Wednesday, June 23, 2010
About Constitutional Rights - are they absolute?
The limit on any constitutional right, such as the right to free speech, the right to own a gun, the right against self-incrimination, etc., etc., etc., is that the exercise of that right does not do harm to another person. We all know that the cry of "fire" in a crowded theater is not an absolute right. The right to own and use guns must be limited to restrain me from shooting and injuring my neighbor. It should also be limited such that I can't give or sell a gun to a person who is mentally unstable or otherwise and is highly likely to use it to commit a crime. My guns must be protected to prevent theft by criminals.
Many of these limitations that seem obvious today were not apparent to the Americans of 1787. Large cities in those days had populations of thousands, not millions. There was plenty of open space. People didn't live close together. If I wanted to practice target shooting I didn't have to worry that the noise would bother my neighbor who lived on another farm a quarter mile away. If I wanted to build a fire and burn wood or bituminous coal I didn't have to be concerned that the noxious smoke from the fire would affect the health of my neighbors. Again there was distance and infinite dilution of the fumes.
Today we are so crowded together that we are told we must use non-polluting fuel in our automobiles; power plants must scrub all the acid compounds from the smoke of the burning coal that supplies the energy to the generators; we are faced with having to create almost overnight a revolution in our energy production to limit the effects that human activity has on global temperatures.
It's late. I'll add to this later. Good Night.
Helen Thomas was Partly Right
The present situation in that part of the world is more depressing today than ever. To me it is obvious that the present leaders of Israel have no interest in finding a compromise that will let the Palestinians have a part of the land they once occupied and had title to. The goal of these leaders is to achieve a "final solution" to the problem by making the Palestinians go away. Of course, the Prime Minister has more sense than to express such a goal openly because it might cost him the support of Israel's American sponsor. Israel is the largest recipient of American foreign aid. Egypt is next. I don't know who's third.
Here's what I think Helen Thomas should have said: The people of Israel are occupying land that they have taken by force from the Palestinian people. It may be unreasonable to expect that they will give it back. However, they should at least pay for the land they have stolen. The Palestinians who still hold titles to property within Israel proper and who can't even visit it deserve just compensation for their property. They should be able to sell it at a very good price to the present occupants.
Moreover, the theft of property goes on. New Israeli settlements often block off farm land from Palestinian farmers. The settlers eventually claim the blocked off farm land for more settlements. There is no talk of compensating the farmers who are suddenly bereft of their livelihood.
The settlers use as their justification the account in the Bible in which God gave the land to Moses and his followers. They are simply reclaiming land that the Romans took by force from their ancestors about 2000 years ago. Muslims claim that the same God gave the land to them when they converted the occupants to Islam. As a practicing, if not devout, Christian I find these conflicting claims quaint. God is an Indian giver. God giveth land to the Jews; God taketh away the land and giveth it to the Muslims. Blessed be the holy name of God.
More seriously, I believe that our government is complicit in trying to establish a religious state in an area east of the Mediterranean Sea. Our government is forbidden by our constitution from establishing a religious state here in North America. It seems wrong for us to do in a foreign land what we must not do at home.
Finally, even though the Israeli government seems immune to our longing for a peaceful, two-state solution to the problem, our President has at hand a means of immediately engaging the rapt attention of Benyamin Netanyahu: simply cut off the money. Stop the subsidy, at least temporarily.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Wisdom of Old Age
This wisdom, if you permit me the use of the word, sounds like that of a conservative libertarian. Let people do whatever they want. Let government do as little as possible in controlling or restricting the lives of people. Within limits I agree with these simple, tolerant rules.
However, there are limits to tolerance. In personal relations, I will not take part in any activity that I believe may be harmful to others. Just as I limit my own behavior and that of my friends and close acquaintances, so also I would have government limit the behavior of the people. The people must be restrained from doing harm to each other. We have laws in Los Angeles prohibiting the firing of guns into the air with live ammunition because the bullets will eventually fall back to earth and may hit and injure some person or creature or object. We have laws limiting the rate of emission of pollutants from a power plant. We are debating laws to impose a cost on the emission of such greenhouse gases as CO-2. Some conservatives and libertarians oppose such laws. I do not share that opposition.
I tell myself that I have gained wisdom with age. I hope so.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Usual Disappointment after an Election
I explained that I was disappointed because I always have the belief or the hope before an election that this time the voters will think about what's best for the people or the state and not their immediate feelings of anger, frustration, and fear. As near as I could tell, I said, the voters were motivated by two feelings in deciding their votes on the five propositions on the California State Ballot:
- Proposition 13 would allow buildings to be retrofitted for earthquake safety without any change in the property tax. It passed.
- Proposition 14 would abolish the present partisan primary election and replace it with a simple non-partisan election in which the two top vote-getters would run against each other in the fall general election. It passed.
- Proposition 15 would repeal the existing ban on state funding of election campaigns and provide funding for the Secretary of State election in 2014 and 2018. It failed.
- Proposition 16 would provide Pacific Gas and Electric a virtual monopoly on providing electrical power and gas to San Francisco. The monopoly could be broken by a 2/3 popular vote. It failed.
- Proposition 17 would provide that auto owners could bring their good driver discounts with them when they changed insurance companies. However, it eliminated many constraints and regulations from the insurance companies. It failed.
I am pleased that Propositions 16 and 17 failed. It shows that the voters saw through the ads in favor of them and realized that PG&E and Mercury Insurance were spending a pot of money to get them enacted. The only one of the five that I voted for, Proposition 15, failed. I think that 15 failed for the same reason that 13 passed. Both were regarded from the single point of view: taxes. Part of the argument against 15 was that, in order to raise the money to provide campaign funding, at some time in the future taxes would have to be increased. The same argument was persuasive in favor of 13. It was a guarantee not to raise taxes on a building even if the value of the building was greatly increased by the retrofit.
Proposition 14 appealed to the non-partisan or "independent" voters who are not members of political parties and hate the parties anyway. Propositon 14 gave them a chance to stick it to both major parties and all the minor ones and they took the opportunity.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
A Jumble of Opinions
Then I looked at the results for the five propositions and I was appalled. Every one that I had voted against was ahead. The one that I had voted for was behind. Pacific Gas and Electric was on the way to cementing its place as the electric power provider for San Francisco and other parts of the State. Mercury Insurance was winning. Why did voters vote this way? And why are they opposed to the idea of public financing of elections? The gods must be crazy tonight.
What was I going to kvetch about? Helen Thomas, for one. She said something publicly in criticism of Israel. All at once she's forced into early retirement at age 89. What she said was that the Israelis shouldn't continue taking land away from the Palestinians; those Israelis living in land reserved for the Palestinians by the rest of the world should relinquish it and go back to their homes. Then she said something that she shouldn't have said: their homes are in Germany and Poland and America. The implication was that all of Israel should simply pack up and leave the area and the people return to the places from whence they came. Of course, by now many Israelis were born and raised in Israel and speak Hebrew as their native language. They have no other home to return to. In its entirety Helen Thomas's comment was intemperate. By no means was it anti-Semitic or expressing hatred for Jews as Jews.
The whole episode shows the strength of the Israeli spin machine in the United States. According to the Israeli spin,
criticism of Israel = hatred of Jews, or anti-Semitism
This is an illustration of the power of the Israeli lobby in the United States. Our news media as well as our elected officials cower before this power.
I was going to comment about something else. Perhaps I'll remember it tomorrow.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
I'd Like to Spank Joe Biden
I don't know any facts that haven't been aired and published in the news media. I believe that Israeli commandos landed by helicopter on one of the ships sailing toward Gaza. There was a fight in which several of the activists on the ship were killed or injured. I'm guessing that the Israeli commandos then took command of the ship and steered sit to an Israeli seaport. I remember seeing a report that Israel would inspect the cargo and send part of it on to Gaza.
The presumption is that part of the cargo of the ships attempting to break the blockade consisted of weapons to be used by Hamas soldiers against Israel. That is certainly Israel's excuse for stopping the ships. I won't deny Israel that excuse. However, if I were in position to advise the people and the government of Israel, I would say something like the following:
"You people should make up your minds what your real objective is. Do you want peace now or do you want to continue trying to restore and reclaim all of the Biblical state of Israel? Whatever it is, be honest with the rest of the world. If you want to restore all of ancient Isreal, then you should never have moved out of Gaza and you should have maintained full control over the West Bank. In addition, you should make humane provision for relocating all of the Palestinian people whom you have driven from their homes or who still live in the West Bank. Give them something of value to compensate them for the homeland you have taken from them.
"On the other hand, if you really do want peace now, agree to the creation of a Palestinian State on part of ancient Israel and make peace with that state, regardless of what political faction is in charge of it. Accept Hamas as a legitimate political faction and stop pretending that it is a terrorist organization. Accept that Hamas has a slogan that implies the end of the State of Israel. Slogan or not, Hamas doesn't have the power today to put you out of existence.
"As an example of lofty and unrealizable claims, the official title of the King of Thailand asserts that he is the ruler of most of Asia, including Burma, Viet Nam, and China! Treat the Hamas slogan as a lofty but unrealizable claim and get on with the business of establishing peaceful and stable relations with whatever state the Palestinians choose for themselves."