterone men whose only aim is to riot, pillage, and institute a religious dictatorship that by holy decree makes women and the rest of us second class citizens.  They are great bunch.

I know I have said this many times, but doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of stupidity.

Bits and Pieces

As the year draws to a close, nothing really changes and the latest in foreign affairs may get us distracted from our own economic woes.  So with that in mind here are a few tidbits to think about:

  • Hamas and the Israelis (New York Times) – Well they are at it again.  Hamas has been dropping rockets (up to eighty a day) from Gaza into Israel on a fairly continuous basis and now the Israelis are responding.  The UN is going to meet and call for a cessation of hostilities and around and around we go.  Now I will give you that the Israelis have been bad actors and their settlements in disputed territory are an abomination, but does anybody get the continued launching of rockets is a terrorist activity?  If you want to end this, it is time to settle it and the Israelis have taken the first step.  The only way that Hamas with their sworn destruction of Israel strategy will stop their ceaseless violence is for the people to finally reject their terrorist acts.  If each time you launch a strike, you pay dearly, after awhile maybe the population will put a stop to tolerating these rocket attacks.  What should catch your attention is that Hamas must keep the conflict going with Israel or they would actually have to deal with the problems in Gaza created by themselves and the Palestinians.  It is time for the UN to take a side and end this madness.
  • India and Pakistan (New York Times)  – The Pakistanis are moving troops out of the Taliban controlled areas so they can confront the Indians.  Once again they are playing right into the terrorists hands.  The whole idea was to stir up trouble between India and Pakistan so that the pressure would be off their tribal areas.  Both this and the Hamas/Israeli problem remind me of Shakespeare’s Henry V.  Henry knew that a war with the French would distract his own citizens from their own injustices and focus them on an external foe.  So instead of dealing with your own issues it is so much easier to stir up trouble with someone else and then get your citizens to rally around the flag.  Remind anyone of George Bush?
  • Healthcare – I see where Tom Daschle, as Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services,  in his first major speech since being asked to head President-elect Barack Obama’s healthcare reform effort, on Friday announced a nationwide campaign this month to solicit public input on improving the nation’s healthcare system.   I find this a little strange and time wasting to tell you the truth.  As a friend expressed it to me the other day, people who think they have healthcare only have to get sick to find out they don’t.  We have a system based on profit and as such incentivizes denying care and only insuring healthy people.  All the problems arise from this basic flaw.  But what is most troubling about this fact finding is that it ought to be around the world, not the United States.  If you look at England, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, and Taiwan, you would find completely different implementations of single payer plans, and you do like the Taiwanese did, design you system to take advantages of the best of each of these systems.  But no, we have to reinvent the wheel.  We are an arrogant bunch aren’t we?  No wonder we are falling behind the rest of the world.
  • Energy Efficient Houses (New York Times) – I read an interesting article about how in Europe they have gone back to building extremely “tight” homes to reduce or eliminate heating costs and have solved the problem of indoor pollution by using extremely efficient heat exchanges so that fresh air brought in from outside is preheated.  In another article I saw where the hope in California for the economy is the rebirth of the housing industry.  See the connection?  Why are we still building houses with yesterday’s technology?  Why aren’t we requiring that new houses meet extremely stringent energy standards so that our energy needs in the future would be greatly reduced?  Oh, I forgot, that would be government interference with the marketplace so we can continue to do stupid and short sighted things.
  • Caroline Kennedy – Oh can we get over this soap opera?  Governor’s can appoint who ever the hell they want to.  The voters will eventually get their say.  Governor Patterson is no fool and he will appoint someone who he thinks can bring home the bacon for New York.  For those of you who are afraid of a dynasty, then why the hell did you vote for George Bush after his dad?  If Governor Patterson thinks Caroline works, and she doesn’t, you will get your chance to have your say on the re-election of both of them.  In the meantime the media needs to get a life.
  • Man Shoots Talker in Movie Theater (CNN) – Apparently a family that kept talking during a movie so enraged a gentleman that he shot the father.  I would have to say that if I was on the jury I could not convict.  I could be in his shoes, but my wife won’t let me take a gun to the movie.

It is always heart warming to know that after another year we have learned nothing.

The Road We Have Traveled

As I sit here this day after Christmas in the lull between Christmas Day excesses and New Years Eve excesses, I ponder where we have been and what we have learned.  For the most part I fear we have learned nothing.  Gas prices have gone down and so the focus is completely off alternate energy and the gas hogs are motoring everywhere.  My conservative friends think if we just cut the waste in government and reduce spending we can go back to our old ways.  The problem in Wall Street much like our perceived problem at Abu Ghraib, wants to be defined as a few bad, in this case greedy, apples.  But the reality is that we facilitated that greed.  I don’t think anyone is seeing the pending disaster or that the cause of it is our wish for a free ride.

Our free ride goes something like this:  The economy will always grow if we just lower taxes, keep government interference in the market place a minimum, and then let the market place work its magic.  We don’t have to plan our future because where there is a need, the market place will swoop in and fulfill it in the most cost effective way possible.  As business thrives, our government coffers will fill and there will be money for things like roads, bridges, etc.  And oh by the way, did I forget that we should never let government do anything because they do it badly, and that we should let private enterprise service our every need.  Worked well so far hasn’t it?  As James Galbraith in his book, “The Predator State”, points out, this just let the jackals of free enterprise do things that government is suppose to do, do it poorly, and make outrageous amounts of money doing it.  In effect transfer public money to private hands.

Tom Friedman in a recent column noted the same problem (“Time to Reboot America”) when he noted that in Hong Kong he had clear reception on his cell phone, took a high speed train with continuous connectivity on his lap top to the airport, and then as he said, “Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones.”  The rest of the world is developing modern infrastructure and facilities and we continue to fall behind because we don’t believe we have to invest in our future.  That investment is called taxes.  We are still in the mode of all taxes are bad and they hurt business.  Well you get what you pay for and since we have been on a personal buying jag and not investing in our country, the rubble is now for everyone to see if they are willing to look.  Problem is most aren’t willing to look.

The other extension to this free ride theory is that we are all NOT in this together.  Poor people are living out their just deserts.  They deserve their station in life because they are lazy and lack self-discipline.  There is always an element of blame in this view.  Taxes that support services for these people do nothing but enable this behavior.  It is a very self-serving view of why I have mine and you don’t deserve any of it.  Sure there are lazy and worthless people, but once they were just little kids who may not have had the advantages the rest of us did.  And more important to dashing this blame idea is that unless we all prosper, we will all decline.  As our middle class has shrunk and wealth has become concentrated in the upper echelons of our society, our economy and our prospects for the future have declined.

Think about this:  In the next few decades we will see the Chinese go to the Moon and establish a permanent base there.  We were there 40 years ago and then lost our way.  After 2010 we will have no way to get to our only achievement in man space flight, the Space Station, except hooking a ride on a Russian Rocket.  What the hell were we thinking?  While we got lost in consumerism, others have raced past us.

What really went wrong was the idea that wealth was an end in itself and that people who had it were to be admired.  Wealth became a status symbol, a proof of accomplishment.  The financial services industry grew by leaps and bounds (making money out of money) while the real economy of making things withered.   People made obscene amounts of money and tricked themselves into believing they deserved it while others wanted.  The sense of entitlement knew no bounds.  If we are going to prosper in the future, we have to shun this kind of thinking.  I am not talking about being rewarded for hard work and innovation; I am talking about making obscene amounts of money that you could not spend in a lifetime.

In summary, we can’t hope things will get better and then go back to our old ways.  As Tom Friedman put it, we need to “reboot” and rebuild.  We need a focus that says we have a national purpose and it is more than the accumulation of wealth.  It is to build a strong and vibrant nation for all our children.  This will only happen when we recognize, there is no free ride and we all have to pitch in.  The start would be to recognize that gasoline should never again be below $4/gallon.  But we aren’t there yet because you can almost hear the gasps as I suggest putting a $2/gallon tax on gasoline.  What?  And give up my cherished gas guzzling hog and my freedom to pollute the earth with it?  No we are not there yet.

Merry Christmas From ‘Chateau Lightner’

"It's a Good Day to Be Alive" - Peace and Good Wil to All of You

"It's a Good Day to Be Alive" - Peace and Good Wil to All of You

They are Trying to Steal Christmas

Who is stealing Christmas?  The Christians are stealing it.  They are trying to take the joy and merriment out of Christmas.  Wait a minute.  Isn’t Christmas a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Christ?  Not really.

For many others and myself, it is a season where we really stop and think about what we have, gather loved ones around us, and celebrate life.  When I was a child it was a magical time when anything was possible and Christmas morning was the epitome of hope and wonder.  It was always a new beginning. I still love this season where we gather at each other’s homes and enjoy food and beverage and the excuse to have a good time together, to stop for a moment and appreciate our friendship.  I love the Christmas lights and decorations that make this world a brighter place.  I love the way it makes me stop and think about those less fortunate and what I can do in this little moment to make their days a little easier.  Peace and good will is really what this season is all about.

Why is it not really a Christian holiday?  Well consider this: Some think the date, December 25, was appropriated from a festival for a Roman solar god.  Some also say that many Christmas icons like the decorated tree, the Yule log, mistletoe, were originally sacred to Celtic and Northern European pagans.  The Puritans thought so little of the holiday that they outlawed its celebration in new America (See “It’s a Narina Christmas” by Laura Miller).

Okay, there is some contention on these points (except the Puritan thing of outlawing anything fun, a penchant of most religions), but some of its greatest stories are very non-religions.  The Three Kings thing is kind of boring, but a “Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th  Street”, “A Christmas Story”, and Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol”, have little to do with bringing gifts to a messiah we are suppose to worship, but redemption, hope, friendship, family, and love.   They are about stopping to smell the coffee, to believe in miracles, and take in the joys and pleasures that are all around us.

Meanwhile we have the wars of Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays.  People who care about these things have lost the Christmas spirit.  They are trying to stake out who owns Christmas.  Christians of all people should understand that Christmas is a gift to all of us.  If you take the Christian out of Christmas, then it becomes a holiday for everyone which for a few fleeting moments lets us celebrate all life, not just Christian life.  Christmas should be a holiday for all of us.  Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, witch, or atheist.  Christmas should be the time we throw away the categories and just celebrate the human condition.  And that is what it is for me.

I just received an email from a Muslim friend in Kuwait that I have been working with who wished me a Merry Christmas.  This can be a time for peace and good will among all men.  One last thought I would like to leave you with for Christmas:  A friend of mine is valiantly fighting terminal cancer and he always makes the same toast when we are together and I will share it with you:  “It is a good day to be alive.”  Yes it is.

Merry Christmas

Let’s Not Repeat Our Mistakes

As the economy continues to collapse, the plans for an economic stimulus package are slowing starting to take shape.  Well kinda, sorta.  We know that the talk is about investing in infrastructure and other rebuilding projects to get people employed  and back in the workforce.  We know that the last time “we put money directly in the hands of the consumer who know best on what to spend it”, they mainly saved it or spent it on stuff made in China which had little impact on our ailing economy.  So this time the spending is going to be more like during the New Deal, on projects to improve our society.  But what projects?

Well some of our mayors have a list of ready-to-go projects to get those old dollars flowing. The U.S. Conference of Mayors went to Capitol Hill earlier this month with a report listing 11,391 infrastructure projects proposed by 427 cities (CNN).  The mayors claimed the proposal would create 847,641 jobs in 2009 and 2010.

The problem with this list was that it was full of pork and had no integrated or coherent plan for our future.  I listened to one hilarious interview on CNN where they challenged one mayor on some of the projects.  In particular they questioned a waterslide construction in a city’s theme park.  The mayor being questioned said he could not vouch for all 11,391 projects and then the questioner pointed out this project was from his own town.  It is politics and pork as usual.  If there is going to be handouts, then I want what I can get for my community.  These are the bozos we have been electing for years that are more creatures of past business connections than pragmatic planners of our future.

What is wrong with all this thinking is that we really are in dire straights and the way we have to look at every dime we spend is how does it leverage and multiply our economy down the road.  It can’t be money just to make-work and provide jobs; it has to be jobs that lead to an improved and growing future economy.  We are once again treading on Republican conservative economic theory that says that the market place will determine an equitable distribution of benefits.  Baloney.  Government is going to have to plan very carefully how to invest our money in the future so that the jobs we create and the work we do lays the foundation for a growing and sustainable economy:  A bridge to somewhere.

This is where I have some fear about what investments we make.  Here in California, because of the budget’s shortfalls, many highway projects have been put on hiatus.  Now the conventional wisdom is that these are jobs that if we get federal help, will keep our infrastructure improvements going and employ many people.  But lets step back and think about this a little.  In an age when the future promises us $8-$9 a gallon gasoline, do we really want to focus on more HOV lanes, or do we want to rethink that investment and improve our mass transit system?  We are one of the only industrialize country that does not have a high speed rail system that would give us an option to airline travel and reduce potential terrorist attacks on our major transportation hubs (you can’t ram a train into a building unless you lay tracks to it first).

Sure there are a lot of infrastructure projects on the books that really do need to get done like improvements to waste water treatment, or repairing crumbling bridges and highways.  But the big investments we make should not be sustaining the status quo, but should be in an investment in a new future.  Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has written copiously that the future is in green energy.  This may be where we need to be investing our money.  Improving local parks may be an esthetic improvement, but are our parks going to be driving our future.  We as a people, meaning our government that represents us, needs a vision of that future, and then invests our money wisely to move us toward that future.

My point is simply this:  In the past we have let the market place take us where it wanted to and that approach has served us badly.  Now we must take charge and that requires an understanding of our realistic future.  That future includes an ever increasing competition for natural resources and a world where our ecosystem is degrading.  Good jobs and a growing economy are going to take some careful planning by all of us to invest in the kind of things that will move us forward.  I don’t think that is water slides and a new paved path through the parkway.  I think that is investment in the types of projects that have multiplier effects; for every dollar invested, it multiplies its value in the future.  We need to evaluate each project on its multiplier effect and take a long view to pick the best ways to invest our money.

Finally, if I were to pick types of projects we should be investing in, here would be my list and you have to think big:

  • Transportation – Projects that recognized the use of more mass transit and reduce energy costs
  • Education – Projects that make sure that higher education becomes more available to everyone.  Human capital is our most valuable resource and is our most important investment
  • Healthcare – To make our businesses more competitive and to improve the welfare of our most important resource
  • Energy – Projects that promote a whole new infrastructure and industry of green energy
  • Aid to States – In order to keep our safety nets in place while we get things rolling again

Barack has asked his team to think big on this plan.  My only fear is that they won’t think big enough and we will spend money on the bridge to nowhere.

The Rick Warren Mistake

President-Elect Barack Obama has anointed the Reverend Rick Warren to give his benediction at his inauguration.  This is the same Reverend Warren who has been outspoken on his opposition to abortion and gay marriage and was a leader in the Proposition 8 passage to deny gays equal rights in California.  He was the one who conducted the interview of John McCain and Barack Obama at his Saddleback Church on faith issues.  Barack defended himself and this choice from massive criticism from both the gay rights community and progressives by saying:

“What I’ve also said is that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues. And I would note that a couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren’s church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign’s been all about; that we’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere when we — where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

So Rick Warren has been invited to speak. Dr. Joseph Lowery, who has deeply contrasting views to Rick Warren on a whole host of issues, is also speaking. During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that’s how it should be, because that’s what America’s about. That’s part of the magic of this country, is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated. And so, you know, that’s the spirit in which, you know, we have put together what I think will be a terrific inauguration. And that’s, hopefully, going to be a spirit that carries over into my administration.”

Boy when you make a mistake, you make a big one.  Let’s take this one at a time.  First let’s go back to the conference on Faith at the Saddleback Church during the campaign.  Most of us who have supported you have seen the line between church and state badly blurred in the last few years, inserting religious belief for reasoned logic.  We have seen a whole group of evangelicals try to get into office to apply their religious and political litmus test for any holder of a government position.  When you attended that conference and spoke about your faith, it was in fact catering to their religious test for anyone holding office.  They might as well have had a sign outside that said, “Non-Christians Need Not Apply.”  And you legitimized their religious test by taking part in it.

Now we can understand your logic in selecting a man like Rick Warren to speak, but sadly it is flawed logic.  You were thinking that on many of these cultural issues we disagree, but on issues such as poverty or global warming we could work together and therefore I should welcome you into my big tent.  But by giving him a national stage you are validating a man who preaches intolerance.  The other failure of your logic is to assume that religious dogma is open to “dialogue”.  These are not disagreements in the political arena of give and take, they are deeply held religious beliefs of intolerance.  It is evil therefore it will not be tolerated, end of discussion.  Tell me this: Would you have invited someone to speak that doesn’t feel that blacks should be equal?  After all wouldn’t that be a great dialogue?  The answer to that is of course not because those views are morally repugnant and we should not be giving them a national stage.  Prey tell me what is the difference between that and giving Rick Warren the national stage?

This is not just about gays, it is about giving those who are basically undemocratic a national stage and bringing religion and the cultural wars back into our political dialogue.  We had hoped that this very negative force in our political discourse had been marginalized and we were moving back into the realm of reasoned political discourse, and then we find out you are pandering to them in some foolish gesture of big tent politics.

By making him part of the inauguration, Barack has legitimized his kind of intolerance based upon religious dogma as having a rightful place in a democracy based upon reason.   This should have been a day when we are looking forward to the future with hope and anticipation and away from the days when the religious intolerant were trying to use government to force their beliefs on the rest of us.  Now many of us wonder just what we are in for if Barack doesn’t understand how he has sullied this day by what I am sure he thinks is an act of your own tolerance.  Do you understand the message you just sent to all of us?  Religious intolerance is acceptable political dialogue.  I will say it as clear as I can:  Being tolerant of the intolerant only legitimizes their intolerance.  Dialogue all day long, but don’t give the man a national stage.

President-Elect Obama has stumbled badly on this one.  Being tolerant of divergent points of view is a hallmark of our democracy.  But Rick Warren isn’t tolerant of our views and if he had his way he would use government to force his views on the rest of us.  And now you have given this intolerance a prominent place in the start of your new administration.  We thought this election was a step away from all that moral superiority that has no place in a democracy.  Now you have rekindled the cultural wars.   But then what the hell do I know?  I am only an atheist and therefore have no moral standing in Rick Warren’s world where I am unfit to hold any office.   This was an innocent mistake that Democrats make all the time, thinking the other side has good intentions.  How many times do we have to get burned by this before we finally learn?

The Real Ponzi Scheme

I got this interesting comment on one of my blogs the other day from Mr. Phil Henshaw:

“I kept my faith till today.   I think the “tea leaves” have just turned over to spell a clear sign that Barack’s “pragmatism” is growth “boosterism” and a dark omen…   Barack’s assertion that “there is no contradiction between the environment and growth” shows rather clearly that he’s decided to fake it, and go with the money.  He’ll never admit to a connection between multiplying money and the multiplying trade and consumption of resources it unavoidably produces. Collapsing ecologies will just have to be tolerated. Hell we don’t KNOW they won’t bounce back do we??”

Mr. Henshaw raises the most elementary and worrying element of capitalist growth:  We are using up the resources of the earth and as more and more nations strive for the “American way of life”, the growth required is not sustainable.  Here are a few facts to consider:

  • Scientists think the ocean fisheries will totally collapse by mid century.  We have seen the collapse of salmon in California and the recently projected collapse of the Tuna industry from over fishing
  • We are losing species at an alarming and increasing rate while we make the world uninhabitable for creatures that have shared the world with us for thousands of years
  • Resources, and the big one water, are becoming more and more scare to be shared with fewer and fewer people.  Many have written that the conflicts of the future won’t be from Muslim nut cases, but from nations vying for ever decreasing resources
  • Global Warming is here and will continue to increase its havoc on established weather patterns.  I don’t think there is any slow it down anymore

So the question becomes, if we can restore our economic house, are we not doing it at the ever increasing pace of destroying the world around us?  This is the question Mr. Henshaw raises and is really the ultimate challenge that we face.  Well that is not quite true.  The majority of us don’t even think about it.  Conservatives don’t care.  Business, in their mind, is the engine of life.  Everything must take a secondary role to a vibrant economy.  That is why they want economic considerations to outweigh environmental considerations in almost every political decision.  But what about the rest of us?  Have we really faced the reality of the impact of our lifestyle and that it is ultimately unsustainable?  I think when most of us are faced with the reality of limiting our consumption to solve the problem, we look the other way.

Probably the most important issue of our future, this issue is not being discussed at all.  What we have is population growth, consumption, and expanding economies that fuel consumption as the way forward.  We look with disdain at China and their attempts at population control, but we fail to see the connection between exponentially expanding population and our exponentially growing depletion of natural resources.  In this country we still think having a big family is somehow a good thing, and yet sneer at third world countries who do the same.  We know oil is going to run out and it is the canary in the mine for other resources.  So what should an economy look like that allows us a good standard of living and yet sustains our environment?

I don’t know the answer to that.  I do know that population growth has to be curbed.  I do know that those other creatures that are being crushed in our consumerism have the same gift of life as we do, and even more important, I don’t think we are sustainable without them.  I know that when I am in nature, I revel in it, and I know somehow we are all connected to it.  I know that we have to have this conversation, but I don’t think we are anywhere near ready to accept the reality of the sacrifices all of us are going to have to make.  Maybe in 2050 when the fisheries do collapse and there are real water shortages we will face this most difficult issue.  Right now all we can focus on is getting our piece of the American dream.  But the American dream is not sustainable for the whole world and sooner or later we have to face up to that reality.  Hope I am wrong, but if we continue on our present path, we are heading for a collapse of the ecosphere.  Thanks Mr. Henshaw.  Hope more think about this.

Some Idle Thoughts on the Economy

As I sit here on a cold and snowy Wednesday in Camino (it was 20° last night), some idle thoughts run through my mind.  Most of them are focused on the economy and our way forward.  What is most salient to me is how badly we have managed ourselves and that the way forward is going to take new thinking.  If you don’t think we are in trouble consider:

  • A poll shows that 63% are already being hurt by the economic down turn (Washington Post)
  • As people lose their jobs they lose their healthcare.  One woman schedule an early C-Section so she could have her baby while she still had insurance (Salon.com)
  • All of the social services across the country are seeing more demand for their services while their budgets are getting cut (Washington Post)
  • One in ten in this country are now either in default or in arrears on their mortgage.  Many of these are not those that bought in the boom, but have lost their jobs (Washington Post)

I want you to understand how we got here.  We all adopted a get rich for free approach to our economic life.  We bought into Republican economic promises.  We continued to cut taxes, increasing our deficit with no investment in our future (infrastructure, education, healthcare), believing that putting more money in the “Masters of the Universe’s” hands (cutting the taxes of the rich) was smarter than paying taxes to support government programs for the future.  Greed was good, and the accumulation of wealth was a sign of success and wisdom.  Group think and the belief we could get higher and higher rates of return drove the train.  Then it collapsed.  It was a nice promise:  Lower taxes, less regulation, and the economy will take off and there will be benefits for all.  Except it was too good to be true and here we are.  What we know is that there was no trickle down, greed took money out of the hands of the middle class and concentrated it with the wealthy, and we let our infrastructure and our human capital degenerate.  That is where we have been, but we have some really neat stuff.  Too bad we can’t eat it or use it to pay the rent.

There was an editorial in the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday from one of these conservative pea brains preaching the old religion in California.  “We can’t cut and tax our way out of this mess, we must grow our way out.”  And just what do you think she thinks will grow the economy?  It is less regulation and taxes on businesses.  Gee, haven’t we been here before.  I will give her that if we can grow our economy we might be able to pay our bills, but what part of this economic downward spiral doesn’t she get?  If you lower taxes and reduce regulations, businesses are not going out on a grand spending spree for new products because fewer and fewer people have disposable income to buy them.  The next step is to get the economy going by giving people jobs and money to spend through government spending.  And the jobs we give them have to be focused on jobs that benefit all of us, like rebuilding our schools or other socially worthy tasks and making sure our safety nets don’t rot.  Just as an aside, we have been lowering taxes and removing regulations, greed begot breed, and finally the giant ponzi scheme crashed.

I had dinner the other night with one of my conservative friends and he wanted to know what we were going to do about the deficit.  I said for the short term it doesn’t matter.  The only way out of this ever tightening spiral is to spend our way out, because otherwise demand will not be there to prime the pump.  He looked at me like I was just another liberal fool who would spend us into ruin, kind of like the people he voted for did for the last eight years.  It is going to take more than reason to convince people that the way out is “hair of the dog”.  That is, we are going to print money and spend it so that people have jobs.  Only this time we will spend it on things that not only stimulate our economy, but that build a bridge to our future.  The first step is to prime the pump.  The second step is when once the water is flowing, start siphoning off some to pay down our debt (yes, it is called taxes).  Both concepts are going to be a tough sell to the people who got us where we are today.  They are hard wired to hate government spending or anything government.   We may have to drag them kicking and screaming back from the brink.