Monday, February 28, 2011


Why are we so surprised?

Years ago in the campaign for proposition 13 the sainted Howard Jarvis told us that his goal was to reduce the revenue available to politicians.  Having less money, they would do less.  There'd be less annoying and costly regulation of business.  Besides, people should pay directly for the services they receive and not depend on government to provide them.  People should pay to use libraries, just like they pay to visit museums.  Parents should pay for their children's educations.  All of these services should be provided by private enterprrise.  Private businesses are more efficient than government.  Etc., etc., etc.

This philosophy of government did not originate with Mr. Jarvis.  It's an old idea, one cherished by Republicans for ages.  One of President Gerald Ford's favorite sayings was "government spends too much money."  An early advocate of "small" government was a business man who, about 1929, wrote an article complaining about how government regulations was costing his business too much money.  He didn't care about the size of government.  He simply wanted it to leave him alone.

The behavior of recently elected Republican governors and legislators indicates that their primary concern is not the size or strength of government but rather a government that will support the aspirations of their wealthy backers.  Governor Walker did not reduce the revenue of the government of Wisconsin to bring about "small" government.  His intent all along was to make Wisconsin a State hospitable to manufacturers by reducing the wages of workers.  To do that requires destroying labor unions.  He is starting with  the public employee unions.

We liberal progressives seem to have been caught off guard.  We are astonished and unbelieving that a governor could be so calculating as to produce a budget problem, then use that problem to attack the civil servants of the State.  But think back a few years.  When Bill Clinton left office, the federal revenue exceeded federal expenditures.  The national debt was being paid down.  One of George Bush's first accomplishments was to engineer a sustantial tax reduction.  Most of the benefits went to the wealthiest taxpayers.  The government has been running a deficit ever since.  Republicans are now using this deficit to justify their attacks on Social Security, Medicare, support for National Public Radio, and expansion of health care.  They're not talking about reining in the Defense budget or about letting Bush's tax cuts expire and going back to Clinton's tax rates.

We thought that the elections of 2006 and 2008 had put away these aspirations of some Republicans.  We shifted our attention to other matters, such as ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, extending the rights of marriage to gays and lesbians, providing true universal health care in California, and providing public funding for election campaigns.  Now we face the task of fighting for workers' rights.  It's as though we were living in the year 1911, not 2011.

We haven't been paying enough attention to our political enemies.  We've ignored the evidence of a wise man who believed in keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011


Idealism gone Mad

I am unhappy about the attempt in Wisconsin to crush public employee unions.  I'm unhappy because it looks like the start of an attack on all labor unions.  In effect, the governor of Wisconsin and his allies intend to restore the relations between labor and management that prevailed in 1880.  I know that Governor Walker is popular among Republicans.  However, I can't believe that nearly all Republicans support his draconian views of labor unions and the rights of workers.  I believe and will continue to believe until someone proves me wrong that a majority of Wisconsin residents and Americans generally believe that workers should have the right to collective bargaining.

I know that many sincere and kind-hearted people believe that public employees shouldn't have the right to strike.  If the firemen go on strike, who will put out the fires?  The argument is advanced that the same restriction shouldn't apply to workers in non-governmental organizations like auto plants and steel mills.  If Ford is shut down by a strike we can buy our cars from Toyota or GM.  We have only one fire department, one police department, etc., and we can't allow those services to be shut down by a labor dispute.

There is a reasonable argument on the contrary, which I won't discuss here.  My point is that Governor Walker's stand is supported by some idealistic people in addition to his cronies who simply want a labor force with no union and a high enough rate of unemployment that workers will accept starvation wages and abysmal working conditions just to have a job.  I am concerned about the idealists.  Like idealists everywhere they have their heroes and they occasionally support really bad policies and proponents of these policies that seem to fit with their ideals.  My hope is that these idealists will realize the negative implications of Governor Walker's proposed legislation and will join those of us who oppose his plan to destroy the public employees' unions.

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Misplaced Anger

Some of my friends ask me why I dislike Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska.  I've been giving that question some serious thought.  I've decided I don't really dislike her.  In order to dislike someone I have to know that person.  I don' know Sarah Palin.  I've never met her or even seen her in person at a distance.  If I did know her I might like her as a person.  I can't say.

What I dislike about her is her politics.  Now, truthfully, I agree with some of what she says and implies.  She is angry that the federal government spent so much money bailing out the Wall Street financial institutions, especially at learning that the managers of these institutions are back in business as usual, paying themselves huge salaries and bonuses, while at the same time the poor people who signed up for the sub prime mortgages that these rascals were peddling are now losing their homes to foreclosure.  In addition the federal government has spent diddly squat to help these soon to be homeless persons.  They get no bail-outs, no bonuses, no fat increases in salary.

Where Sarah and I disagree is that we are angry at different institutions.  She's angry at the government and especially at the Democrats.  I'm angry at the plutocrats who, with the vast power that money gives them, have taken control of our government and set its policies to favor their interests and screw the rest of us, Sarah and me alike.

Sarah Palin is the poster woman for the Tea Party Movement.  Tea Partiers have been convinced that it's the government's fault that we are in this mess.  The government should back off and not interfere so that the people can sort things out by themselves.  They ignore the great influence that the extreme plutocrats have on government.  They ignore the good that government has done during past recessions.  They ignore the great 20th Century President and his New Deal which, although it didn't bring an end to the depression of the 1930's, did provide help for those most affected by it.  Franklin Roosevelt did not waste money bailing out Wall Street.  He used money to provide jobs for the unemployed.  It's true that a good many of those jobs were simply "make-work" jobs and many commentators complained that the money to provide them  was wasted.  Other jobs created during the New Deal era produced lasting public works, art, mathematical tables, and other useful and valuable things.

I would admire Sarah Palin if she would advocate in favor of using government to help the poor and unemployed rather than doing nothing and letting the Wall Street plutocrats get off scot free.  Some of those rascals deserve to spend hard time in prison.


Saturday, February 26, 2011


Spiritualism vs. Multitasking

Friday morning after my walk with my friends Chuck and Wally I drove home.  In getting out of my car I used my right hand to shut the door.  In the process the tip of my right hand ring finger was caught between the top of the door and the door frame.  A piece of flesh and a piece of bone was separated from my finger.  I wrapped the bleeding finger with Kleenex and phoned 911 for an ambulance.  I retrieved the piece of the finger and took it with me to the emergency room.  The ER doctor, Dr. Yang, looked at it and decided it couldn't be reattached.  My finger was x-rayed, cleaned, dressed, and bandaged.  I was instructed not to take showers (to keep the bandage cry) and was given material to replace the bandage in two days.  I was given prescriptions for an antibiotic and for easing pain.  Monday or Tuesday I will visit a hand specialist who will look at the finger and decide on how to help it heal.

I've thought about this mishap for some time, trying to make sense of it.  I've been driving cars for about 70 years and never before have I caught my finger in a car door.  I thought that the spiritualists are correct.  A spirit was trying to get my attention.  Perhaps God himself (or herself) has an important message for me.  What was I thinking at the time?  Perhaps it was a thought that God disapproved of.  I couldn't remember what it was.  Was there some plan I had to do something that God didn't like?  Again, I came up with nothing.  Perhaps the message will be revealed to me when God is ready.  But, why then the unusual calamity with my finger?

Then I realized that there was a simple interpretation.  I am a man and a study recently revealed that men can't multitask.  Women can, but they're not good at it.  I was trying to multitask.  I was thinking about something else while I closed the door.  As a result I didn't pay attention to my fingers and one of them was caught in the door.  I realized that I occasionally tip over glasses of liquid at the table when I reach for something.  I must stop trying to multitask.  When I reach for something or close a door I must concentrate on what I'm reaching for or the door, not something else.  Perhaps that was God's message.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Governor Walker shows the way

Governor Walker is the Republican Governor of Wisconsin.  Like many other Republicans, he has a visceral hatred of unions and in particular the notion that disputes between employers and workers should be settled by collective bargaining, a form of finding a compromise between two desires, such as the desire of an employer to hire workers for the smallest possible pay to increase his profit and the desire of workers for a standard of living better than what they have.  He has shown all of us how to screw the public employee unions.
  1. Get elected with a majority in the State legislature.
  2. Grant a generous tax reduction to wealthy taxpayers, with small reductions to those with less income.
  3. Show that there now is a deficit in the State's budget.  There isn't enough income to pay for all the services.
  4. Go after the public employee unions.  Tell them they'll have to give up their recent salary increases and accept reduced pensions to reduce the State deficit.  Tell them they'll also have to give up collective bargaining, the right to strike, and the deduction for union dues from their paychecks.
It's a diabolical scheme.  Even President Nixon wouldn't have dared trying to get away with something like that.  Today it may work.  Public employee unions have been demonized in the news media and in particular in the speeches of many public officials.  No more than 12 percent of the working population belongs to a union these days.  The biggest unions are the public employee unions.

Some Republicans (e.g., Karl Rove) like this approach to electoral politics.  The unions are mostly strong supporters of the Democratic Party.  Weaken or destroy the unions and the Democrats will lack an important resource.

Non-partisan supporters of Governor Walker's ploy may argue that public employees shouldn't be allowed to strike anyway.  Government has a monopoly on the services it provides.  If the services are stopped because of a strike, the public can't choose another provider.  Public employees have [or should have] benefits not enjoyed by workers in private industry, such as better pay, better working conditions, and job security.  This non-partisan argument ignores the point that one reason public employees have these benefits is the effectiveness of their union in negotiating with government agencies.

Governor Walker has shown the way.  Republican Governors in other States are prepared to follow his lead.  I hope that the public recognizes this abominable scheme for what it is and rise up in support of the rights of public employees.


Monday, February 14, 2011


False Economy

On the editorial pages of today's (February 14) Los Angeles Times a pundit weighs in with a criticism of Governor Brown.  The criticism concerns Brown's proposal to place a tax increase referendum on the ballot so that voters can choose whether to increase the State's revenue.  The pundit points out that Candidate Brown did not campaign on a plan to increase taxes.  In addition, the public voted two years ago against a proposed tax increase.

Candidate Brown did not campaign on a plan to increase taxes!  Well, duh!  In the entire history of this republic, there was not one candidate who ever got elected by promising to increase taxes.  Brown knows that and I know that and I suspect the pundit knows that, also.  It is also widely recognized, even by Republicans, that the State of California can not provide services at the present levels with the income available.  Either taxes will have to be raised or services will have to be curtailed.  The voting public wants neither alternative.  We are faced with a failure of representative government.  One way or another, the public will have to take its medicine.

One solution to the problem of representative government being unable to make a necessary but unpopular decision is to replace the government with a dictatorship.  The dictator then makes the decision and suppresses all criticism of it.  We have seen this method of solving the problem put into effect in many countries during our lifetimes.  Governor Brown has pointed out another way out of the dilemma: let the public decide in a fair and open election what medicine to take.  The legislature should agree to placing the proposal on the ballot.  There should then be a lively, open, and extensive discussion of the measure and the consequences of adopting it or rejecting it.  We've had enough talk about how to provide services that the public wants by getting rid of waste and corruption, of creative bookkeeping, etc., etc., etc.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Nothing Puzzling About It

Regarding the behavior of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, many of my liberal friends and allies have been puzzled at the behavior of the Republicans.  Nearly everyone agrees that the economy is in the tank and that the first priority of responsible legislators is to do something to get it out of the tank.  However, the Republican majority has made a priority of repealing the health care legislation just enacted last year, imposing new and draconian restrictions on a woman's right and ability to obtain an abortion, and ringing declarations about the definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.  The puzzle is, why would grown men and women engage in such things and do nothing about the sad shape of our economy?

The answer is simple.  These Republicans are supporters of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.  He asserted that the troubles that we experience are God's punishment for our transgressions.  To placate God and call off the punishment we must reassert our absolute dedication to Christian values.  Homosexuality is evil; the Bible calls for homosexuals to be stoned to death.  Abortion is a form of murder and violates one of the Ten Comandments.  Divorce is forbidden.  If only we Americans would again embrace these values God would again look upon us with favor and such troubles as a bad economy, losing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the low opinions that many foreigners have of our government leaders would all go away.

So, according to their beliefs, the Republicans are doing something to solve the problems of abad economy.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Three Cheers for Jerry!

Governor Brown has laid it on the line for the Legislature and for the people of California.  Without more revenue there will have to be big cuts in important services, such as education.  According to this morning's paper, twelve billion dollars in cuts are needed unless the public votes to increase certain taxes.  To the people, if you want to keep the system of public education in a good state, it will take more money than we now have.  To those concerned that increased taxes will drive business out of the State, a bad education system will drive away more businesses than higher taxes.

A 2/3 vote is necessary to put the tax increase initiative on the ballot.  Brown has put it to the Republicans: If none of you vote to allow the public to vote on the increased taxes, then you propose a budget that fits the available income.  You propose which services are to be cut or eliminated so that the people of the State can see where you stand.

If the 2/3 vote is not available, we will have to collect signatures to place a public initiative on the ballot.  We have work to do.

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