Saturday, July 29, 2006


Permanency of Marriage

My wife and I were married fifty-six years ago, on June 13, 1950, in Urbana, Illinois. We were both graduate students with part-time jobs with the University, and we took off some time during lunch break to go to the police magistrate in Urbana for the ceremony. We took with us two friends, also graduate students, to serve as witnesses.

During the years we've had our problems. In 1967 my wife, acting on the advice of a psychiatrist we were then seeing, decided to divorce me. I moved out of our house into an apartment for a few months. In September of that year, my wife got word from my father that my mother had just died. My wife comforted me for the loss, even though she and my mother had never gotten along too well. I went to Michigan for the funeral. Afterward, my wife and I reconciled and I moved back to our house.

We've had other problems. We've quarreled about money and investments. We've fought about things that neither of us can remember. But now, fifty-six years later, we are still together. Our marriage has been a strong, solid institution.

I wonder sometimes if I am somewhat autistic. I've read that autistic people are unable to feel or recognize emotions in others. I find it impossible to understand why some people feel, or at least say, that they are dead-set against "gay marriage" because it represents a threat to their own marriages, the sanctity of the family, and all that stuff. Certainly the experience of recently reading about the performance of gay marriage ceremonies in San Francisco, in Massachusetts, and in many foreign countries has had no effect on our marriage. My wife and I have not recently decided to get a divorce after reading about such ceremonies. What's the threat?

I think I know the answer. To some religious folk, homosexuality itself sets their teeth on edge. It is a terrible sin. People, especially men, who practice homosexual intimacy are really terribly bad and sinful persons. They should be treated by harassment, scorn, persecution, and even stoning to death. Laws banning sodomy and same-sex marriage are just part of this program of persecution.

I think further that these religious folk are puritans. They are opposed to activities that are enjoyable, particularly activities not sanctioned in the Old Testament. They believe that homosexual intimacy is probably very enjoyable and it must be opposed lest they themselves or their children take up such practices. Of course, any kind of sexual intimacy outside of marriage is sinful as well as enjoyable. A woman with an unwanted pregnancy obviously has been enjoying herself in a sinful activity and must be appropriately punished. In some countries (e.g., Nigeria) she can be sentenced to death by stoning. We don't do that in this country. The next best thing is to shame her. Make her give birth to the little bastard she's carrying in her womb. Don't let her escape the public disgrace.

My wife and I are living together quite happily, thank you. Homosexual marriages and abortions don't bother us in the least. We live and let live. Religious fundamentalists, both Christian and Muslim, should adopt that rule of life.

Thursday, July 27, 2006



I often receive calendars in the mail. They come from various charitable organizations that I have given money to, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Society, the Alzheimers Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The calendar comes with an invitation to send more money. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. The result is that we have more calendars than we can use. I don't know what to do with all of them. Some of them have nice pictures of animals or beautiful places. I can cut out the pictures of the calendars after they are out of date and give them to my granddaughter who likes to draw pictures of animals. The problem is, she may no longer be in the animal drawing phase.

Yesterday I received a package from the REAGAN RANCH of Santa Barbara. Inside was a calendar with pictures of President Reagan doing various things and an invitation to contribute money to help preserve Ronald Reagan's ranch. For twenty-five dollars or more, the sponsoring organization, Young America's Foundation will enroll my name in the official Reagan Ranch Registry of Members. The letter of invitation is signed by Michael Reagan, a son of Ronald Reagan.

I am flummoxed. I don't know what to do with the package and the calendar. I've never been a fan of Ronald Reagan. I suffered through sixteen years of his rule, eight as Governor of California and eight as President. I never met the man, so I can't say that I disliked him, but I disliked many of the things that he did. I know he was very popular, both as Governor and as President, but I never understood why. I can say this much for him: I thought just as highly of him the day he left office as the day he was inaugurated as President. I can't say the same for some of our recent Presidents. Of course, I didn't think very highly of him the day he took office.

My first instinct was to throw the package away without opening it. Now that I've seen the calendar, it occurs to me that there are probably millions of people, former admirers of Mr. Reagan, who would like to have such a calendar. I've thought of sealing the package and sticking a label on it, "REFUSED, RETURN TO SENDER." However, that sounds rather small, making the organization pay the return postage on the package. The honest and generous thing to do is to readdress the package, insert a short note explaining to Michael Reagan that I am not one of his father's admirers, and suggest that he offer the calendar to someone else.

I wonder how the Young America's Foundation people got my name. They evidently don't know that I am a Democrat.

Friendships that End Abruptly

During my life I've had several close friends or chums. I was thinking last night about one of them that ended abruptly. My friend made a tactless remark that ended our friendship. It happened when we were in grade school. His parents were richer than mine. We were discussing our Christmas presents. He thought about mine for a moment, then said, "That's right. You don't have much."

We had been close friends up to that moment. I don't recall ever saying another word to him.

That episode reminded me of two other friendships that ended abruptly. One was a friend I had in graduate school. His name was "Mac" and we were close. His wife and he invited me to a New Year's Eve party at their apartment where they introduced me to a very pretty girl. This girl eventually became my wife. Later, Mac and his wife asked me to be the godfather of his children.

We both left the university in Champaign, Illinois, and went our separate ways. I made a point of sending him and his wife a greeting card every year at Christmas time. For a few years, he or his wife would write back. Then, no response. I continued to send them the annual Christmas card. The cards were never returned, even though they had return addresses, so I supposed that they were delivered.

Finally, I had a visit from another University of Illinois friend. This was Louis C. He stayed with us one night. During his stay, he wanted to telephone my friend Mac, who hadn't responded to my Christmas cards for years. Louis was able to find out where Mac lived. We phoned him. He was living in retirement. Somehow I sensed that he didn't want me as a friend. He had been getting my greeting cards for years and hadn't bothered to answer any of them.

A third friend was a man I knew at work. His wife had multiple sclerosis. Over the years, her condition became gradually worse. Eventually she died. In order to cope with her condition and his grief at her passing, he turned to counseling. He spent time with counselers and took courses in counseling. He set himself up in business as a counseler. One day while my wife and I were on our way to a shopping mall we had a serious accident. I tried to make a left turn, not seeing an oncoming car. The car was a Chevy Camaro. It struck our car on the left side. My wife suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung. Our car was towed away to a repair shop. The other driver was cited for driving without a license. My wife was taken to a hospital. A policeman gave me a ride to the hospital, where I stayed with my wife while she waited for emergency treatment. Later she was moved to another hospital where our family doctor took over her treatment.

The accident unnerved me. I felt guilty at subjecting my wife to such trauma. If the other car had been driving a little faster, she might have been killed. I went to see my good friend to talk about the accident. He offered to counsel me. We talked for more than an hour. I felt pretty good, and happy that I had a sympathetic friend with whom I could share my troubles. At the conclusion of the session, he said that his usual fee for counseling was seventy-five dollars. I was shocked, but simply gave him the money, left, and never spoke to him for several years.

I like to compare that friend with another friend, also a co-worker. I went to talk to this other friend about my accident and my feeling. He and his wife took me to a pizza restaurant and fed me pizza and we talked about the accident and my wife's condition. He didn't want anything in return from me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Max Boot Annoys Me

There can be no doubt that the Bush-Rumsfeld foreign policy has been a disaster. The United States is bogged down in Iraq. We are learning all over again that superior military power is not a substitute for intelligent and persuasive diplomacy. Because we are tied up in Iraq, we have no leverage to influence Israel's current crusade against Hezbollah. We have no leverage to persuade Syria and Iran to pressure Hezbollah to stop its attacks on Israel. In fact, one of the pillars of the Rumsfeld-Bush policy is that we will not even speak with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah about any grievances they may have or imagine they have with the Jewish state.

Now comes Max Boot, a reliable Bush apologist, writing in the Los Angeles Times today to assure us that "Bush Didn't Start the Mideast Fire." He goes on to point out that the Middle East has been a tinderbox with old unsatisfied grievances for a long time. I concede that Bush didn't start the fire. I also assert that Bush-Rumsfeld did nothing to avert the fire. Whether they are justified or not, Arab and other Muslim nations in the region have several unrequited grievances against Israel. It is not merely the existence of Israel. It is also the treatment by Israel and Israelis of the indigenous population that previously lived in the territory now called Eretz Israel. These indigenous people and their descendants are now mostly living in squalid refugee camps. They still have title to property now occupied by Israeli citizens, but they can not return to it, nor can they sell it for its market value. In addition, although the international community has established a boundary between Israel and the Palestinian territories, Israel refuses to accept that boundary and continues building more and more settlements on the Palestininan side of the boundary.

It was agreed at one time (Oslo Accords) that the solution for the Palestinians would be a state that they would govern. This state would be located within the boundaries that existed after the cease-fire in the most recent war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. At the time of Oslo (1990, as I recall) it would have been logical to settle the boundary question and the question of water rights both within the Palestinian territory and Israel itself. I don't know why the question of a boundary and the question of water rights were deferred until later. Instead, the Palestinians were asked to perform some confidence-building measures to reassure the Israeli public that Israel would be safe with a Palestinian state alongside.

I say I don't know; I suspect that the Israeli leaders wanted to continue their own unstated program. Their plan was to continue building more settlements inside the Palestinian part of the country, to partition the Palestinians into discrete small areas, and ultimately make life so difficult for them that they would leave and allow Jews to occupy the entire land of Biblical Israel. Since that was their real intent, they did not want to talk about permanent boundaries between the two peoples.

Of course, the Israeli plan has worked. The Palestinians feel miserable. However, instead of leaving, they are thirsting for revenge. They want their lands back. They want the settlements created inside the boundary to be dismantled. They are justifiably angry. Because they are militarily weak, they turn to techniques of guerilla warfare and terror.

People in the United States government knew that all of this was happening and that Israel was slowly piling up more and more resentment among the Palestinian people and their Arab sympathizers. Yet our government has done nothing to dissuade the leadership of Israel from pursuing their objective of gradually eliminating the Palestinian problem in a manner somewhat like the Turkish elimination of the Armenian problem in 1915. The Bush-Rumsfeld policy has been to continue to turn a blind eye to the arrogant behavior of Israel toward the unfortunate people it has dispossessed of their homes. Boot is half right: Bush didn't start the fire, but he did nothing to forestall it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


My Opposition to Term Limits

Are term limits for elected officials a solution in search of a problem? I have spoken with several individuals who favor limiting the terms of their representatives as well as the Governor and other national and state officials. I have read arguments by various pundits and others who favor term limits.

I admit that I have never favored term limits for anything. I think that the President should be allowed to run for a third, fourth, and fifth term if he wants to and if his health will permit it. I do not think that members of either the national or the State or the municipal legislature should be restricted from running for office as many times as they choose. However, I would like in this essay to at least mention some of the arguments presented in favor of term limits and give my opinions of them.

What inspired me to write this article was an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times for Sunday, July 23. It was written by Mark P. Petracca and was written in opposition to proposals to extend term limits for Los Angeles City council members and members of the California Legislature. Mr. Petracca’s article was a polemic in favor of keeping term limits as they are, rather than lengthening them, as some are proposing. Mr. Petracca makes four points:

  1. The public favors keeping term limits as strict as they are now.

  2. One of the dangers cited by term limit opponents when they were submitted to the voters was that inexperienced legislators would be easily influenced by lobbyists. Mr. Petracca argues that lobbyists have no more influence on legislators than they had before term limits were adopted.

  3. Another argument against term limits was that legislators would be termed out of office about the time that they had learned how the legislature operates and how to accomplish things with legislation. Mr. Petracca argues that termed-out legislators can still serve in city councils and will have gained the experience to deal with the legislature.

  4. Mr. Petracca argues that it is desirable to have a rotation in office to overcome the advantages of incumbency. One of the big advantages of incumbency, especially to the political party in power, is that it entrenches the party’s position.

In summary, Mr. Petracca argues that many of the bad effects predicted for term limits have not shown up, and so we should keep them just as they are. I can argue just as convincingly that term limits don’t seem to have cured many evils of our system of elective government, so we should treat term limits as an experiment that hasn’t done anything for us and might as well be abandoned.

According to my recollection, here are some arguments that were and are still advanced to justify term limits:

  1. It is undesirable to create a class or a vocation of professional politicians. Persons elected to office should not have the expectation that they are entering a life-long job. Let them serve for a few years, then return to their previous occupations and experience the impact of the laws they have enacted.

  2. The power of incumbency is such that it is difficult for a challenger to defeat an incumbent, even in an honest election. Term limits destroys incumbency. The result should be a legislature more responsive to the needs of the public.

  3. Certain elected officials, especially legislators who represent their own districts, act in ways that please their own constituents but harm, or at least annoy, almost everyone else. Term limits provides a neutral, non-judgmental way of eliminating these irritants. (Think of Willie Brown, who was admired in his own district but despised by many other Californians.)

Let me respond to these arguments.

  1. Although cartoonists and opinion writers deride the career of “politician,” it remains a fact that a good and successful politician is a person of great skill and tact. Politics is the art of the possible. Politicians grapple with seemingly irreconcilable differences of opinion by the public and find compromises that each faction can accept, albeit grudgingly. I no more want to have important policies of government determined by inexperienced amateurs than I would like my medical care determined by amateur physicians who were term limited to return to other occupations within eight years. I regard politics and law as professions just as admirable as medicine and teaching. I think it is a good thing to have available the services of experienced professional politicians. Even Mr. Petracca concedes as much with his argument that termed-out legislators can be useful as members of city councils.

  2. We have seen that term limits have not produced more competitive legislative election contests. It is less the power of incumbency than the nature of the district that determines who gets elected and reelected. Like many States, California has created a set of Congressional, Assembly, and State Senate districts that are not competitive. A given district is safe for the nominee of whichever party the district was assigned to. This arrangement of districts is the result of an agreement between the two parties in the State Legislature to create as many safe districts as possible. A result is that the nominee of the party favored by the district is sure to be elected. The selection of legislators takes place in the primary election, where only the dedicated party extremists bother to vote. The notion of having competitive elections is a good one because it would favor the election of legislators who have had to commit themselves to policies favored by majorities in their districts, rather than majorities in the party primary elections. Term limits has not produced such legislators. A different cure is called for.

  3. For reasons just discussed, the “obnoxious legislator” problem isn’t permanently solved by term limits. A legislator can be just as obnoxious after one term in office as after ten. Here, too, a different cure is needed.

I agree that California (and many other States) had problems at the time term limits were adopted. I thought at the time and still do that creating term limits was an example of a complex problem for which a solution was proposed that was simple, inexpensive, and wrong. The problem of inadequate responsiveness of legislatures to public needs is still present. Term limits have not provided a solution.

Monday, July 24, 2006


About the Second Amendment

I like to listen to Ed Schultz on Air America AM radio. I agree with much of what he says. I disagree with some, particularly his take on the "right to bear arms." Ed comes from a rural area where hunting is a popular diversion in the fall and where there are wild animals that can be killed and eaten.

I grew up in an area like that of North Dakota where Ed comes from. People in Michigan liked to go deer hunting in the fall during the season. The season comes after harvest time, so the farmers have some spare time to enjoy themselves and get out in the fresh air and enjoy nature and all that. Michigan farmers get a bit uptight when someone proposes strict controls on guns.

I think (and some of you will disagree with me) that the Second Amendment was adopted during a time when it was very important for citizens of the new republic to own and use weapons for killing at a distance. Most of the new citizens lived in rural areas. New generations would head west to take up land recently "liberated" or taken from the Native Americans. These new settlers would need a weapon to defend themselves from angry Natives who wanted their lands back as well as to kill varmints like bears, wolves, and wolverines that threatened their lifestock.

By now we've nearly exterminated the varmints and have defeated and pacified the Natives. Ironically, the ratio of guns to people is now much greater than it was when the Second Amendment was adopted. Many of the people who own or use guns on a daily basis do not use them to shoot at bears, wolves, or Native Americans. They use them in our cities to intimidate and shoot at each other. Arguments that the right to own and use a gun should be constitutionally protected and completely unregulated by government do not convince me. In this I may disagree with Ed Schultz. Perhaps I should send him a friendly e-mail.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


An Apology for Sloppy Writing

I regret that the last few posts I have put here haven't been well-written. Of course, it's understandable when you consider that I try to get all my ideas written down before I forget some of them. However, I haven't been constructing essays that logically stick together.

My idea about organizing separate ideas in an essay is to create a circle or polygon, with an idea at each intersection. The structure that I admire is exemplified by the folk song about the man who has a hole in his bucket. He needs to whittle a peg to fill the hole, but his knife is dull. He would like to sharpen the knife on the farm grinding wheel, but he has no water with which to lubricate the interface between the rotating wheel and the knife blade. He would like to carry water from the pump to the wheel, but there's a hole in his bucket.

In a previous essay, I started out grousing about how conservatives seem to view everything as moral or immoral, and that preoccupation with morals, or conservative traditions, attracts religious fundamentalists. As a result, the conservatives and fundamentalists form a majority that blocks any attempts at universal health care, true social security reform (rather than simple abolition), and other things that we progressive liberal pinkos have been waiting for. However, in my essay I failed to connect the progressive frustration with morality. That is, the circle was not complete.

I promise to try to do better in the future.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I Hope to Live to See the Day

In my previous post I proposed that one thing that seems to distinguish conservatives is a common sense of morality. That is, conservatives seem to evaluate policies on their morality rather than on their practical effects. The recent veto of the stem cell research bill is a case in point. The practical effect of the bill would be to use discarded embryos to provide stem cells for researchers to study rather than to allow the embryos to be destroyed. The moral justification for the veto is that it is “wrong to take human life to save other human life.”

There are arguments that tend to discredit the moral argument advanced in support of the veto. For example, one could argue that the embryos were going to be destroyed anyway, so why not use them for a good end? Another example, one could argue that the embryos are not yet “human,” in that they have not developed any special organs, especially brain cells, that enable them to have thoughts and experience pain and suffering. An embryo is no more or no less human than a drop of blood that falls from my thumb when I cut it with a sharp knife. Although many conservatives voted for the bill and expressed regret that the President vetoed it, I haven’t heard any such arguments from them to challenge the moral position taken by the President.

This conservative dedication to morality attracts religious fundamentalists to the Republican Party. Never mind that religious folk, even fundamentalists, take seriously the teachings of Jesus about caring for the poor and the unfortunate. The Republican Party doesn’t care about the poor; very few poor people vote and few of them vote for Republicans. The Republican Party can advocate all sorts of policies that favor the rich and powerful. As long as conservatives in the Party continue to give lip service to the “moral” issues that the fundamentalists cherish, such as punishing women who seek to have abortions and punishing, harassing, and persecuting gay men, the fundamentalists will remain loyal to the Party.

A result of this marriage between religious and political conservatives has led to the frustration of many liberal and progressive reform attempts. We Americans have not been able to adopt a reform that would provide adequate medical care to all of us, regardless of income. Every other industrialized nation in the world has such a system; we Americans are unique in our refusal or inability to adopt such a system.

Not all conservatives are dead set against any system of universal health care or health insurance. Some States are undertaking to set up such systems on their own. Maine and Massachusetts are experimenting with two plans. A bill to create a system in California is making its way through the State legislature. Some of these plans, particular the Massachusetts plan, have the support of many Republicans as well as most Democrats.

Although I’ve lived a long time, I hope to live enough longer to see the day when this nation finally gets around to adopting a plan to provide affordable health care to every American. I know that there is no chance of adopting such a plan except with a consensus, or support from members of both major political parties in the federal Congress. Presidents Truman and Nixon both proposed such plans. In both cases, the plan was rejected by a hostile Congress. President Clinton and his wife spent a year or more trying to develop a plan. In the end, the plan had only Democratic support and could not be enacted. In addition, the Clinton plan was so complicated that no one could properly understand it or explain it to a public that became increasingly skeptical.

As a progressive liberal, I hope to see the break-up of the present ruling coalition of political conservatives and religious fundamentalists. We need many progressive and liberal reforms. To enact them, we need the support of the more “reasonable” conservatives. This support is not available at present. The ruling Republican-conservative coalition has razor-thin majorities in Congress and a thin majority among the public at large. Staying in power has caused the leadership of the coalition to cater to the whims of the most extremely conservative members of the coalition. I don’t expect the coalition to break up as long as the present thin majority persists. If the Democrats take control of either House after the next election, I hope that the new leadership has the sense and the generosity to include some of the more moderate Republicans in their plans. In this way, we may be able to put together a coalition that can enact some of the progressive legislation that I hope to live long enough to see.

How to define a conservative

One writer has argued in print that conservatives have one belief in common: they believe in small government. Another writer challenges that assumption by pointing out actions of conservative American administrations that led to larger, not smaller government. Supporters of the present Bush administration include persons who believe in lower taxes, smaller bureaucracy, and fewer regulations and laws. Other supporters believe in an increased military department, with more money spent on exotic weapons, more men in uniform, and more use of the military to solve problems of interest to the United States. Clearly a fundamental belief in small government is not something these different groups have in common.

I have an opinion. I believe that conservatives share a certain moral outlook on society. They tend to make policy decisions based on the morality of the decisions rather than the effects of them. Big powerful governments tend to become arbitrary, tyrannical, abusive, corrupt, and unaccountable. Hence, governments should be made smaller and weaker. The United States is a moral nation. The motives of Americans are always moral and good. In disputes with other nations, our moral intentions should always prevail and it is only right that we should use our military might to enforce our moral purposes when necessary.

I can go on with other examples of how belief in their own moral virtue justifies many policies advocated by conservatives. I intend to concentrate on one of those policies; namely, public policy toward labor unions.

This morning (Saturday, July 22) the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times carries an article by Nelson Lichtenstein, UPENDING THE HOUSE OF LABOR. In the article, Professor Lichtenstein discusses a case before the National Labor Relations Board involving an attempt by a union “to represent nurses and other healthcare workers at a Kentucky nursing home.” The attempt started during the Clinton Administration. In those days, the NLRB ruled that nurses and other healthcare workers were eligible for union representation. The nursing home operators argued that the nurses and other healthcare workers were professionals and were exempted from union representation, just as supervisors in a manufacturing plant are exempt.

The case was appealed and eventually found its way to the Supreme Court. Although nurses and other professional workers do not exercise supervisory control over other workers in the way that plant supervisors do, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, found no “distinction between the independent judgment of professionals acting as professionals rather than as supervisors.” Based on this decision, the NLRB may well decide the case in Kentucky in favor of the operators and not the nurses and other professional workers.

We see here an example of creeping conservatism. The Bush administration is systematically placing conservatives in positions of power in government, both in the courts and in the bureaucracy. One result is a decision that restricts the ability of labor unions to represent the interests of workers who have some specialized education and training. If this process continues, unions will ultimately only be able legally to represent those workers of no education who perform repetitive work that requires no judgment, just obedience to a supervisor and following a set routine. Gone will be the days when airplane pilots and baseball players can be represented by labor unions.

This story illustrates another belief that conservatives share. They despise labor unions. They are very clever at thinking up ways to diminish the power and influence of organized labor in our society. If they can reduce labor unions to the role of representing only the least educated and least skilled workers, they will have destroyed a component of the liberal political coalition in this country. It will be easier then to enact other parts of the conservative vision: no social security; no universal health care or health insurance; no public welfare benefits for the poor or unemployed.

This conservative revolution has gone too far. It’s time to stop it. A way to begin is to replace several conservative Republicans with liberal Democratic Representatives and Senators. With Democratic control of Congress, particularly the Senate, our ultra conservative President will be unable to continue his policy of packing the courts and the various regulatory agencies with his ultra conservative allies.

Let’s go!

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Israel and Hezbollah

The middle east is a good subject about which to have opinions. Almost every day I read letters to the editor of the newspaper I read (Los Angeles Times) from writers having all kinds of opinions on the subject. Some writers complain that other writers assume a "moral equivalence" between Israel and Hezbollah. Some writers complain about the treatment of the Palestinians during the past fifty-odd years of Israel's existence. And there are other opinions.

One of my best friends recently sent me an article by an Israeli who had been a member of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret spy organization. This writer was commenting on the response in Israel to the kidnapping of one soldier by Hamas and two by Hezbollah. He recounted being part of operations in which hundreds, if not thousands of Palestinian boys were kidnapped, interrogated, and put in prison by Shin Bet. Many of them are now still in prison. The writer implies that there is no reason for keeping them there. They have not been charged with any crime. Their status is similar to that of prisoners the United States is keeping locked up at Guantanamo.

I am not religious. I am not Jewish and do not have any emotional or ancestral attachment to a Jewish state at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. I am not Muslim and I have no understanding of the attitude that Muslims have toward waqf, or territory that has been converted to Islam and which must henceforth remain as part of Islam. I am not a fundamentalist evangelical Christian and I have no sympathy for the notion that the rapture and the second coming of Christ is close at hand, and that a war in the middle east would be a good way of causing these blessed events to occur very soon, during the lifetimes of living persons. Hence, I believe that I am not biased either in favor of or against Israel. (I may be wrong, but I'm not biased.)

Israel claims that the Hezbollah raid and the kidnapping of the two soldiers was not provoked, that Hezbollah shouldn't have done it, and that Israel is completely justified in its campaign to weaken, if not destroy, the military capability of Hezbollah. President Bush chimes in by saying that "Israel has a right to defend itself."

I can not speak (write, actually) for Hezbollah. However, in the middle east, as elsewhere, every political event is preceded by another event, that by another, and so on back to some unknown past time when it all started. When did it all start? Going back far in history, one could say it all started when some of the Jews in the Kingdom, later Roman Province, of Israel, decided that an itinerant preacher Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah who would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. Other Jews refused to accept this Messiah; they believed that the Messiah would be a great military leader who would defeat the Romans in battle. One thing led to another and the Romans eventually expelled the Jews from Israel. The two factions, the pro-Jesus and the anti-Jesus Jews, continued their quarrels and rivalry. They've been quarreling ever since.

The pro-Jesus Jews, now called Christians, became the dominant religious group in the Roman Empire. Their religion became dominant in Europe. The other Jewish faction, now called simply "Jews," had to find places to live and occupations to enable them to survive. They encountered hatred and persecution from Christians. This persecution reached a peak in Germany in the 1930's and early 1940's. Millions of Jews from all over Europe were collected by the Germans and taken to extermination camps and executed. In 1941 a passenger ship with a thousand Jews fleeing Hitler's extermination tried to land and discharge passengers at a US port in Florida. An official in the State Department wouldn't allow the ship to land. Other nations in and around the Caribbean also refused to allow the ship to discharge its passengers. Eventually the ship had to return to Germany, the only country that would permit it to land. Most of the passengers later died in extermination camps.

This sad and shocking story led the United States to take an action to clear its conscience. Our nation, under the leadership of President Truman, sponsored a United Nations resolution that created the State of Israel as a national homeland for Jews. (Notice that we still didn't want them here, in the United States.) There was just a small problem with the resolution. The territory assigned to the new country was already occupied by Arabic speaking people, mostly Muslims, called Palestininans.

Of course, the territory originally designated for Israel was small, too small to accommodate the Jews who had survived Hitler's extermination and who now wanted to get out of Europe. The territory had to be enlarged. Two terrorist organizations came into being with the purpose of enlarging the territory of the new country to include all of Biblical Israel, or that part of the British Mandate of Palestine that lay on the west side of the Jordan River. These organizations were Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Gang. My friend, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article, once told me that one organization believed in destroying property but not killing people, while the other believed in assassinations but not the destruction of property. These organizations achieved their goal: they drove the British out of Palestine and they drove the indigenous population out of part of Palestine. There were other organizations, not terrorist, involved in the creation of the Jewish state. Haganah is one that comes to mind.

The attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and by Hamas have to be understood as consequences of the formation of the State of Israel. Israel was created to provide a safe home for Jews of the world as a reaction to the horror of the holocaust and the shame in the United States and other nations of not allowing Jewish refugees to escape Hitler's "final solution." Unfortunately it was created in such a way as to displace several million people from their homes. This displacement led to anger among Arabs in neighboring countries, particularly at this "Zionist entity" foisted on them by the descendants of the Crusaders of nine centuries earlier.

Is there a moral equivalence between Israel and Hezbollah? I think so. Israel was created in part by the action of two terrorist organizations. Leaders of those organizations subsequently became elected to leadership positions by the Israeli public. In trying to redress the grievous harm done to European Jews, the United Nations, perhaps unintentionally, did grievous harm to the residents of Palestine. I think it's time for truth and reconciliation and for hard compromises on all sides. I think that Israel should give up or at least set limiits on the "law of the return," which guarantees Israeli citizenship and a place to live for any Jew in the world who wants it. I think the Palestinians should give up their own "hope of return" to the land from which they were expelled. On the other hand, I think they should be generously compensated for their loss.

Everybone should admit that no one has "clean hands" in this matter. During World War II, the leader of the Palestinians, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, openly sided with Hitler's Germany. The United States, along with many other countries, refused to admit Jewish refugees. Many Israeli politicians for years refused to accept any responsibility toward the Palestinian refugees; instead, they asserted that "there are no Palestinians." Arab leaders deliberately left the unfortunate Palestinians in squalid refugee camps as a political ploy to whip up popular hatred of Israel and to further their own political ambitions.

According to what I've read, the cleanest hands are those of Francisco Franco, who invited all Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain in 1492 to return; some eighty thousand did; Denmark and Sweden, where Danish Jews were smuggled across the channel into Sweden to save them from the Germans; and a Japanese diplomat who issued visas to many Lithuanian Jews to enable them to escape to Japan. The Japanese diplomat was later censured by his government. When I learned about Franco's facilitating the return of Jews to Spain, I changed my opoinion of him a little.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Do I Hate George Bush?

I criticize the President in e-mails to my friends, as well as in this blog. My conservative friend H insists that I am simply repeating "group think" of liberals and that I, along with all liberals, simply hate and despise George Bush. I've never figured out a witty way to respond to that criticism except to say that I can't really hate the man because I've never met him.

However, after thinking about what I wrote in my previous blog (yes, I often think after I've written something as well as before) I wondered how Mr. Bush would hold up in a British election campaign in which it is considered perfectly acceptable for members of the audience to heckle the politician. Here in the United States, it is considered impolite to treat an office seeker in that way. In Britain it is not only perfectly acceptable, it is considered normal behavior by an audience.

To respond effectively to a heckler, a politican must have a good sense of humar, must be able to think quickly, and must have sense enough to resond to the heckler in a way that helps rather than hinders his campaign for office. I don't know how the Brits expect an office seeker to respond to heckling but I would think that it would be counterproductive for the speaker merely to resort to name calling or other remarks that would be merely insulting to the heckler. His effective witty remark must show that he understands what the heckler is talking about and has an effective answer to the heckler's criticism.

George Bush is known to be a man who doesn't like to read anything (except for children's story books). He prefers to be briefed by an individual rather than read a reasoned written argument prepared by the individual. Then he makes up his mind based on his gut instinct and on the impression the briefer makes on him rather than the facts that the briefer advances. I doubt that a person like Mr. Bush would go very far in a political environment in which he would be subjected to heckling during his campaign stops. In fact, I'm told that his handlers are very careful in selecting his audiences to make sure that none of them are inclined to criticize Mr. Bush or question his policies.

Of course, I don't hate George Bush. I've never met him. I just think that he is a good example of the Peter Principle in action, in which people in decision-making positions are promoted to the level of their incompetence. I've read that Mr. Bush would be a competent mayor of a medium-sized city in Texas.

Civility in Politics

I've just read an Opinion piece in today's Los Angeles Times by Duncan Black, aka Atrios. The theme of the piece is the Lieberman campaign in Connecticut for the Democratic nomination to the US Senate. Mr. Black comments on the lack of civility and polite discourse exhibited by many bloggers who support Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman.

Mr. Black comments as follows:
Much of the interest in this race is not because of Lamont but rather his perceived base of support from bloggers, including me. One prominent pundit claimed that Lamont's online backers were practitioners of "blogosfascism;" another called the campaign an "inquisition." Online political discourse can indeed be caustic and combative, like talk radio. But too many in the Lieberman wing of the party have elevated civility and the illlusion of bipartisan comity over challenging Republicans' failed lpolicies. In the lprocess, they have echoed GPO jargon in dismissiing critics as "angry" and "hate-filed."

One of my former bosses at work was an Englishman. He compared the conduct of political campaigns in this country with those in England. He marveled at the attitude of Americans who would suppress or at least discouraging heckling of a politician campaigning for votes. In England, he would say, anyone who undertook to campaign for office would be expected to deal with hecklers, and part of his ability to hold office would be his ability to provide witty and effective answers to hecklers.

Mr. Black writes that politics is a contact sport, and that loud and raucous debate is a healthy part of our democracy.

We have something to learn from the Brits.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Unwanted Mail

I get a lot of stuff in the mail that I don't want. Some of it is advertising; I can dispose of that easily. Some of it is solicitation for contributions to several very worthy organizations. That I have to think about and sort through and decide just which worthy charity or candidate I will give money to this month. Some of it I throw away.

I subscribe to National Geographic magazine. Every month the organization sends me a package containing a CD I didn't order. For a while I kept the CD's, thinking I would view them some day on my TV set and CD player. Lately I have printed a bunch of labels that read "refused, return to sender." I stick one of these labels on the package and take it to the post office. The US Postal Service returns any package so labeled to the sender at no charge to me as long as the package hasn't been opened.

I also have an account with a firm that sells music CD's by mail and by internet. That firm also sends me, every month, a package containing two or more classical music CD's. That package now also gets the "refused, return to sender" treatment.

I have learned how to open the National Geographic and the music CD packages, look at the contents, and seal them up again with Elmer's glue in such a way that it looks as though the packages hadn't been opened. I even tell the postal clerk that I peeked at the contents, but he looks at the packages and sees that I have craftily sealed them to make them look unopened and takes them with no postage from me. To the USPS the important thing is that the packages look as though they haven't been opened. I told one clerk that even if I had to pay the return postage it would be a lot cheaper than keeping the contents.

I haven't yet decided what to do about calendars. It seems that any charity that I've ever given money to sends me a calendar for the year 2007. Now we can use some calendars. We have a place for one in the kitchen, two in the computer room, and one in the "office." The office is just a spare bedroom that contains a desk and several bookcases. We don't use it as an office any more. When both daughters and their families arrive for a visit, one group gets the guest room and the other group sleeps on a foam mattress on the floor in the office.

I've thought of attaching "refused" stickers to some of the calendars and taking them to the post office. On second thought, I realize that the cost of the postage that the charity will have to pay for the returned calendar is probably more that the original cost of the calendar. I could be more generous to the charity by simply throwing the calendar in the recycle barrel. Making the charity pay for the return of an unwanted calendar seems a bit chintzy.

Friday, July 14, 2006


'Tis the Season for Reform

It's reform time in California. The people in favor of public (rather than private) financing of election campaigns are involved in a debate about what to call their movement. The present term is "Clean Money." The Los Angeles City Council is in favor of the concept but wants to call it "Full Public Financing" of campaigns. Whatever the name, the movement is gathering steam and probably will be enacted soon, either by the State Legislature or by an Initiative. California will then join Arizona and Maine in having a method of campaign funding that is intended to divorce the power of money from public policy decisions.

Another reform that seems to be taking shape involves a deal between our Republican Governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and our Legislature (Democratic majorities in each chamger). The legislators want a relaxing of the severe term limit restrictions. The governor wants a non-partisan commission to do the job of rearranging boundaries of election districts. At present the legislature does the redistricting, as is the case in most States. The deal that I read about this morning in the Los Angeles Times involved changing the preseent term limits of six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate to a total of twelve years combined service in both chambers. At present the six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate provides a total of fourteen years of combined service. It doesn't look like a good deal to me.

However, I have a prejudice. I think that term limits for elected officials, particularly legislators, is bad policy. I can think of several persons who served in the California legislature for many years before the era of term limits. Some of these were persons of great wisdom who helped other members accomplish their goals by arranging compromises and deals. The late Frank Lanterman was one who comes to mind. I have a good memory of him, even though he was a Republican.

Crime and Punishment?

A few days ago I saw an interview on television. The interviewer was speaking with Senators Durbin of Illinois and Cornyn of Texas. The topic was the treatment and the trial of the prisoners being held at Guantanamo. The recent Supreme Court decision in the Hamdan case was pleasing to Senator Durbin and displeasing to Senator Cornyn. Senator Durbin rejoiced that the traditional American rule of law and due process was to be applied to the Guantanamo detainees. Senator Cornyn groused that we should apply the Geneva Convention and other legal benefits to a group of terrorists who represented no country, had not agreed to abide by the rules of war, and were therefore not entitled to any of the privileges normally given to prisoners of war, to say nothing of common criminals. By implication, the basic concept of presumption of innocence should not apply to terrorists.

I am thinking of the American reaction to the events of September 11, 2001 and also to the reaction of the Israeli government to the recent kidnapping of one soldier by Hamas and two by Hezbollah. Both countries reacted out of rage and an intense desire for revenge rather than a desire to prevent such occurrences in the future. Al Qaeda destroyed the twin towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon in Virginia. Along with the destruction, Al Qaeda killed nearly three thousand innocent civilians. We are very angry at Al Qaeda. Whenever we capture an individual who we think is part of or is sympathetic to that organization, we, through our agents in the CIA or the Military forces vent our anger on that individual. At least that seems to be the policy of the Bush Administration. In our unreasoning anger, we do not stop to question whether the individual is really an Al Qaeda member or sympathizer. Perhaps he has been taken prisoner by mistake. No matter, he is a scape-goat. If he’s not Al Qaeda, he’s at least Muslim and they’re almost as bad.

I don’t want you who read this screed to think that I have any sympathy for terrorists. I hate and fear Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations. I think that terror is a cowardly way to achieve an end, even such a desirable end as political freedom and liberty from oppressive governments. However, I classify terrorists as criminals. Many criminals use intimidation, threats, and torture to gain their ends. Their ends usually involve money rather than any political benefit. No matter, they’re all criminals and should be treated accordingly. When we capture a suspected criminal, we first make sure, if we can, that we haven’t made a mistake. Then we charge him and subject him to a trial. In the trial the suspected criminal has a chance to prove his innocence or to introduce mitigating information to influence the severity of the sentence. If we believe in our legal system, we must treat suspected terrorists the same way that we treat other criminals. We must not vent our anger and frustration on persons merely suspected or accused of terror.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


American disdain for legislatures

Many Americans have a dislike of both legislatures and political parties. The history of State governments supports the proposition that the public prefers a strong governor to a strong legislature. Many people regard a legislature as a hindrance to good, effective government rather than a means. Many State legislatures are “part-time;” that is, the legislative session is defined in the State constitution as beginning on a certain date and ending on a certain date. In some cases, the regular session occurs only every other year. The legislature must finish its business by the date set in the constitution. It can be called into special session by the governor and then only to consider a specific piece of legislation.

Governors, on the other hand, are powerful officials. Historically, their power has grown during the life of the United States. In most States, governors are well-paid. Legislators are often paid a perdiem for the time the legislature is in session. I can recall something that happened while I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois. In those days, the governor was Adlai Stevenson. One year the legislature finished its session without reconciling differences between versions of bills enacted by the State Senate and the State House of Representatives. No problem; the governor simply picked the version he liked best and signed it into law.

This scorn for legislatures and admiration for governors occurs in the public attitude toward the federal government as well. Mr. Bush is currently claiming the power to act without authorization or interference or oversight from the Congress in certain areas, particularly the conduct of the “war” on terror. Presidents have since the time of George Washington claimed a free hand in the conduct of foreign policy. The surprising thing about Bush’s claim is not the arrogance of the claim but rather the apparent willingness of the public to go along with it. Except in the “liberal” media, there hasn’t been any criticism of Mr. Bush’s assertion that he alone can dictate how the prisoners in the “war” are to be treated and whether and how they are to be tried.

Presidents and governors are thought of as being above party. A governor or a president is governor/president of “all the people,” as Lyndon Johnson claimed. Legislatures, on the other hand, are dominated by parties. The majority party controls the agenda and the minority party – well, complains about the majority party. The public doesn’t like or understand the partisanship. I recently saw a television show that featured a focus group that was discussing government and its problems. One lady said she didn’t understand why there had to be political parties. In effect, why couldn’t everyone simply belong to the same party, especially the members of the legislature. Getting rid of the partisan bickering would make it much easier for the legislature to get things done and focus on the really important problems facing the State.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Mongolian Independence Day

Twenty-eight years ago today I was in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, on a three-week tour. My wife and I and the rest of our tour party were taken to some games that celebrated the "National Day" of the country. The games included a fifty-mile horse race and an archery contest. Men rode the horses. Archery contestants were both men and women. There were other games as well.

Twenty-eight years is a significant time interval in our calendar. Twenty-eight years is an integral (whole) number of weeks. The eleventh of July fell on a Tuesday twenty-eight years ago, just as it does today.

Our visit to Mongolia was part of a three-week tour of the Soviet Union. In those days, the Russians had stopped worshipping Stalin. Khruschev's secret speech some years before had listed some of Stalin's worst crimes. Inside Russia proper, there were no longer any statues of Stalin. A city once renamed for him had been renamed again (Tsaritsyn > Stalingrad > Volgograd). There were plenty of statues of Lenin. We went through Lenin's tomb in front of the Kremlin wall. Along the wall were grave stones lying flush with the ground with names of various famous Bolshevik revolutionaries. At the far left was a stone with the name "Stalin."

Moscow is a big city and I saw only a very small part of it. That grave stone was the only memorial I saw to one of the most influential men of the century. In Ulaan Baatar, however, we saw one day a very large statue of Stalin on the main street. We insisted that the tour guide stop the bus so that some of us tourists could photograph the statue.

I wonder if that statue is still there today.

Deficit Depression

Some news items actually make me depressed. I shouldn't let it happen, but I can't help being depressed at the following summary of recent federal deficits. I copied the summary from Daily Kos:
Today, the Office of Management Budget projected a $296 billion federal deficit for fiscal year 2006. Bush held a press conference arguing that this is a vindication of his economic policies.

Actually, it would be the fourth largest deficit of all time. Here's the top five:

2004 (George W. Bush) $413 billion
2003 (George W. Bush) $378 billion
2005 (George W. Bush) $318 billion
2006 (George W. Bush) $296 billion (projected)
1992 (George H. W. Bush) $290 billion

When President Bush came into office, he inherited a surplus of $284 Billion. At that time, the Bush administration predicted a $516 billion surplus for 2006.

From my own personal viewpoint, the economy is doing no better these days with the Bush tax cuts than it did during the high tax years of the Clinton administration. There's plenty of empirical proof, or at least anecdotal demonstration, that tax rates have at best a very small effect on the economy. Giving the richest one percent of the public a lot more money to spend has not given the economy the dramatic boost that the supply-side economists and Republic low-tax ideologues claim it should.

If the American public thought carefully about such matters, they would realize that Bush's tax policy is a dismal failure. It has greatly increased the national debt, has put us in hock to the Chinese, and has not provided a significant boost for the economy. Americans are not intellectuals and don't think about such things. The average American, like anyone else, likes his taxes reduced. He accepts the reduction and pays no attention to either the theory that justifies the reduction or the consequences of the resulting mounting national debt.

I saw a cartoon once. It showed a rather fat man with a small dog on a leash. The man is reading a newspaper while walking the dog and doesn't see the cliff in front of him that he is about to step off of. The dog sees the cliff and is terrified and holds back on the leash, but he is only a small dog and has no effect on the man. I feel like the dog. The man represents the American public that is blindly walking to the cliff and dragging everyone along.

My depressing thought for the day.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Democrats Lack Ideas

I read a column in today's (July 9) newspaper. The columnist writes about receiving a letter from Senator Kennedy. The columnist reads the letter, which is four pages long. The letter urges him to contribute money to help vote those shameless Republicans out of office. The letter recounts many shameless things that the Republicans have done. The columnist agrees that these things are really and truly shameless. Nevertheless, he keeps looking in the letter for positive statements about what Democrats are going to do about the Republican mess if they are elected. He doesn't find any such statement. He concludes that the Democrats don't have any ideas other than to replace the Republicans in office.

Many pundits and even people who are not pundits have expressed the same criticism of my party over the years. After Colin Powell retired from military service he considered becoming politically active. He chose the Republican Party because, as he is quoted as having said, the Republican Party is the party of ideas. The Democrats don't have any new ideas.

Look at my previous post. I think it expresses the ideas of many Democrats. We Democrats do not have ideological beliefs. We do not believe, as many Republicans do, that cutting taxes is an appropriate cure for any economic problem: depression, exhuberant speculation, unemployment, etc. We do not believe that our economic prosperity depends on providing rich people with enough money that they will spend it on creating new businesses and more jobs for the rest of us. We do not believe in supply-side economics. In fact, we recognize that there is a glut of manufacturing capacity in the world. There are too many auto makers; too many airplane makers; too many factories of almost every kind in relation to the desire and ability of consumers to buy their products. We know that in our present condition, unregulated markets do not lead to an equitable distribution of resources. Free markets do not build mass rapid transit systems for large cities. Free markets and private enterprise did not provide adequate mail and package delivery service to all parts of the country.

We Democrats try to avoid policies based on some ideological concept or on "the way things ought to be." We recognize that our political, social, and economic system isn't perfect and we are willing to experiment, to try things that may improve matters. We know that Social Security and Medicare are two experiments that have worked well so far. They may need fine tuning and changes in the way they are funded at some future time. We accept the need for such changes, but we reject ideological arguments that they were wrong from the start and should be eliminated.

We try to remember our history. We know that many things have been tried in the past. Some worked, some didn't. Private competing fire companies proved to be a poor way to put out fires in our large cities. Private competing barber shops are an excellent way to get good haircuts.

We do not reject religion. Many of us are religious and are regular church-goers. However, we accept a dichotomy that exists between religious faith and scientific knowledge. We know that religious faith in Europe required every Christian to believe that the world was flat until the voyage of Magellan, even though the head of the great library of Alexandria was able to calculate the circumference of the earth in 200 BC with an error of no more than 50 miles based on two measurements in Egypt. We are able to know that in that same year of 200 BC people who revered the Torah (a component of the present Bible) believed in stoning to death adulterous women and homosexual men. At the same time we reject these two religious teachings as being very old-fashioned and out of date.

We believe in keeping what is good in our society and changing what is bad. We judge the goodness or the badness strictly on the actual benefit to or suffering inflicted on ordinary people, not on what some priest or preacher may say based on an interpretation of holy scripture.

We believe in improving the lot of poor people. We believe in providing good jobs for everyone. We believe in good health care for everyone. We believe in a comfortable living for our elderly retirees. We believe that our economy is strong enough and provides enough product and service to make all of these things possible. We may not have at present specific proposed programs to achieve these goals, but we are convinced that if the American public believes in them and elects representatives who believe in them, these representatives can work out suitable programs through the ordinary processes of political negotiation.

I guess that simply having noble goals makes for a hard sell. It might be more effective to have some bright-sounding and half-baked program to talk about, something along the line of the "Contract with America" that worked for the Republicans twelve years ago.

I try not to be cynical.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


About Markets

I've been reading a very interesting post in a blog by David Brin in which he contrasts two beliefs or myths about markets. One myth is that a Guided Allocation of Resources (GAR) brings about the most suitable allocation of resources so that, for example, everyone has afforcable good health care. The other myth is Faith in Blind Markets (FIBM), in which unregulated "free" markets provide the most efficient allocation of resources. Brin's rather long post punctures both of these myths. GAR produces an allocation of resources that benefit the individuals who are doing the allocating, not the general public. FIBM doesn't work because in present day America the markets aren't blind, but rather resources are allocated according to the decisions of CEO's and Boards of Directors of large corporations. Again, these individuals form an aristocratic elite who "Guide the Allocation" of resources to maximize their own and their corporations' profits, not the welfare of the general public.

Economists often cite the work of Adam Smith who advocated an economic system based on unregulated markets in which there were many suppliers of a given product or service and many buyers. No supplier or buyer was large enough to influence the price of a product or service through his own decisions to buy or sell. Prices would be set by the competition of many sellers and many buyers.

Brin and others point out that today we do not have a system of Adam Smith type suppliers. Many products and services that we buy are provided by large corporations. These corporations are able to set their own prices for their products and services. They have interlocking boards of directors. They often secretly collude with each other to set prices.

Joseh Stieglitz won a Nobel Prize in economics a few years ago by pointing out another requirement on buyers and sellers that Adam Smith's present-day acolytes ignore: information equality. Even Adam Smith's scheme won't work if either the seller or the buyer knows something about the product that the other doesn't.

For example, I may decide to sell my house. Now I know that the house has termites in the attic and dry rot in the foundation and has some serious but hidden structural damage from the last earthquake. I propose to sell the house to some poor fool who doesn't know about these problems and doesn't know enough to ask or to get an impartial expert to inspect the house for these and other flaws. If I succeed in unloading my house on this sucker, I have beaten Adam Smith's market scheme. On the other hand, the buyer may know about a hidden treasure buried under the house by an early Spanish settler in the region. I know nothing about the treasure and sell my house for one percent of what the buyer will gain by tearing down the house and digging up the treasure.

David Brin explains why socialism doesn't work. David Brin and Joseph Stieglitz explain why the "free market" model advocated by present-day conservatives won't work. What are we left with? What can work?

What may work is an old model, not a new one. The old model is a mixed economy. Some aspects of the economy are governed by GAR, such as a municipal water and electricity utility. Some aspects are governed by corporations operating under rather strict and well-enforced rules of behavior. Some aspects are left as free markets with little regulation. This old model may not be the best one, but it's one that we Americans have been using and developing for two hundred years. It works best when it's subject to continuous an impartial oversight and review. Changes in the rules are made from time to time as needed to correct obvious abuses.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


About the Death Penalty

I had a short discussion this morning with my friend TC about the death penalty. We had finished an argument about "English Only" or "English should be the official language of the US and I'm annoyed by a recorded telephone message that says 'dial 1 for English.'" To begin with, my friend supports the death penalty and I oppose it. My response to his question was, "if I ever get the chance, I will vote against it."

TC volunteered that he resented supporting a murderer in prison for life at a cost of thirty thousand dollars a year to taxpayers. My response was that the cost argument he cited was weak, as it costs more to execute a convict than it does to keep him locked up for life. There are automatic appeals from any death sentence and many grounds for appeal. These appeals take time and can be very expensive.

TC said that he thought the appeal process should be shortened. I challenged that for the reason that occasionally an innocent person is convicted. We want to be very careful that we do not execute a person who is in fact innocent of the crime for which he or she was convicted.

We were at breakfast with several friends, and we dropped the death penalty to join other conversations.

I imagined a continuation of the conversation, somewhat as follows:

Me: The expense argument you advance against the alternative of life without parol actually works the other way. It is really cheaper simply to lock up the convict for life rather than go through all the legal procedures that must precede execution.

TC: How about someone like Charles Manson? No legal appeal is ever going to get him off. There is no question of his guilt. He has no redeeming qualities and has not repented for his crimes. Why not execute him?

Me: I agree that Manson is a special case. A hard case. The law should not be based on Manson and his crimes. Hard cases make bad law.

About this time I realize that TC and I are talking past each other. He is not really concerned about the money. He is concerned about the outrage done to society by a murderer, particularly one like Charles Manson. Mere prison time, even a life sentence, is not a satisfactory punishment for such an outrage. For my part, I am concerned about the death penalty as a policy. Experience has shown that our courts make mistakes and some innocent persons are convicted and sentenced to death. Quite a few such cases have come to light recently. There may also be innocent persons who have been executed. However, after an execution there isn't much incentive to try to prove innocence. In addition, the prosecutor and the State have a strong incentive to keep any proof of innocence hidden from the public.

I am pleased to report that TC did not advance the argument that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to others who might commit murder. We agreed in the end that neither of us was going to change his mind.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


What are Military Tribunals?

These are courts set up by order of the President to try suspected terrorists, particularly members of Al Qaeda. The Supreme Court on Friday, June 30, decreed that the President doesn't have authority to set up special courts, especially courts that ignore the requirements of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

For a long time I could not understand why the suspects being kept at Guantanimo couldn't simply be tried by existing military courts martial or by existing federal courts. Administration spokesmen said that a trial in a regular military or civil court would require the government to reveal some of its secret methods of gaining information about the detained suspects. I imagined such things as spies that had infiltrated Al Qaeda whose covers would be blown if the sources of the information were revealed, bugs planted in Osama bin Ladin's cell phone, and so on.

Now it turns out that the "secret" method is well-known and has been publicized. It's torture. A suspect is tortured until he agrees to confess. The proposed tribunal would use the confession to convict him. Revealing that the confession was obtained by torture would enable the defendant to challenge the confession. Without the confession, the government has no case.

I have always known that the Bush administration was staffed by persons of very conservative and backward-looking views and aspirations. I didn't realize until recently that they looked way back as far as the Salem witchcraft trials of the 1690's as the "good old days" of criminal justice.

Monday, July 03, 2006


About Term Limits, etc.

Various writers are now beginning to express doubt in print about the wisdom of term limits for elected officials, especially the term limits in California. Here a member of the Assembly (lower house of the legislature) can serve a total of six years in one lifetime. A member of the Senate is limited to eight years total, as are all the other State elected officials: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Controller, Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner, and Superintendant of Public Instruction. It is said that California's term limits are the most restrictive of any in the Nation.

The stated object of term limits, as I recall, was to get rid of the class of professional office holders. Persons elected to office would be able to serve for only a limited time. Then they would have to return to their previous careers and live under the laws and regulations they had enacted. However, term limits in California have not got rid of the professional politicians. Theas worthies now plan to play musical chairs. In the coming election, the State Treasurer hopes to become Governor; the Attorney General hopes to become Treasurer; the Insurance Commissioner and Lieutenant Governor plan to switch jobs; a former Governor is running for Attorney General.

Another goal of term limits, that of achieving a legislature of "citizens" rather than professional politicians, has also not been reached. Instead, we see that staff assistants to incumbents run for the incumbents' positions when they are termed out. People with no previous political experience have no chance - or very little chance - of being elected to the State Legislature.

In case my own bias is not yet clear to you, I opposed term limits when they were proposed and I still think they are a bad idea. I see nothing wrong with professional politicians enacting our laws and the regulations that government imposes on us. It is just as logical for professional politicians to practice the art of politics as for professional medical doctors to practice the art of medicine.

One of the best and most honorable professional politicians I ever knew was for many years the Congressman who represented my district in the House of Representatives. He used to say that "The first duty of a politician is to get elected. His second duty is to get reelected." I've thought about that saying for several years. I would like to add something to it: "In addition to getting elected and reelected, a politician should try to achieve something that will be a permanent blessing to the people of this nation."

Of course, I'm an idealist. To me a national system that provides good health care to every resident is a permanent blessing. I greatly admire any politician who tries to achieve that. Another permanent blessing is a national portable pension system, funded by a non-profit organization to which employers and employees contribute. Workers retired from General Motors or United Airlines should not lose their pensions just because the company has come upon hard times.

What do my ideals have to do with term limits? For one thing, I think that terms limits of only six or eight years do not give the elected representative enough time to achieve any of my permanent blessings. You can see from my objection that I am not a conservative. Conservatives liked term limits because they do not have in mind any permanent blessings that can be achieved only through action by government. Their permanent blessings are things that individuals achieve for themselves. There's nothing wrong with individuals achieving wonderful things through their own efforts. However, I think there is something more that we can be doing or aspiring to than simply taking care of ourselves. We should take care of others, too.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


A Story of Two Men

This is a story about two young macho men. Let me call then Ulysses and Icarus. There is bad blood between the two men. When Ulysses returned home from his long voyage, Icarus made fun of him, particularly his tale about the sirens. In the story, Ulysses had stopped up the ears of every man of his crew so that they would not be influenced by the singing of the sirens. He wanted to hear the singing himself, but had himself bound to the mast so that he couldn't get away and jump overboard to reach the island where the sirens waited. Icarus proved to all the listeners that Ulysses' story couldn't possibly be true. The two men got into a fist fight. Icarus won and left Ulysses with a bloody nose and, more importantly, a wounded ego.

What is the end of the story? One end is that Ulysses could not forgive Icarus for either the insult or the injury. The only way to settle matters was to have another fight. Only this time Ulysses planned to win by whatever means it took. The two men would box; Ulysses planned to load his boxing gloves with metal weights with thorny projections. In this way, he would be sure to bloody not only Icarus' nose but his whole face. History does not record the fight, nor how it came out.

To me this fable represents the attitude of the United States toward Iran. Iran insulted us by taking our embassy hostage. We tried to rescue the hostages with our mighty military machine, but we failed. We were insulted and our nose was bloodied. Now is the time for diplomatic relations and negotiations with Iran. But our wounded pride stands in the way of that at present. We first have to get even. We have to bloody Iran's nose and face. Only then can we have civil diplomatic discussions.

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