Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The Power of One

It's about the California Budget Agreement. In the end, the Democratic majority had to accept the Republicans' budget, with no tax increases and deep cuts in education, medical help, Medicaid (or MediCal), subsidies to local governments, and others. In fact, under the agreement, local governments have to help bail the State out of its budget hole.

How did this happen? It was the power of 1/3 + 1 in the legislature and the power of 1 Republican Governor. By now everyone knows that the California Legislature labors under the quaint restriction that budgets and taxes require 2/3 votes in each chamber for passage. Everyone also knows that Republicans in California are required by party leaders to take an oath to oppose any and all tax increases in order to have the support of faithful Republicans in the primary elections.

Although the 2/3 vote is required for increasing taxes, it is not required for establishing or increasing a fee. With a sympathetic Democratic Governor, the majority Democrats in the legislature could have found the money to pay for education, medical care, and the like by establishing or increasing some fees.

Republicans in California should be happy to have the effective support of their Republican Governor. Howard Jarvis in his grave should be spinning with glee and happiness.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009


Sharing the Pain

The pain is the pain of the current depression. Sharing is something we are taught as young children. As grown-ups we share with others our good fortune by contributing to churches, lodges, various other charitable organizations, and paying taxes.

What is the sharing thing to do during a depression? Even during the present depression, unemployment is only ten percent. That means that ninety percent of us still have paying jobs. We have money that we can share to take care of the unfortunate ten percent.

How do we do this? The natural tendency is to retrench, for States to let workers go when tax revenues fall, to put off expensive purchases or projects to remodel our houses, etc. This tendency is not sharing; it's greed. Our playmate doesn't have a toy of his own and we won't let him play with ours.

The sharing thing is to increase taxes to help the unfortunate unemployed. I know that this is an idea that won't be popular. I will be accused of being worse than a communist for even mentioning it. I still believe it. During times of recession or depression, individual tax rates on persons who have incomes should be increased to make up for the shortfall of revenue. Governor Schwarzenegger is dead wrong in opposing any tax increase. Now is the time to increase taxes on those who can afford to pay. The taxes can be reduced when good times are with us again.


Sunday, July 12, 2009


Why Woo?

John Woo, the lawyer who wrote the legal opinion to justify the use of "extraordinary interrogation techniques," is again in the news. Mr. Padilla, who was the recipient of some of those techniques, is trying to sue Mr. Woo for his opinion that justified them. It has been noted that Mr. Woo was not a high-ranking member of the Justice Department and that the Attorney General did not know that Mr. Woo had been recruited by Bush and Cheney to prepare the covering opinion. It has also been reported that Messrs. Bush and Cheney had a rather low opinion of lawyers and their opinions. It seems to me that it is likely that the Bush-Cheney team chose Mr. Woo as the person to prepare the legal opinion to justify techniques that most people regard as torture. Perhaps they knew something about Mr. Woo's legal philosophy. Perhaps they chose him because they knew he was pliable and would write an opinion to justify actions his bosses wanted to do. It's as though Bush-Cheney regarded lawyers the same way as some people regard priests. If you want to do something you know is rather bad, it eases your conscience if you can get a priest to bless your action, even though you have a contempt for priests and the priesthood. Perhaps a better explanation is that the blessing of the priest gives you cover for your rather unsavory action. In any case, it's important not to go too high in the priesthood to find a willing priest. In the same way, it was important not to go too high in the Justice Department to find a lawyer who would prepare the covering opinion.


Friday, July 10, 2009


My Gloat

The Los Angeles Times today ran an article on the editorial page that confirms my opinion about the "coup" in Honduras. (See the second article below this one.) According to the writer of the article, the method of removing the President from office was strictly according to the Honduran constitution. That constitution has no provision for impeaching a president. Instead, he can be arrested for violating the constitution. The constitution provides a single term of office for the president and does not allow for a national plebiscite for amending it. It can be amended only by a 2/3 vote in the Congress and a vote by the people. The President, Mr. Zelaya, was attempting to conduct a national vote on allowing a change so that he could serve another term of office. The supreme court ruled that his action was illegal and a violation of the constitution and that he had forfeited his office by attempting to carry out the plebiscite. An overwhelmimg majority in the congress supported the action of the court.

The court ordered the army to arrest Mr. Zelaya and put him in jail. Instead, the army officials who made the arrest escorted him out of the country. Sending him out of the country was the only illegal action.

So, it was not a coup. It was a process provided in the constitution of the country as a means of deposing a criminal president. No coup! I was right! I gloat!

Not only that, but I strongly favor that we adopt the Honduran method of getting rid of a criminal or incompetent president. Let the army arrest him and put him in jail. Impeachment doesn't work worth shit.

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Monday, July 06, 2009


American Exceptionalism

One of the latest forms of condemnation that the conservatives have found against Mr. Obama is that he doesn't believe in or assert the concept of American Exceptionalism. According to this concept America (i.e., the United States of America) has only good, benevolent intentions toward the rest of the world. We do not desire to acquire territory. We do not desire to impose our way of life on others, but we believe fervently in free speech, free and open elections, and government of, by, and for the people. We are unique and exceptional in that respect. No other country expresses and follows these high, altruistic ideals.

At least that's what American Exceptionalists believe and want the President to express. Mr. Obama, however, has publicly stated that each country has its own exceptional properties and values and they must be respected. That statement gets the conservatives really excited and up in arms. How dare our President admit that other nations are exceptional, also. How dare he say that our values are no better than the values of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Italians, etc. These other countries are greedy, venal, and intolerant. They're bad and we're good. Why can't our President say so?

This notion of American moral and ethical superiority led the Bush Administration to make some serious blunders in our treatment of other countries. Not only did the Bushies believe in our moral rectitude, they believed in our military invincibility. There was no sense of humility or caution in the early days of the Bush administration. I think toward the end there was a realization that they had been over-confident and a bit arrogant. Mr. Obama now has to go to great efforts to change that perception of this country. After eight years of Bush, it is time for a little humility.

If I could have a conversation with a conservative who believes in asserting American Exceptionalism, I would ask him about some rather famous foreign policy blunders that seemed to show that the United States was not interested in spreading the ideals of democracy around the world but rather in soliciting allies in a contest with other great powers, particularly the Soviet Union and China. We overthrew democratically elected leaders in Iran (1953), in Guatemala (1953 or 54), and in Chile (about 1974). In each case the deposed leader was replaced by a dictator: the Shah of Iran, the generals in Nicaragua and Chile. These are notorious examples of showing the world that we have no interest in democracy if it's a matter of denying the Russians an ally.

Another famous conservative, President Calvin Coolidge, once said that "the business of America is business." He was correct, honest, and truthful. These examples I have just cited all related to business. In Iran, the democratic leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, was thought to be inclined to enter into a trade agreement with the Soviet Union that would give the Russians control over the oil wealth of Iran. That would be bad for American businesses and Mossadegh had to be gotten rid of. In Guatemala the socialist president, Jacobo Arbenz, was about to nationalilze the agriculture, particularly the banana business. Our Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was rather heavily invested in United Fruit Corporation. Arbenz was about to do something that would depress the value of his stock. It was easy for Dulles to persuade President Eisenhower that Arbenz was a Communist and as such he had to be taken out.

The case of Chile is a little more difficult for me to fathom. This may have been a case of Kissinger's view of Realpolitik and his determination to deny the Russians another ally in the western hemisphere. They already had Cuba, a thorn in America's side, and Chile was one too many. We do not have any oil interest in Chile. Neither Kissinger nor Nixon held stocks in Chilean companies that export nitrate fertilizer, and vegetables and fruits that come into season at a time to complement the agriculture of California.

In spite of my critical rant, I agree that we are an exceptional country. We have an exceptional range of climates. We have an exceptional range of religious beliefs with almost everyone living in harmony with others. I believe this in spite of the murder of Dr. Tiller in Kansas a few weeks ago by some religious fanatics. Our fanatics are not as well organized or as numerous as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One thing I do not agree with is the assertion that we are a democratic country or that we have a truly representative form of government. Our government is constructed such that it is possible for 41 senators representing twenty-one of the least populous states to prevent the majority from taking action. These senators may represent as few as ten percent of the total population of the country. Our country was designed to be governed not by majority rule but by consensus. But, that's another subject.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009


Coup d'Etat in Honduras

Or was it a coup? The news media and the Obama administration have been quick to call the removal from office of the President of Honduras a coup because it was carried out by the army. In the past, armies in various Latin American countries have removed elected presidents from office by force. In most cases, a general took over the office of president and instituted a military dictatorship. In some cases, the American CIA was involved in replacing the president with a general. Examples are Nicaragua and Chile. In those cases, as in the case of Honduras, the ousted president was a socialist. In Nicaragua and Chile, the person who took over the government was a general with rignt-wing conservative ideas and allies.

Nothing like that has happpened in Honduras, as near as I can determine. The ousted president was a socialist and a follower of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The successor is the former vice-president, not a general. The new president is also a socialist and a member of the same party as the ousted president. The other institutions of government - the legislature, the courts - are still functioning as before.

The Hondurans have offered this explanation for ousting the president: He was planning to hold a national referendum to change the nation's constitution so that he could run for reelection next year. The constitution limits the president to one term in office, just like the constitution of Mexico. The Hondurans have also stated that holding a referendum is not a legal way of changing the nation's constitution. In simple terms, the president was breaking the law, or proposing to break the law. The country's supreme court and an overwhelming majority of the members of the legislature urged his arrest. The Army undertook to arrest him. However, rather than put him in jail, the Army allowed him to leave the country. He faces arrest and incarceration if he comes back.

Our administration has criticized Honduras for not following the procedure of impeachment. Let the president be tried and convicted, then arrest him and remove him from office. Well, we should talk. We have that process in our own constitution and it's been tried three times to remove an unpopular or law-breaking president. It worked only once in two hundred years. We've had plenty of incompetent, venal, and lying presidents and we've never used the impeachment process to get rid of them. I think we should take a lesson from the Hondurans instead of criticizing them. If the president appears to be committing crimes against the people, let him be arrested and tried, and either convicted or acquitted. Let's not monkey around with the lengthy and archaic process of impeachment.

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Friday, July 03, 2009


The Wisdom of Professor Kimber

Professor H. H. Kimber was one of my teachers when I was an undergraduate student at Michigan State College in East Lansing, Michigan. (It’s now called Michigan State University.) I remember one day in one of his history classes he remarked that democracy, as a system of government, doesn’t work unless there is agreement among the political factions on certain fundamentals. We can see today the wisdom of that remark in the behavior of our elected representatives both in the State and in the National legislatures. Our State legislature is hamstrung over the budget because Democrats and Republicans disagree over certain fundamentals, particularly how much service is the State to provide in areas of health care and education. There is a sincere and ideological difference between Democrats and Republicans on these issues. Since a 2/3 vote is needed to enact a budget and neither side is willing to capitulate to the other the result is a stand-off.

Our governor has made an effort, and I believe it was a sincere effort, to find a compromise between the Democratic and Republican beliefs about that services the State should provide. He was unable to persuade the Republicans to budge from their “no new taxes” position and now is trying to persuade or pressure the Democrats into accepting the Republican position. It isn’t working. He has become irrelevant.

As a Democrat I have only the most heartfelt God-damns for the Republicans and their stubborn position on any tax increase. At the same time, I can understand the frustration of a non-partisan voter at the stubbornness of both parties. This non-partisan voter believes that one party has to give in so that the State can have a budget and pay its bills. If the Republicans won’t budge, then the Democrats should do the honorable thing and concede to the Republican demands for the sake of the State. In a logical world, if the Democrats made the sacrifice they would be viewed as heroes.

But the world isn’t logical. Or, at least, human behavior isn’t logical. After the Democrats give up their beliefs and accept the Republican budget, the public would soon experience the results. Schools would be starved of resources. Public hospitals would have to turn away patients. Public assistance programs such as Medi-Cal would be severely curtailed. Some prisoners would have to be released. The public would be up in arms. Who would they blame? Many of them would blame the majority party in the legislature, the Democrats. They would not blame the Republicans for sticking to their principles. They would blame the Democrats for abandoning theirs.

Professor Kimber was a wise man.


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