Monthly Archives: May 2010

Impeachment Off The Table

No matter what Bush had done, Speaker-elect Pelosi said impeachment was off the table. Now, the right-wing idiot box says that Obama’s alleged job offer to Sestak to get out of the election is an “impeachable offense” before anything has even happened this fall.

So, naturally, Dems go on defense. Idiots. This is a perfect attack point: a national basis of the 2010 election is now this: put the GOP in power and we will be sidetracked for years by the latest birther scam of nothing. Remember what happened last time? We lost focus on Obama and the economy. And they failed utterly. Dare them. Go for it.

Of course, an impeachable offense is whatever Congress says it is; it’s their power. The check on their power is not the Court, it’s the ballot box. Does anyone really think the electorate will long suffer another phantom GOP impeachment?

I’m waiting for Boehner to take impeachment off the table.

Stuck in the past

I endorse this Matt Bai piece from today, with one reservation. This part seems like an attempt to add something that isn’t fully parallel for completeness sake:

Mr. Paul, meanwhile, found himself hurtling into the past when, responding to questions from Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, he expressed philosophical reservations about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, specifically the provision that forced private businesses to integrate. (Later, he amended that position, saying he would have supported the act anyway.)

The ensuing cries of racism probably made perfect sense to those who lived through the ’60s. After all, if a white Southerner in 1964 opposed integration on constitutional grounds, odds were pretty good that bigotry was a motivating factor. And yet the national conversation around racism and its remedies today is considerably more nuanced than it was 50 years ago — or even 10 years ago.

Now Tiger Woods plays annually at Augusta, historically an all-white club. The African-American president of the United States has said that his own relatively privileged daughters should not benefit from affirmative action programs when applying to college. Americans the president’s age and younger are inclined to assume that one can question the responsibilities of government and private entities when it comes to race without necessarily being dismissed as a racist — even if it does make them, as in the case of Mr. Paul, something of an ideological outlier.

I think this is this whole notion that everything is fine now with regards to race is very naive. Whether or not Rand Paul’s best friends are black, the fact is that he is apparently not bothered by the fact that the laissez-faire free market and the original Constitution did not work for blacks, Indians, or women. Or at least not bothered enough to stop worshiping it as an idol.

Tiger Woods and Barack Obama are what you might call the classic case of exceptions proving the rule. Blacks still suffer from the legacy of slavery. Blacks are, on average, poorer, have less access to good education, are more likely to be victims of crime, and are still under-represented in most elite institutions. That’s an argument that the Civil Rights Act and perhaps affirmative action have failed or haven’t had complete success, but it’s absolutely not an argument that racism isn’t a problem.

Plus, if anything, Barack Obama has made it clear by the reactions to him that racism is alive and well in this country. Sure, the Civil Rights Act is a bit of a blunt instrument, but to me that argues for reform not repeal. The problem on race isn’t that we’re stuck in the 1960s. It’s that a significant portion of the country is stuck in the 1860s.

I’m with Bai that people are getting tired of arguing over 60s shit. I’m so utterly sick of Vietnam. At this point, even if the history books are whitewashed with conservative lies about Vietnam, it makes no difference because we have already repeated the mistake. The challenge now is to learn from Iraq.

But with respect to the Civil Rights Act, I would leave you with this proverb: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

The Tree of Good And Evil

Curiosity killed the cat. Pandora’s box. Prometheus and fire. The garden of Eden. There are so many expressions and fables about the heavy burden associated with knowledge that I can’t even list all of the western ones.

We’ve been told we would have better living through chemistry. We live in the atomic age. People slightly older than me would remember when they were promised nuclear power would make electricity so cheap that usage wouldn’t be monitored.

In the United States, we have become so defined by a few historical exceptions that we’ve forgotten the rules. There is almost no argument that World War II shouldn’t have been fought. It’s unimaginable what might have occurred if the Allies hadn’t rushed to develop the first nuclear weapons and sabotaged Germany’s attempt (to the eternal credit of the Norwegian people). But in general, absent-minded professors have had their inventions snatched for pointless warmaking, profit, and oppression.

Technology also has so many good uses. Vaccines. Refrigeration. Feeding the hungry.

The term Luddite has become common enough again in the past few decades to be a convenient handle for anyone who opposes technology. What–we should go live in caves? No. The apple/fire/Pandora’s Box metaphors break down because they don’t distinguish enough. They make it too easy to dismiss not eating the apple as romantic fantasy.

There’s technology and there’s technology. A first classification would be things that could easily be used to kill the human race. Nuclear weapons would be the most obvious. The Internet, for all its down sides, is not going to kill us all. Even SkyNet used nuclear weapons.

Then there are things that are pointless. They don’t improve public health or feed the hungry. Their costs may not cause our extinction, but they don’t weigh out. Any number of industrial poisons used to feed our addiction to consumerism fits into this category.

If something has potential uses as a weapon but won’t cause us to make ourselves extinct, but it also has great potential benefits, then it probably should be ok. If there’s no positives to it, why even travel down that road of invention? And if the risk is extinction, why pretend that JFK will save us from every possible Cuban missile crisis?

Synthetic life.

The creators promise to make vaccines, take all the carbon out of the atmosphere, and eliminate contamination from chemicals. Great. That might actual implicate the flip-side: species saving technologies that might be very dangerous too. But the truth is, the creator is a scientist who already has tried or succeeded in patenting genes. He tried to beat the academic human genome project to conclusion in order to do that.

It’s not that people who make great discoveries shouldn’t be rewarded, but can’t you see where this is going? Scientists love evidence and testing hypotheses. The evidence shows that humanity is not capable of handling these things without poisoning the planet. We haven’t blown ourselves up with nukes yet, but we have put toxic chemicals into every living thing, mostly for no meaningful purpose. We are in the process of turning this planet into Venus, which is basically hell, through carbon pollution.

Many of those chemicals are synthetic. If we can’t even understand the effects of synthetic chemicals, I don’t see any good reason to take it to the next level of emergence unless it is absolutely done with extreme care (which it won’t be).

It will now be possible to make bacteria that kill only select species. Or maybe even select people. Your own personal superflu.

Besides the Luddite tag there is also the argument that these things are inevitable, or, like the bomb, it’s better that we get them before Iran (or whoever). Well. Then can we please create some synthetic compassion and intelligence?

Exceptions to Israel McCarthyism

To someone from a much different country, one of the more surprising features of American politics has to be its relationship with Israel. American Jews are perhaps the most progressive voting bloc in the country. Almost 80% voted for Obama. Jewish names appear atop many of the most powerful labor unions and in academia. And most of those Jews are very supportive of Israel. Only a few on the fringes of the Ultra-Orthodox right and the ultra-liberal left “oppose” Israel in toto.

With respect to Israel, this mostly progressive Jewish support finds strange bedfellows: the Christian Right wing and the militarist right. The voice of the Israel lobby in this country is powerful in both parties. To even raise a question about the actions of the Israeli government is met with a tornado of bite-back from these groups. The Israel lobby has continued to question President Obama’s support for Israel and they question anyone in the Jewish community who doesn’t tow the Likud line.

I know as well as I know anything that if a left-wing government came into power in Israel again that these same gasbags would suddenly find it permissible to question every last action of that government. Yet every American Jew is apparently drafted into the Likud party, even when far less than a third of Israeli Jews support it. Take for example the phenomenon of J Street. Among some Jews, J Street has become a term used for the general campus anti-Israel agitators who make divestment motions and prevent the Israeli ambassador from speaking. This is ridiculous, of course. But what else could the people that formed this group expect?

I try to avoid these pie fights the best I can. To some of my liberal friends, there is nothing I can say that will make them think I’m not some sort of imperialist fanatic for thinking that it’s tough to micromanage Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, especially when our country repeatedly does worse. I’m pretty sure I lost a chance with a girl I was crushing on in a class I had freshman year because of this. On the other hand, many of my Jewish friends dislike my contempt for Netanyahu. I’m in a tough spot. I’m aware of that.

Which is why I’m surprised that the current conversion bill is fair game. Almost all of the mainstream American Jewish organizations have come out strongly against it warning of a serious rupture with the diaspora if the law is allowed to pass. Suddenly this is a bridge too far. Are there that many intermarried Jews planning on moving to Israel? or potential converts? Is it the vague idea of Israel as a last refuge if the Glenn Becks take control only to have a bunch of ex-Russians rejigger the rules to keep people out what’s permitting this?

I must admit, I don’t understand. I certainly oppose the law and just about everything else the trolls of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party does. I also cannot understand why American Jews don’t attach more strings to their financial support of Israel that would prevent the ultra-orthodox groups that deny the legitimacy of about 95% of American Jews’ judaism (that includes Modern Orthodox and everything to its left) running the show religiously there. But they do.

Perhaps the truth is, there is a simmering discontent with Israel—with its failure to achieve peace with Palestine, or, really, even try since at least 5 years ago, with its increasing takeover by the Ultra-Orthodox: violence against women praying at the kotel, women being forced to sit in the back of busses, control of marriage and conversion all while refusing to serve in the military, and the transformation of the scrappy kibutznik idealistic state into a country like many others, etc.—that can only express itself in something, well, kosher like this. We know better than to bring up military stuff.

It’s pretty ironic. It may ultimately be these internal social issues that Americans really have less right to interfere with rather than the foreign policy issues of war and peace that wash up on our shores from time to time that creates a lasting rift.

Arizona Pinning the Orwellometer.

Let’s read through this article on the latest Arizona law targeted at Latinos. Please keep in mind as you read this, this has nothing to do with illegal immigration. It’s schools.

First, the headline.

Arizona gov. signs bill targeting ethnic studies

No, she signed a law targeting Latino studies. As you’ll see below, the impetus was political and specifically because of Latino studies. So, the state bans a local school district’s program? Where is the Tea Party rally against big government? I’m waiting.

So, why shouldn’t they teach this?

State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the bill for years, said he believes the Tucson school district’s Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people.

Umm… the schools chief opposes a law that teaches what is more or less the truth? I mean, is there really any arguing this, especially in Arizona?

So, I really hate it when people say “Orwellian” for effect when something is really just wrong. Maybe I’m doing that, but this seals it:

“It’s just like the old South, and it’s long past time that we prohibited it,” Horne said.

No, Horne doesn’t mean the workers in the field picking your cheap produce for slave wages are like the Old South. He actually means the Latino-studies program teaching their students that rich white douchebags like Horne make their life more difficult. You see, overt acts of racism are ok if you can somehow bamboozle people into thinking it’s “color blind.”

Horne is a Republican running for attorney general.

He’s been trying to restrict [the programs] ever since he learned that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told students in 2006 that “Republicans hate Latinos.”

Gee, how wrong is she? Silly grape lady, don’t you know that Arizona Republicans heart all of you brown people so much? Can’t you tell? And so that’s what this is really about. Someone spoke the truth about the more or less genocidal talk that is considered tolerable in polite white society in many western states that, unfortunately is not confined to the Republican party, though all opposition to it is located outside the Republican party.

Look, I’ve lived most of my life in California. I know the things people say. And it’s not just that they say them. It’s that they say them in public, like it’s not weird. If I said, “we should shoot every Jew* that tries to come to America,” people would rightfully think I was a Nazi. But shooting Mexicans crossing the border is perfectly acceptable talk in white society in California. If I said, “we should round up all the Jews in California and deport them,” same rule would apply. But people don’t seem to see it that way here when it comes to the “illegals.”

Yeah, I get it. They are breaking the law crossing the border. I suppose that means every time you drive 66 on the freeway we should round you up and put you in a camp? Or better yet, have the traffic cameras shoot you? Yeah, I get it too that a porous border is bad for national security. I get it that violent criminals peddling dangerous drugs take advantage of this. Yet the solutions are never about that, are they? They’re always about kicking “illegals” out of school, out of hospitals, and now…

Wait. What on earth does this have to do with “illegals?” Isn’t this a school program, not a border security program? Nothing. Nothing at all. Unless, of course, you realize that “illegals” is just code for “Latinos” regardless of their immigration status.

This is sick, sick. Very sick. It’s the kind of conduct that requires action. If these loons who are so confused they aren’t even aware they are racist don’t get stopped, history will wonder why the rest of us let them continue.

* No, this does not compare to the Holocaust. However, I know the limits of “polite conversation” in most parts of California. If I said the same exact thing of non-Mexicans what I said would not be tolerated.

Beyond Pathetic

I am partial to energy producers. The major advances America made in the rights of women and minorities in the last century were, for the most part, made after The Electrical Revolution of 1932-46, in which energy was finally extended to even the most isolated corners of America. Confederate apologists often say that the Civil War was about the South’s “way of life”. The Southern plantation lifestyle featured a few enjoying the countless hours of free work, or energy, performed by slaves. Today, most everyone in America has dozens, or even hundreds, of Energy Slaves working for them full time. We are all Plantation Aristocrats.

Today’s customary availability of energy is the necessary force behind historically high standards of living in established nations. Personally, I have made it a priority to live close enough to my job to be able to bike there and to live in a neighborhood where I can walk to most destinations. I often consume one tank of gas (approximately 12 gallons) per month. But I also know that gasoline is an highly efficient source of energy and that its scarcity would have a cascading negative impact on my lifestyle. Efforts to “Green” gasoline need to recognize that one cannot replace it without replacing its benefits. Solving this conundrum should be the primary motivating force for government and entrepreneurs, but in the meantime, I respect the people that do the actual work of delivering the energy we need today.

Our polity has an unfortunate habit of lumping vehicular energy (gasoline) in with the electron energy that powers our homes and businesses. Absent a change to mostly Plug-In Electric Vehicles (PEVs), a new wind farm will do nothing to directly “ween us off foreign oil”. Our laws and customs treat the two kinds of energy differently, too. In the American West electrons are mostly delivered by Peoples or Public Utility Districts (PUDs) that are owned directly by the ratepayers, or else by Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs). The IOUs, however, generally still need the permission of a governmental Utility Commission to raise their electricity rates. Whether your electrons are delivered by a private or socialized source your electricity provider must prove that it is charging rates that are necessary to continue to deliver the energy effectively, not to enrich itself. (Ironically, most of the socialized energy is delivered in rural — read conservative — areas whereas IOU energy is concentrated in urban — read liberal — areas as PUDs were largely formed because it was not cost-effective for early for-profit utilities to deliver energy to sparsely populated rural areas. So they didn’t. But I digress.)

Vehicular energy is different. In America, it is a commodity that is sold for profit to enrich investors. Of course, the market for oil is global and, unlike electron energy, America does not have the supply to provide for itself. Still, imagine if BP, or another oil company, chose to operate like a utility: it would garner enough oil to provide for its share of the market, it would sell additional oil to other markets at a profit, and then would use a substantial portion of that profit to lower the price of the gasoline that it sold in its market. In other words, it would treat its gasoline like a public good that provides wealth for the nation by facilitating commerce and pleasure, rather than a means to enrich itself.

The quest for riches has had the effect of creating the technological phenomenon that was the Deepwater Horizon and its supporting infrastructure. Deepwater featured a drill that could drill sideways, a boat that used satellite technology to steady itself against open ocean waves, and unmanned submarines. Given this brilliance, it is surprising that BP is not capable of plugging the oil geyser. The expected cost of a catastrophic failure, however remote, were evidently determined to not be as great as the benefits of obtaining more far flung oil. Risk Analysis Fail!

The blame game in front of the Congress today was Beyond Pathetic. To be clear, as the entity that wanted that oil, BP is responsible for the acts of its contractors unless those contractors are criminally fraudulent. To put it another way, none of the actors responsible for the accident would have been there absent BPs desire to extrude the crude.

The Deepwater Horizon tragedy illustrates that other jaw of a purely for profit modis opperandi for energy extraction and delivery. The western utility model, in which energy is delivered for the good of the people that consume it, would have placed a higher premium on safe and ecologically defensible energy generation. When BP is done cleaning up for this mess and paying for it (and assuredly they will be paying for it, directly, and indirectly) then perhaps they and their oily colleagues can rethink the purpose of their business and get to the task of using their coin to delivering efficient vehicular energy in a means that doesn’t choke the planet or destroy one of its bays or Gulfs or coastlines every 25 years. If they don’t begin to see their role in delivering energy as a public good then, watch out! Utilities and their PEVs might take their business!

Proposition 14: Politics and Policy

A supposedly noble idea comes from a backroom deal—suddenly the bete noir of today’s populists, though such deals are as old as any committee—yet for many, the stain wears off. Leave to one side the fact that it had nothing to do with the budget—this was a “good government” proposal, a voting reform proposal. Yet unlike the “controversial” statistical census proposal, which good or not would advantage Democrats, this does not appear to advantage any one party. Just one man.

This is the origin-story of Proposition 14. This referendum is on our ballots this primary election because it was one of the conditions extracted by now-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldanado for his vote on one of the 2009 budget deals when he was a mere state senator. Yet those circumstances do not even form the largest irony. That belongs to the fact that it is promoted as a “good government” initiative that will empower the supposed silent majority—”centrists” [2]—yet it arose out of a mathematical situation of distorted power created by a Constitutional demand for 2/3rd supermajorities. In other worlds, one man, wielding a vastly outsized proportion of power with no qualms about that fact chose to force a vote on something claiming to improve democracy. That alone should raise an eyebrow. Shouldn’t the great champion of democracy simply supported the majority on that hallowed ground instead? OK, so take for the sake of the argument it was benevolent dictatorship.

But there’s another ethical problem with it. It was put forward by a politician who has mapped his career on being some kind of uniter: the Mexican Horatio Alger story who grew rich enough to be a Republican.[4] Or something. He’s Joe the Plumber the Rancher.

But this shtick ain’t playing in GOPtown, CA anymore. If his shit-kicking rancher pals in Santa Maria thought that they could control the mayor’s office there or the senate district with someone who was more likely to shoot someone speaking Spanish than responding, “hola,” he wouldn’t be where he is. But they knew better.[4] But now Abel knows better. He knows he won’t win any statewide primaries, mostly because most of his voters will want to apply the Arizona law to him, strip his citizenship and send him “back” to Mexico. For being “Mexican.” Also.

So, he passed this law for his own political advancement to the Governor’s mansion, or, more likely, a senate seat. That also makes this law reek.

What says the other side, the Dems? Many think it’s bad for them. A lot of races would end up being Dem on Dem porn. I have my doubts about that. Pols would adapt. They always do. It’s just that the Dems seem to adapt last and after losing too much.

Forget the ethos—what about the logos? Is it good policy?

I have no idea—and I suspect neither do most people—what this law would really do. I’m not sure I see the problem, in theory, of having a kind of runoff vote between the two largest vote getters. It would force the electorate to take ownership of someone—or it might totally depress participation. Who knows? No one does. This law isn’t even the typically cynical “reform” that distorts election results for one party. It’s simply the Abel for Governor/Senator advantaging law.

What I do know is that I almost never[5] vote ‘yes’ on any Proposition largely because it allows laws like this that aren’t even myopic—they don’t even take a look. I am completely opposed to the process. Money-talks direct democracy is not our system; it is essentially mob rule. Almost all of California’s troubles are linked to them. It wasn’t an accidental or trivial feature of American democracy that it was based on representative government, though the Internet’s lidless eye weakens the distinction to a large degree—even committee votes on procedure draw protests these days. Representative government was by design. Supermajorities only in the most unique cases was by design.

Therefore, the only two propositions I will support are (1) restoring majority rule to the legislature, and (2) abolishing ballot initiatives.

I would consider some form of (2) that had a quorum requirement of 50% turnout, did not permit state Constitutional amendments, and required a second revote 2 years later. But really it would be best to simply ban them.

Prop 14 doesn’t meet those requirements. I cannot say what it will do except serve the ambitions of a person whose political career exists to make a compromise I don’t need; I can simply vote for a real Democrat.

[1] read: a change to the voting system that sounds more “fair” even if it is half-baked, totally advantages one-side, etc.

[2] Accept for the sake of the argument that there is a normal, bell-curve distribution along the political spectrum (I doubt it anymore; I think the distribution is bimodal, but it’s not my conjecture). This is an axiom of the High Broderists, “bipartisan”-advocates, and “centrist” humpers. It is the base of their argument that the majority of voters belong in the middle and that all of the “bipartisan” “compromises” are a tribute to beautiful government. The further away you get from the center, the more “radical” or “ideological” you are. Also, this implies you are less normal and in a small distribution.

But here’s the problem. There are as many different kinds of centrists as there are issues. Do this thought experiment: roll two dice. The higher the score, the more conservative you are. The scale is 2-12, 2 being very liberal and 12 being extremely conservative. 7 is the lionized saintly centrist. What’s the problem? There is only one way to score a 2, only one way to score a 12, but there are 6 ways to score a 7 (1+6, 2+5, 3+4, 4+3, 5+2, 6+1). There are 5 ways to score a 6. (1+5, 2+4, 3+3, 4+2, 5+1.) and 5 ways to score an 8. (2+6, 3+5, 4+4, 5+3, 6+2). So, of the 36 possible results, 16, or 44% are Centrist. This means only 27% are liberal or conservative at all. This seems to bear this view out, doesn’t it?

Not really. Each different combination represents an entirely different centrist. You could get a ’1′ on abortion and a ’6′ on gun control, or a ’5′ on abortion and a ’2′ on gun control. These two people would both have ’7′s but would agree about nothing.

Centrists only appear to form a majority because there are so many more possible ways of forming them. It’s an illusion.

[3] People who buy this don’t know Santa Maria. If it weren’t for the housing pressure from San Luis Obispo County and southern Santa Barbara county that produced a strip-mall and cookie-cutter home overlay on the town, it would be a plantation town run by a few intermarried clans of ancient (for white people) origins in the valley who are extremely right wing and get away with it because of their “aww shucks” farmerisms. Abel simply wormed his way into that class with money. He did nothing to elevate the conditions there for other Latinos.

[4] They pulled the same trick in tiny nearby Guadalupe, CA, getting this mostly Spanish speaking, mostly Democratic hamlet to vote GOP for mayor a few years back.

[5] I recall voting yes on exactly 3: indian gaming, indian gaming redux, and medical marijuana.

UK

I’m not an expert on UK politics, but what I have to say about it is meaningful for the US.

First, it’s like deja vu all over again watching the emerging voting problems they are having. Not enough ballots. People turned away. Different standards at different places.

Second, leaving the party politics aside for the moment, there appears to be an ideological stability to the British electorate. “New Labour” won in the 90s by moderating some of their old positions. People might be tired of them, but they apparently aren’t tired of those policies. Even what would be a “smashing” win for the Tories would not allow them to govern to the right for long, if it will allow them to govern at all. It’s not clear at this hour. Even if they do win, it will be on the basis of “personality” voters that just kind of want someone different. Those people will get tired of David Cameron eventually. They always do.

From the American point of view, this is interesting.This same amount of shift in the US electorate (or less) created a gigantic shift in the ideology of the government in 2000 and a snap-back to where it was in 2006 and 2008 respectively.

UPDATE: Hung parliament. Except the Labour+Liberal vote is well over 50%. The Conservatives got about 36%, yet they end up with the apparent momentum. You might expect that in a country like the US where electors aren’t supposed to be like the popular vote. Here, 650 seats might more closely approximate proportional representation.

If the system were proportional, Lib+Lab would have over 330.

iPadx2

The answer to the question about whether there is room for a third device between laptop and smartphone is no. The iPad can replace a laptop. I think the desktop will make a comeback amongst ipad users.

We are now a two ipad family and we’re saving a bunch of money because it is way past time to replace our laptops.