Wednesday, June 23, 2010


About Constitutional Rights - are they absolute?

I'm sure I've written something about this idea before. I'm too lazy to go through the archives to find out what I've written. Besides, the idea isn't all that good or original. It's inspired by some of the propaganda of the National Rifle Association and other organizations that I have a tenuous and testy relationship with.

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

Helen Thomas was forced to retire as punishment for her assertion that the Israelis who are occupying land belonging to displaced Palestinians ought to go home. Of course, many of the Israelis don't have any other homes to go to, so her prescription wasn't useful in finding an equitable solution to the problem of the people who have been forced to give up their lands so that European and American Jews can occupy them.

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

Having achieved the age of 87 years and 3 months, I can claim that I have reached "old age." I look at news accounts of prominent people who have died and notice that many of them are younger than I. I have outlived both of my parents, all of my grandparents, and probably all of my great-grandparents. With all this living I must have learned something about life. What I have learned includes a belief that one must be very tolerant and laid-back in relations with other people. Make new acquaintances, but let the friendships develop on their own. Don't try to force things. Don't try to control what happens. Let what's going to happen happen.

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

This morning I had breakfast with some friends. I discussed the election briefly with one of them. He said that he was indifferent about the outcome of the election. I said that I was disappointed. He asked, why?

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:

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

It's election night in June, 2010. I was going to write two blogs about recent events. Then I looked at early election returns, abou 8:20. The polls had closed only 20 minutes earlier. There was nothing unusual or surprising about the race for governor. Democrats were nominating Jerry Brown. Republicans were nominating Meg Whitman. Everything is as expected. The world is good, God's in His heaven, etc.

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

Joe Biden, our Vice President, has joined the chorus of Israel's spin singers by asserting that Israel has a right of self-defense and therefore, by implication, should not be criticized by the way in which it foiled the attempt to break the blockade of Gaza. Isreal has enough apologists. Mr. Biden's help isn't needed. To me it is humiliating that our Vice President, who recently was given the royal snub by Mr. Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, who announced that settlement building would continue on the day that Mr. Biden arrived in Jerusalem to try to persuade Mr. Netanyahu to at least put a hold on more settlement building for a while. It seems as though Mr. Biden has no self-respect. I wonder what kind of pressure he is under to continue to sing the praises of Israel no matter what Israel seems to have done.

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."


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