Thursday, April 30, 2015

Values Cost Money, Whether You're Black Or White

And here's the proof.  Thanks, Mr. Krugman.

An Early Monument To Recycling

A hill in Rome, made up of pottery shards recycled during the Roman Empire.  One aspect in which we should not be afraid to emulate Rome.

Even Some Conservatives Get It

The fact that there is both money and freedom in the sun, that is.  Somehow, it's not surprising that enlightenment on this point would happen in Florida, though it kind of makes you wonder about the naysayers in what is called, after all, the Sunshine State.  I can only assume that (a) they all own oil stock, and (b) they don't care that their beachfront properties will be under water in 20 years.

The "Bipartisan" Lie

And how Obama got over it, and why the rest of us should stay over it.  Read here.

The Numbers Don't Lie

Recycling makes dollars and sense.

I'm Sick And Tired Of Hearing About So-Called "Responsible" Gun Owners

And here's why.

Baltimore: The Truth Isn't Black And White (Or Black Versus White)

In the past seven days, my home town has exploded, literally and figuratively, into the national consciousness.  We've all seen the same media coverage.  We've all watched the same footage of protests, peaceful and violent.  We've all experienced the same mix of emotions:  sadness, anger, frustration, despair.  We've already seen the process of understanding these events degenerate into an exercise in finger-pointing that is, in many cases, transparently and ridiculously self-serving. And, perhaps worst of all, we've failed in our national discussion to move beyond the simplistic description of this tragedy as though it were some sort of football game:  Black Protesters Versus Police In Riot Gear, and Who Scored The Most Today?  (I guess that's what we should expect from Fox, given all of the money they spend on sports coverage.)

But cities are complicated organisms, which is a major part of what has always made them so fascinating to me.  They are made up of individuals, each of whom is more than the sum total of their demographic mix.  They are deeply affected by individual events, good and bad (an employer leaving town, for example, or a new one showing up).  Over time, the people, the events, and the ways in which all of them interact with each other create the image of each city that visitors and outside observers have of them.  The bottom line:  We didn't get here overnight.  And all of us, for better or for worse, have a share in the blame for where things are now, as well as a stake in making them better.

When one is writing about the impact that individual people and events can have, one should disclose all aspects of one's personal stake in the discussion.  I have family members whose lives were nearly ruined as a result of the 1968 riots in Baltimore, as well as one family member who had adverse dealings with the current Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  I do not believe that those facts will slant what I have to say here but, if you feel otherwise, I won't stop you from clicking elsewhere.  If you are willing to hear me out in spite of that disclosure, please read on.

Let's start with the bigger picture, and work from there.  Baltimore's problems did not begin with the Obama Administration or, for that matter, with the transformation of both Baltimore and Maryland into reliable bastions of Democratic voters over the past 50 years.  They began much, much earlier, over 100 years ago, with the deliberate use of land regulation to shove African-Americans into communities where they could be effectively "contained" by the then-white majority. This history, which still shapes the neighborhoods of Baltimore today, is documented here.

And here, you can find a discussion of other forces that have accelerated the downward spiral of the African-American community into poverty and despair.  Redlining, which began in the 1930s.  The subprime mortgage crisis, in the first decade of this century.  And, in between, the war on drugs--a war that drugs have won hands down, along with the private prisons that have gained a market for their services.  The article also mentions gentrification and urban renewal; I tend to think there's room for debate about the negativity of those trends, which have after all helped to maintain the tax base of cities otherwise desperate to pay for essential services.

There is no room for debate, however about the city's police department.  Its arrest record speaks for itself.  And I'm not talking about the police arresting civilians; I'm talking about police officers being arrested themselves.  As well as the city losing or settling over 100 police brutality cases over the past four years.  And the police themselves are clearly worried enough about their image to go after the press.  Directly.  Well, There is no perception problem here; Baltimore has a serious crisis within its police force, one that harms black and white residents.  And no small amount of the problem lies in the fact that.most of them don't even live there.  That gives them neither knowledge nor accountability when it comes to the residents of the city they are responsible for protecting.

Which takes me from the big picture to the immediate picture:  the violence of last Saturday and Monday night.  I hate violence.  All violence.  It begets nothing but itself.  And the role of outsiders in that violence cannot be discounted.  But here's an example of how journalism isn't happening when it comes to this story:  who's paying the bills of the outsiders?  Who's to say that they aren't on the payroll of forces who benefit from the politics of racial division?  Why assume that they're being sent here by Al Sharpton and not, let's say, Donald Trump?  And why are "reporters" not asking those questions, and getting answers?  Could it be that they don't want you to know?

And, if we then go from the immediate picture down to the individuals who form it, we don't find the us-versus-them portrait that the corporate press want to frame in your mind.  We find the director of a homeless center for youth, a homeless center burned down, who nevertheless finds the community anger to be "legitimate."  We find a baseball executive whose team's games were cancelled and then relocated as a result of the protests, who nevertheless defended the rights of the protesters.  And we find a mother wading into danger to pull her son out of a confrontation and discipline him.  And this doesn't even begin to get into the stories of thousands of protesters protesting peacefully, or cleaning up their communities after the violent nights.

Baltimore is not a monolith.  It is not a divide.  It is what every city is:  a collection of individual lives that, jointly and severally, strive to get beyond the weight of their personal and collective history to make their world, and our world, a better one.  And we can help them do so by giving a lot more than a damn about them, as our President has said.  We can, hopefully, at the same time develop a less two-faced attitude toward the subject of violence.

All of that said, there is one more thing to say.  Notwithstanding any of the foregoing, there must be accountability for the violence.  And that accountability must be as individual as the city itself. It must, of course, include the immediate perpetrators.  But it must also include the Mayor, who, throughout this entire horrible week, has demonstrated no understanding either of the feelings of the communities harmed by police brutality, nor a clear understanding of either the problems within her own police force or of how to address those problems.  It must also include the Police Commissioner, whose deployment of his own forces has raised serious questions about whether any of this needed to happen in the first place.

Both of them need to spend less time defending themselves, and more time learning about the problems that have festered on their watch, and to which their own actions and/or inactions may have contributed.  And, if that cannot or will not do that, they at least ought to have the decency to resign.

As for the rest of us?  Let's stop making assumptions about how and why things happen.  Regardless of where we live, or how light or dark our skin is, let's spend as much time listening as we do talking. It might be the only way to prevent more deaths like the one suffered by Freddie Gray, whose loss of life may not yet be in vain, if it becomes the turning point in our national conversation about race.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I Love Elizabeth Warren--As A Senator

You've got to admire their tenacity.  Up to a point, that is.

I'm talking about the folks who want Elizabeth Warren, the freshman Democratic Senator from Massachusetts and champion of the 99%, to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016.  Of course, they don't just want her to run; they want her to win. And they are convinced that America's next President will be a Republican if she doesn't run.

Of course, she has said that she is not running.  More than once.  And, when she has done so, there's been nothing coy about it.  Nothing to suggest that she's waiting for the media or her party to seduce her into running.  Nothing to suggest that she has any ambition other than to continue giving the 1% hell in the U.S. Senate.  But that hasn't stopped her supporters from pushing her to run. Against the odds and the facts, they keep on pushing.

Why?  Hillary seems like a sure thing, in spite of her early missteps, for not only the nomination but also for the general election.  And it's not like she doesn't have at least some credentials for progressives to respect.  All you can really say about Warren, by comparison, is that she has more of them.  Is it about all those deals that Hillary's husband cut with congressional Republicans?  Maybe. But isn't it at least a little bit sexist to assume that Hillary would function as a President exactly the way that Bill did, just because she was his First Lady?  Is it really the "dynasty" angle?  Maybe, although, if she ends up facing Jeb Bush, that issue may not be much of a weapon against her.

But I think it is something related to this latter point, in a way.  And it's not something that her supporters should take as a compliment.

The authors of our Constitution decided against allowing a legalized aristocracy in their new nation, knowing the harm that hundreds of years of aristocracy had done in Europe.  While that has no doubt served our country well in a number of ways, it left us hungry for the opportunities that nobility in a nation provides for the expression of our innate desire to not simply love our country, but to worship it through the pageantry and formality that an aristocratic class provides.

The reality of presidential elections is that, every four years, we elect a new government.  But for conservatives who detest the very idea of a government, presidential elections are about something different.  Since all forms of government are evil to them, they are not as concerned about Republican candidates' positions on issues as they are about what type of person they are being asked to vote for, and what that person believes.  Republican voters want to be inspired by who the person is, and by the feeling of patriotism evoked by who they think the person is.  In short, they view presidential elections as the process for choosing a new king.

I may bite my tongue for saying what I am now about to say, but I fear that Democrats, who value government and its impact on political issues (and who therefore should know better) have for some reason adopted a mode of thinking about this election that closely resembles the Republican mindset. They are not interested in the candidate most likely to get across the finish line in a position to advance one or more of their causes.  They want someone whose ideology is pure beyond question, someone they can worship from afar, someone who will spare them the day-to-day necessity of worrying about their favorite cause.  In short, they too want a king--or, in this case, a queen.

I worry that this line of thinking, if in fact it is real, shows that the ideological ferocity of Republican politics over the past several decades has destroyed within Democrats the capacity for civilized debate and, ultimately, for civilized government.  After the damage done by the last Bush Administration, the last thing this country needs is an ideological war that nearly pushes the country over the cliff.  We desperately need someone who not only believes, but thinks, and can work with people who don't necessarily think identically.  I believe Hillary has shown that she can do that.

And I think that Elizabeth Warren is capable of that as well.  But as a President, term limits would cut short the length of her career, and of her effectiveness as a progressive advocate within our government.  Better that she should grow old and serve long in Teddy Kennedy's old Senate seat, and become the next Lion of the Senate.

And better for all of us if we took all of the energy now being directed to pushing Warren into the White House, and used it to elect a Senate with more Senators like her, who would also not be term-limited.  There's no reason for it to be either-or--in fact, either-or could set the cause of progressive politics back years, if it cost us the White House and failed to pick up the Senate.  Just imagine what the Supreme Court might look like in that case.

Hillary in the Oval Office, and Warren at the head of a new Senate majority.  Perfect together. Let's start aiming together for that.  Today.

No Empire Lasts Forever

Not even the British Empire.  And, like most dying empires, it is being pulled about from within.

Solar Roads?

They are possible, and they have enormous potential.  Take a look.

A $2 Trillion Foreign-Aid Program

That's what tax cuts for the rich really are.

For Every Man Who Is Self-Conscious About His Appearance

Take heart from this.  And good for you, sir.  Dance your heart out!

Selfishness And Self-Interest Are NOT The Same Thing

I've made that point before.  And I'm happy to make it again.

Greening The Autobahn?

If only we had the political will to do this to our Interstate Highway System.  The potential benefits would be enormous.

There Is Only One Villain In The Pete Rose Tragedy

And his name is Pete Rose.

I'd like to think that this is an obvious point.  I've seen it from the very beginning.  And, while Pete Rose is far from being my favorite baseball player, I think it's a genuine tragedy that he is ineligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Statistically, and otherwise, his career is the sort that deserves recognition with membership in the Hall.

Except, of course, for one thing.

He violated a rule that is posted in every professional baseball clubhouse from rookie leagues all the way up to the majors.  He would have seen that rule every single day of his career.  He was on notice, every single day of his career, that he was in danger of being excluded permanently from the sport he obviously loved so much if he violated that rule.  And, in spite of all that, he violated it anyway.

Why?  Why would he do something with the potential to destroy his relationship to baseball? Because he was Pete Rose.  Because he thought he had charmed everyone, especially in the media, to the point where he was bulletproof.  To the point where he thought he was bigger than the game.

And, sadly, there are still people, especially in the media, who are so charmed.  Take Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, for example.  He recently wrote about Rose, making the point that he is the only player in baseball history to have his permanent ineligibility from the game extended to potential membership in the Hall, and adding that, if the baseball writers who vote on Hall membership are forced to sort through the steroid generation of players, they should at least get a chance to have a say on Rose's fate with Cooperstown.

That's fair enough, so far as it goes.  But, on reflection, it starts to feel like an argument that allows leeway for both gamblers and substance abusers.  If we're going to make peace with expanding the range of bad behavior that's forgivable in the game, where does that stop?  Rose's gambling and the steroid sinners are bells in the history of the game that can't be unrung.  But they ought to serve as guideposts for how the game operates going forward.  The solution isn't to relax the gambling rule, but to make the drug rules tougher.  One drug violation, a year's suspension; two violations, a lifetime ban and the erasure of all statistics.  And don't say it can't be done with the players' union; take a strike, if you have to.  Baseball executives might be surprised by the percentage of the public that would support them on this.

I hold no brief for the Hall of Fame, or the people running it.  Their conduct in excluding Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon from participating in a Hall event because of their political views is, among other things, a violation of their tax-exempt status.  Despite that fact, they certainly have the right to define the terms of membership in the Hall.  That they have chosen to exclude Rose from membership consideration based on his permanent ineligibility from MLB speaks to nothing other than a real respect for the integrity of the game.  There is no reason to think the decision stems from any personal animosity toward Rose.

There certainly is no personal animosity from the media toward Rose.  And why should there be?  He courted them, gave them great quotes, probably passed along more than his share of scoops.  And they responded by making him ... well, Pete Rose.  A guy who thought he was so popular that he was bigger than the game.  Are they really the best people to be evaluating Rose's fate with the Hall? Doesn't their own participation in elevating his image create a conflict of interest for them in making that evaluation, since it would effectively allow them to validate their own role in Rose's tragedy?

And, once again, it is tragedy with only one villain.  And his name is Pete Rose.  He's the one who broke the rule.  He is paying a price that is proportionate to the offense.  He's not in jail.  He's free to pursue any work he wants, including baseball-related work, such as his new job with Fox Sports. His records are all allowed to stand, and are even included in Hall exhibits.  He just can't be a member of the Hall.

He did this to himself.  I'd not happy he did it.  I can understand why Mr. Madden is not happy about it.  But none of us can undo the dilemma Pete Rose created for himself.  And, even as things stand, his life serves to illustrate a principle that should be considered as American as any:  no one is above the game.

Not even Charlie Hustle.

Take It Personally, Mr. President, But Let Us Read It

I'm grateful that congressional Democrats have stiffened their spines in the face of the full-court press by their Republican counterparts, working in conjunction with the President so many of them hate, to fast-track the negotiation and final approval of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP, for short, appears to be an Asian counterpart to NAFTA--or, to look at it another way, yet another attempt to relocate American jobs overseas under the guise of promoting global prosperity through "free trade."  We have been assured that these fears are groundless, that TPP in its current form includes protections for domestic workers, as well as for environmental issues.

Sounds great.  There's just one problem.  "Fast track," in this case, includes the inability of anyone in the U.S. other than the President and his negotiators to read the terms of TPP before they vote on it. Or, for that matter, to offer any changes in those terms prior to an up-or-down vote on it.

I don't know if that bothers you or not but, whatever your political persuasion may be, I think it should.  It bothers me a lot.  For one very simple reason:  It's not the way our system of government is supposed to work.

We have a Constitution that diffuses power within the Federal government and outside of it, among the states and individuals.  That diffusion is designed to ensure that government truly is of, by, and for the people, because the people are able to weigh in on issues facing the nation.  "Fast track," on the other hand, is not about weighing in on anything.  It's about giving not only this President, but any and all of his successors, the ability to run roughshod over the concerns of the governed.

Sadly, Barack Obama doesn't seem to see it that way.  Not only has he defended the TPP process, he's made it clear how unhappy he is that "folks" (as he might call them) within his own party have called him out for pushing it as hard as he has.  Or, to put it in his own words, "I take that personally."

As well you might, Mr. President.  As well you might.

But facts are stubborn things, as someone once said.  And the fact is, sir, that you have put more muscle behind moving TPP than you have behind anything else.  More muscle than you put behind immigration.  More than you put behind cap-and-trade legislation.  More than you put behind financial regulation, or health care, or even the economic stimulus.  In each case, you were content to play a background role, and let the legislative process play itself out--and, as a consequence, get a lot less in the results that your supporters wanted.

And it's not as if there aren't a whole host of other issues behind which you could put similar muscle. Raising the minimum wage.  Solving the student debt crisis.  Repairing the damage done by the Supreme Court to the Voting Rights Act.  Enacting sensible restrictions on guns, of the kinds that were formerly supported by member of both parties.

Why take the major stand of your presidency here?  And why is your message, "Trust me"?

Why not trust us?  You belong to a party that prides itself on robust debate.  You promised us a transparent presidency.  You were formerly a vociferous critic of earlier trade agreements, and the harm they have done to our economy.  Why betray all of that for the sake of TPP?  For the sake of the twin siren calls of history and the media, whispering in your ear that they only love "bipartisan" presidencies?  Is that it?  Is it something else?

Why not just end the guessing game, and the suspicion that goes hand-in-hand with it, by just letting our elected representatives read the damn thing?  Why not show us what transparency actually looks like?  Why not "trust the process," as you were so willing to at every other fork in the road of your Administration?

I'm one of your biggest supporters, Mr. President, but you're acting like a petulant child on this one, not like a leader.  Trust the process.  Trust the people.  Trust your own party.  You want trust?  Get it the old-fashioned way.  Earn it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Real Jihadists Among Us

They're not necessarily Muslims.  They can be good old conservative Christians, calling for your head if you object to the words "In God We Trust" on public property.  Of course, it's done anonymously, proving that the author doesn't have the courage of his or her alleged convictions.  But it does make one worry about the possibility that, somewhere out there, there may be an exception to that rule.

What Do Conservatives Do With The Truth?

Hide it, of course, as is the case with Oklahoma and fracking.

If A Reagan Advisor Said It, It Must Be True

On the subject of members of Reagan's party:  "... rather stupid and not very well read."  Hey, all I'm doing is quoting.

This Is How You REALLY Fight Terrorism

Hit them where it hurts:  in the pocketbook.

Captain America's Not The Only One Thawed Out

Read about how global warming is reviving life forms frozen for millennia, and bringing them back to life.

When Is A Conservative OK With Seizing Private Land?

When it's to be used for a pipeline.  This is all you need to know about modern conservatism:  profits trump principles.

In Praise of Judith Malina

And not just her, but also her husband, Julian Beck, and the Living Theater (or "the Living"), which they co-founded.  Though I have to admit, I'm not sure I would have always offered them praise.

I first learned about them in a New York Times article that described an event billed as the First Annual Congress of Theater that took place in 1974.  It was an early attempt to find common ground between commercial and non-profit theater enterprises and, as such, it was something less than a complete success.  The one quote from this article that has stood out in my mind over the years is from Beck, who, at one point during a panel discussion, ran into the audience and screamed "The capitalist pig theater must go!  It must die!  We rejoice in its death!"

Even conceding that this moment was completely consistent with the aesthetic of the Living, both in form and content, it always annoyed me.  By this time, thanks in no small part to Joseph Papp and his New York Shakespeare Festival, it was already painfully obvious to me that commercial and non-profit theater could in fact collaborate, in a mutually beneficial way.  To say otherwise, then and now, was to deny what was already happening.  And yet, as the Times account of the Congress demonstrates, there were people on both sides of the theater divide committed to denial.

In the intervening decades, of course, both sides were forced to move beyond denial.  Skyrocketing production costs limited Broadway's ability to take risks with producing new work.  Shrinking government and foundation support limited off-Broadway and regional theater's ability to produce anything at all.  Today, as a consequence, collaboration between the two worlds is now taken as a given, and I am grateful for that.

But with age comes a somewhat deep appreciation of what made theater appealing to me in the first place.  And the one aspect of theater that I value the most is that it offers the potential for anything and everything to happen, whether it is Mother Courage sacrificing her children, or Anna and the King of Siam bringing East and West together with a waltz.  When theater can maximize that potential, our ability to understand ourselves and each other is maximized as well.

And, in the non-profit arena, no one did more than Beck and Malina to maximize the ability of theater to serve as a political force as well as an artistic one.  As long as there are men and women like Beck and Malina alive, to call into question our most powerful assumptions about our system of government with works like "The Brig," you will know that the First Amendment is alive and well. And, simultaneously, you will know that we have the fearless theater we all need to feel fully alive.

So I join with American Theater among many other individuals and institutions in mourning Malina's passing, knowing that, even though she and her husband have both gone off to that great performance space in the sky, they have left behind them a theater company, and a point of view, that all of us can hope will never die.

Bravo, Julian and Judith.  May we all aspire to outrage, inform and transform others as you did.

A "BFD" For Hillary

Now that she's officially a candidate, and part of the debate about the future direction of this country, it's time for Hillary Clinton to start talking about what her BFD will be.

You may or may not remember those initials.  They related back to a time nearly five years ago, when we had a Democratic Congress as well as a Democratic President, and things that were good for the nation actually got done.  Obamacare, for example.  When its namesake President signed it into law, his loquacious Vice President, Joe Biden, told him that it was a "big f**king deal," or, as it was sometimes abbreviated, "BFD."  It has, of course, proved to be that politically but, happily, it has proved to be just that as a benefit for the American people.  Imagine, for a moment, what the Republicans would be saying if they had passed a bill that saved the American people half a trillion dollars over each of the next five years.  My guess is that they would be talking about it quite a lot. But, of course, not one of them voted for it.  So, instead, they are just quietly making peace with it. For their states, and for themselves.

Hillary's husband, of course, had his own BFD, with the help of his Vice President, Al Gore.  While Gore did not "invent" the Internet (a claim he never made, by the way), he did push legislation that transformed it from a system primarily used by government agencies into one that has become the dominant cultural and even economic medium of our era.  And the economic benefits of the Internet for everyone speak for themselves.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have thereby both put to rest the argument that government action on behalf of the economy only hurts us all.  Hillary should embrace this truth and build upon it as she begins her campaign.


I think that she should build on another one of Obama's BFDs--his expansion of alternative energy--and push forward in a number of areas.  For example, the building of coastal canals that draw sea water inland, and then desalinate it though plants powered by solar energy.  This would serve to combat rising sea waters, provide more drinkable water, and create new jobs all at once.  Nor is doing something like this particularly far-fetched long-term thinking; take a look here, here, and here.

Or she could use alternative energy to tackle another chronic problem:  aging and crumbling infrastructure.  What if Hillary backed a federal requirement that all bridge, road, and tunnel construction and renovation was funded by solar panels to be placed in the vicinity of each project, with the states and cities keeping most or even all of the revenues generated by the panels once the projects were paid for?

Or what if she proposed using solar panels in the same way to fund the building of a nationwide high-speed rail system, with private contractors supplying the actual trains (similar to the current arrangement we have for airports and airlines)?  This could create a real-world "Internet" in which people could travel across the county in hours or even minutes.  And the economic and energy benefits are tremendous as well.

So, there you are, Hillary.  Three potential BFDs.  Take one of them.  Take them all.  And go get 'em.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fuel From Scotch?

Yet another example of turning waste into energy.

A Reminder That You CAN Do Something To Save The Planet

Buy one or more of nine plants that clean the air and are virtually indestructible.

Karma Is Alive And Well

At least it is when it comes to those who renounce U.S. citizenship as a tax dodge.

We Should Be Doing Our Own Recycling Anyway

Dumping it on China is a disgrace, in more ways that one.  According to Winwood Reade, the Roman Empire's leading export at its end was dung.  Apparently, this is just one more way in which we match up with Rome.

Could This Be A Path To Breaking The Political Logjam Over Immigration?

States and businesses as sponsors?  It might work.  If undocumented immigrants can demonstrate their value on a local level, and effectively have that value certified locally, it could lead to a win-win scenario.  Good for the immigrants, and good for the rest of us.

Because Not Doing Everything You Can To Save A Child Is Child Abuse

And there's not a religious principle in the world that changes that, Representative Perry.  Why not give the child a chance to make his or her own choice about being with God?

The Real Problem With Presidential Dynasties

Clinton versus Bush in 1992.  Another Bush versus Gore (Clinton's Vice President) in 2000.  And now, or rather next year, the very strong possibility of yet another Bush versus another Clinton in 2016.

To quote an anonymous European on the subject, 300 million people, and this is the best we can do?

Well, in one sense, of course it isn't.  Inside and outside of politics, there are plenty of people who could be at least a decent President, if not an exceptional one.  And yet, next year is shaping up as a choice between two dynasties.  Personally, although I have my issues with Hillary (turning children back at the border may be one, unless she "evolves"), it's an easy choice.  I'd rather have Clintonian peace and prosperity that Bushian attempts to sacrificing the interests of the country for the sake of appeasing the unappeasable desires of the Tea Party.  The 90s versus the Aughts?  Is that really a contest?  Can you say "Iraq"?  A lot faster than you can say "Monica."  And it's pretty easy to determine which of those disasters had the greater consequences.

But I agree with former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.  The Presidency isn't a crown to be passed back and forth between two families.  So why are we locked into this duopoly?

Money.  Or rather, the extent to which money is increasing concentrated in the hands of an increasingly shrinking numerical minority.

We are literally watching greed in the process of watching greed consume itself, as well as the rest of us.  First, the playing field is tilted a little bit toward people with money.  Then, as those people get more money rolling toward them, they decide to see how much farther they can tilt the playing field in their direction.  They succeed in doing so, and then decide to spend even more money tilting the field even further their way.

Until we reach the point at which we are now.  One side has most of the money and, although they could buy any leader they want, prefer the superficial security of a known name.  It's not a name associated with excellence, but we survived even a screw-up who got "elected" with it, so how bad can another one be?  Elect an unknown, and all of your capital gains might go up in thermonuclear smoke.

And the other side?  It doesn't have the resources to elect someone who has the courage to advance their interests.  It's forced to accept a compromised version of an advocate, one who won't rock the boat too severely for the sake of the moneyed supporters aligned with them.  And those moneyed interests have something in common with their political opponents--they love money, and don't want to risk losing it.  Sadly, money is the only thing that unites the two parties, not patriotism.  But, for now, it seems to be enough to hold them together.

Excessive wealth, contrary to conservative fantasies, does not lead people to take greater risks.  It leads them to do exactly the opposite.  They become consumed with fear that they may suddenly lose it all.  Their thinking becomes risk-adverse in the extreme.  This phenomenon is not limited to politics; it's why our movies are remakes of sequels of remakes of sequels ... well, you get the idea. And so it is with our presidential politics.  Remakes and sequels.

If you truly care about presidential dynasties, you need to care equally about the income inequality that supports it.  Sadly, mere involvement in elections, essential as that is, is not enough.  We need to find a way to build a mass movement that cuts through the media-manufactured sideshow that masquerades as our political discourse, and that focuses on a realignment of our national finances. The 1% may feel that's something they can't afford.  The rest of us know that the alternative is something none of us can afford.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No, California Does Not Have A Water Problem

And no, I haven't lost my mind.  That's not why I typed that headline. Obviously, there has been a lot of media coverage about the imposition of restrictions on the use of water by Governor Jerry Brown, in the wake of news reports that California has only a one-year reserve of water available to its residents.  Surly that means the state has a water problem.  But not really.

A "water problem" would imply one or both of two things.  Either California's land use policies have encouraged development that exceeds the available resources (including water) needed to sustain it, or California's water supply is magically disappearing into thin air, never to return to the earth.  There is a degree of truth to both propositions, as it turns out, but not to the extent that either can be considered wholly true.

In the nearly 70 years since the end of World War II, California's population has grown exponentially.  Actually, exploded might be a better way to describe it.  In 1950, the population of the state was just over 10 million; today, it is just over 38 million.  Some of that growth was facilitated by advances in technology (air travel and air conditioning, for example), as well as the desire of many Americans to escape the overcrowding and overdevelopment of the eastern part of the U.S..  But not a little of it was encouraged by politicians looking to buy votes by promoting the good life in the Golden West, and shaping real estate development accordingly.  So our first proposition has a foundation in reality.

But what about our second one?  Well, California's water is in fact disappearing into thin air, but it is definitely returning to the earth, in the form of record snowfalls this past winter in the Northeast.  Welcome once again to the wonderful world of climate change, in which extreme patterns of weather--drought and blizzards--are no longer a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, but an annual headache.  And headache is the operative word for today; disaster may be an appropriate one for the future--perhaps even next year.  We all might as well pull our heads out of the sand, now that were being surrounded by more and more of it.  Climate change is real; forget about the junk science pushed by the oil industry and listen to NASA, the agency that put America on the moon.

Neither proposition, then, is completely true.  So California doesn't have a "water problem."  What does it have?  Very simply put, it has a water management problem.  It uses the water that God, nature, or whatever your favorite prime mover may be has given the state and its people in ways that range from the counterproductive to the destructive--and that have the me-first ethos of post-Reagan America written all over it.  Here are a few choice examples:
California is literally leading the way in destroying one of the most basic substances of human life for the sake of short-term profits.  To paraphrase a recent New York cartoon, yes, we'll end the world but, before we do, we'll create tremendous value for shareholders.  And California will more than do its part.

Or will it?  The answers are obvious.  Fight climate change.  Reform the development process.  And enact sensible restrictions on water use by everyone.  California has already led the way on climate change, and it is beginning to do so on water use (although the restrictions leave a lot to be desired, given the extend to which businesses are exempted from these regulations).  I'm not surprised that development reform isn't being discussed to any significant extent.  Hopefully that will change; the state and the rest of us have no choice, if we care about survival.

To repeat:  California does not have a "water problem."  It has a problem with the way it which it chooses to use a finite and precious resource.  In truth, we all have this problem and, when it comes its impact on our resources, water is far from alone.  It's long been said that California is the trend-setter for the rest of the nation.  Let's hope that's true in a positive sense when it comes to water usage; we will all need to do a lot of learning and very soon.