Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander - Tolerance Please

I'm struck by the fact that so many Americans are quick to condemn the intrusion of religion into the political structures of various other societies while at the same time they steadfastly seek to impose their religious values onto the political structure of the United States.  No Sharia law, they say.  Down with Muslim fundamentalism, they chant.  Turkey should remain secular, they opine.  The Wahabi movement should not dictate the laws in Saudi Arabia, they cry.  Iran should shed itself of its mullahs, they demand.

Yet, today I heard a flock of Republican candidates for President trying to outdo one another in wanting the American Government to ban all abortions with no exceptions or almost none, to declare that life begins at conception (thereby offering a legal protection to fetuses not historically extended), and probably, had they been asked, to require prayer in the schools, the teaching of creationism, and the imposition of all kinds of other religious and sectarian views of theirs on all Americans.

Wake up America.  Don't be so quick to condemn other countries when you're advocating similar religious and sectarian straightjackets in your own.  If you're tolerant then be tolerant.  If you claim to want to limit big Government, then don't turn around and try to use big Government to impose your own narrow religious views on others.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Erdogan vs. Achmadinejad

Have you noticed?

It is increasingly apparent that the leaders of two Muslim non-Arab states are vying for leadership of the Arabs.  Surprising?  Not really.  Audacious?  Yes, that’s more to the point.  These are two very ambitious, opportunistic and, in my view, dangerous individuals.

And who are they?  They are Mahmoud Achmadinejad of Iran and Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.  Interestingly, the states that they lead today dominated what is today the Arab world at various times in the past.

The Persian Empire reached its zenith about 500 BC under Cyrus and encompassed modern day Turkey, and the Middle East stretching across Egypt.  The Ottomon Empire at its apex in the late 19th century encompassed Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa to Morocco, the Balkans and lands almost to Vienna, but never Persia.

Today, Iran and Turkey are large, modernizing societies, each with sophisticated populations approaching 75 million people.  They are both heavily Muslim, the Turks predominantly Sunni and the Iranians predominantly Shia.

It seems clear that Erdogan and Achmadinejad have visions of restoring the historical influence of their respective states over the area that is now the Arab world, not through territorial conquest and subjugation but by making alliances within the Arab world, aiding their respective allies militarily and otherwise, and, not least, demonizing Israel, as a means of extending their influence among Arabs in the street.

Both Turkey and Iran have witnessed a resurgence of Islamic identity over recent decades.  In Iran, a religious theocracy secured power in a revolution against the represssive regime of the Shah.  In Turkey, an Islamic party secured power over secular elements that had been inspired by Ataturk and that had been grouped in the military and bureacuracy.  But Achmadinejad and Erdogan have also harnessed and exploited the forces of old fashioned nationalism in their respective societies in consolidating their power.

Achmadinejad’s anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bents have long been on display.  Erdogan appears to have decided that to achieve his goal to lead Muslim Arab states in the region he must adopt a very strong anti-Israel posture.  Turkey, long an ally of Israel in the region, has now turned into one of its sharpest critics and potential enemies.  Erdogan’s miscalculations with respect to Syria, where he is slowly coming to oppose Assad, seem to have driven him to take an even more virulent position against Israel.

While Erdogan appears popular among some activist Arabs at the moment, and Achmadinejad scores some points among Arab Shia, it is far from clear that either will achieve his dream.  From news reports, both have strongly authoritarian streaks and, not surprising for any political leader, are far more focused on pursuing their own interests than on permitting real pluralism to flourish in their respective states or in the region.  While various Arab groups, most notably Hezbollah and Hamas, look to Achmadinejad for support, and while Erdogan may inspire Arab activists in their struggles against the entrenched regimes, it is unlikely that the Arab countries will wish to bestow a leadership role upon a non-Arab, particularly a Shi’ite who comes from a neighboring state with a history of hostility vis-a-vis Arabs.

As for the Turkish government’s new-found hostility toward Israel, where that goes remains to be seen.  At one time Turkey’s deep interest in joining the European Union seemed to have a moderating effect on Turkish policies but that is less clear.  Turkey, a NATO member, and its leader may still conclude that acting to mobilize regional hostilities against Israel does not serve its longterm interests.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tug of War between Saudi Arabia and the United States

Today's Los Angeles Times (June 19, 2011) featured a front page news analysis entitled "U.S., Saudis in Mideast tug of war."  The subtitle on the web edition read: "The quest for greater influence includes a tug of war over Jordan, just one example of the contest between the longtime allies split over the democracy uprisings sweeping the region." See

My comments, made in an email to the two Times reporters/commentators, follow:

Dear Paul and Neela,

Thanks much for your well-written lead news analysis, "U.S., Saudis in Mideast tug of war," in today's (June 19, 2011) Los Angeles Times.  The increasing tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia are a significant development that deserves considerable attention.  I have some observations to make on what you wrote about.

I was struck by your reference to the "autocratic traditions that have kept the House of Saud secure for centuries."  I think you grossly overstate the case and I believe most readers have no idea of the history of the "House of Saud."  Yes, the House of Saud dates back centuries but I think your statement suggests that this tribe has had continuous and secure control over the territories it controls today for centuries and this is decidedly not the case.

Interestingly enough, part of the frost between Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan derives from the historical fact that King Abdullah II of Jordan's great great grandfather, Sherif Hussein of Mecca, expected to rule over much of today's Saudi Arabia following World War I, based on his having sided with the British against the Ottomons, but ultimately lost control to the Saudis driven by their Islamic Wahabi fundamentalism.  Hussein was able to set up two of his sons as rulers in Iraq and TransJordan, both under British control as mandates following WWI.  While Saudis and the Hashemites (a term referring to claims to having descended directly from the Prophet Mohammed) are Sunnis, there are certainly significant differences between their religious practices.

The United States must be mindful of the positions it takes toward the so-called Arab Spring and its manifestations in various Arab states and recognize that both supporting the status quo and supporting the new uprisings are fraught with uncertainty and risk.  Pushing the Saudis toward greater openness in their society will certainly not win Obama any appreciation from the House of Saud and he has tried to avoid doing so at least in public.  But even that kingdom is likely to experience growing internal stress, especially if the ruling family gives no ground.  Note even the mild protest the other day by women for the right to drive automobiles.  These pressures will grow and eventually explode if not addressed sooner.  Hence, for the Saudis to seek to persuade Abdullah II of Jordan to stay the course might be what the Saudis see as in their interest but I don't think staying the course is in the interests of either Abdullah or the United States.

Recent developments in Morocco, another kingdom ruled, I believe, by a Hashemite, King Mohammed VI, not only show the continued growth of internal tensions there but also, hopefully, a wiser monarch who recognizes that giving some ground is the best way to retain legitimacy in this modern age.  To be sure, Morocco is far more developed and urbanized than Saudi Arabia or Jordan and has had an active leftist opposition since before its formal independence from France in the 1950's, in part affected by the civil war next door in Algeria.  Still, the United States should be careful about accommodating the Saudis too much as their model of governing will simply not last, particularly in other monarchies in the region.  But the West's need for oil is real.

Both the Saudis and Jordan were clearly concerned with America's role in bringing the Shi'ites to power in Iraq.  But, interestingly, we're seeing again today some of the consequences of our having accepted if not supported authoritarian regimes led by minority groups in Arab countries for decades.  Hussein in Iraq was one example.  While the Sunnis constitute a considerable minority there, they were a minority, dominating and repressing the Shia and the Kurds.  In Syria, the dominant minority is even a smaller segment of a diverse society, and we are now witnessing what in part appears to be a struggle by Sunnis and others to replace Alawite repression.

To be sure, there are no easy answers.  There are no guarantees that the "Arab Spring" will result in the emergence of democratic regimes.  It isn't even clear where Iraq is headed in that regard.  I lived in Tunisia in the 1960's doing graduate work and I sincerely hope that Tunisia will emerge as a more open, pluralist society with democratic structures than has been the case.  I think it has the best chance.  The jury is out on Egypt and, as I said, Iraq.  And more "democratic" regimes in those latter countries may actually lead to more friction, not only with Israel but within the region as a whole, than has been the case in recent decades.

Thanks again for your analysis.  Keep them coming!



Sunday, June 12, 2011

Anthony Weiner and Rule 22

I still remember “the rule” from my college days at Brandeis University.  It was known as Rule 22, and went as follows.

“Rule 22:

This rule is known to all as “Rule 22” from its place in a former list of University regulations.

It means that Brandeis students should never display themselves in an unfavorable light either on or off campus, by excessive drinking, public display of affection, brawling, improper language, etc.  In short, be discreet!

All students are expected to conduct themselves at all times, both on and off campus, in an orderly manner.  Disorderly and improper conduct may lead to expulsion or other penalties.”

From brandeis student handbook 1962-1963, pg. 103.

Yes, even in 1962 we students complained about Rule 22.  Remember, back then we were reading George Orwell’s 1984 and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.  Rule 22 seemingly gave those hated administrators unregulated power to punish us.  And for what?  Well, it wasn’t very clear.  Public displays of affection?  Oh my Lord!  Any “indiscretion?”  Ridiculous!

But at the end of the day, we all knew that “the rule” as applied meant BE DISCREET.  In actuality, it didn’t mean we couldn’t indulge.  It meant we should do so in private.  I’m not aware that the University ever enforced Rule 22 against private behavior that was not unlawful.  Nor, by the way, am I aware that anyone was ever sanctioned under Rule 22 for public displays of affection, in the form of hand holding, kissing and the like (remember, this was the late 1950’s into the early 1960’s)!

The reason I called for Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign shortly after he admitted his “indiscretions” is because he has so dramatically and profoundly violated Rule 22.  It appears, as Weiner has stated, that he never met the women who were the objects of his tweets, messages, emails and photos, and never engaged in sex, as that term is typically understood, with any of them.  In that sense, his so-called by some “sexless sex scandal” is different and perhaps less abhorrent than others’ sex scandals, including those of Bill Clinton, and various ministers, Senators and Representatives.  To be sure, in some cases these others have resigned, although obviously not all have done so.

Had word leaked out that Weiner had indulged in the activities that have been reported but without the subsequent release of revealing photos, tweets or emails, that might have been a different story, perhaps not in moral terms but in its impact and the political fallout.  At least it likely would have made some difference to me.

I opposed Clinton’s impeachment (let alone conviction).  But, had there been Blackberry photos of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky doing what they were apparently doing (recall, according to them it wasn’t quite sex!), I suspect Clinton would have resigned or been convicted in the impeachment trial.  And I would likely have approved of his removal.  The release of photos would not have changed Clinton’s conduct but, at least for me, the impact would have undermined my ability to view and respect him as my President.

Am I preaching a double standard --  almost anything goes in private but if it is done in public then consequences flow?  No.  Obviously criminal or other extreme misconduct, whether conducted in public or in private, is wrong and public figures who transgress should pay the consequences.  But what I am saying is that, when it comes to salacious but not unlawful behavior indulged in by public figures, I believe Rule 22 should apply.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On Obama's Middle East Address re Israel's Borders

Peter Nicholas wrote an article in the May 22, 2011 Los Angeles Times, "GOP sees an opening on Israel policy."  He noted that Obama's comments in his Middle East policy address last week calling for a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians based partly on boundaries in place before Israel's territorial gains in the 1967 war were surely going to be used against him by Republicans but not so much to peel Jewish voters from supporting Obama as to appeal to pro-Israel conservative Republicans in Republican primaries.  I agree with Peter's observations and offer some of my own on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute below in a copy of an email I wrote to him.

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your well written article in today's (May 22, 2011) Los Angeles Times, "GOP sees an opening on Israel policy."  I think you nailed it.

I am a 68 year old Jewish American who remains a liberal Democrat, albeit not as liberal as I was decades ago, and a supporter of President Obama.  I also lived in Tunisia in the late 1960's for a little less than two years while doing graduate work at Princeton University.

As usual, I find the Republicans hypocritical on their stance toward Obama's comments about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations being based on the pre-1967 borders.  And I wish journalists and other commentators took a broader and more historical view of things.  In my view, George H. W. Bush had no love of Israel or Jews, not that he was anti-Semitic.  He was what I'd call an old line Republican far more focused on oil and preserving America's interests in the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia than in supporting Israel.  His son, George W. Bush, brought a more Christian evangelical perspective than his father to the Presidency and that contributed in part to his strong support of almost anything the Israeli government chose to do.  As well, George W. found the mantra of freedom and democracy overpowering, however inapplicable they were in many instances, and saw the world in black and white.  In that division, Israel had to be on the 'white' side.  But, as I recall, it was George W. who made explicit America's commitment to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, not something that preceding U.S. Presidents had trumpeted anywhere near as loudly.  He was also obviously concerned about America's position in the Gulf but he nonetheless remained a very strong supporter of Israel.

Many American Jews are not in love with Israeli policy that continues to maintain settlements throughout the West Bank.  Many of us are far more critical of the Israeli government than evangelical Christians whose support is not rooted in any affection toward Jews but, rather, in their view of Biblical prophesy and the like.  Such friends can prove quite unreliable but Israeli governments have welcomed such support and I certainly do not reject it.  I just find it interesting and striking that Obama's statements about pre-1967 borders are more likely to give Republicans an election issue among Christians than among Jews, the central thesis of your article.  

I find it sad as well as it misses the larger issue that, at least in my view of things, time is not on Israel's side.  The demographics show far higher birth rates among Arabs than Jews, whether within Israel proper or within the region.  As well, over time Arab military strength has increased and Arab militias, most notably Hezbollah, have shown that they can develop discipline and savvy in their activities both within neighboring Arab countries and against Israel.  While Israel cannot and should not make concessions that will ultimately prove more costly than remaining on hostile relations with the Palestinians and other Arabs, there has to be more creative thinking and risk taking.  It is difficult to say exactly where the winds are blowing, but the so-called Arab Spring has given rise to voices of a younger generation of Arabs and many of them, filled with idealistic imagery and the like, are likely to be more rather than less hostile to Israel.  Then, too, the current turn away from more secular regimes to those with more of an Islamic basis, whether in Turkey (albeit not an Arab country), among Palestinians in the form of Hamas, or elsewhere, does not augur well for Israel.

As you noted in your article, many American Jews, myself included, do not believe that Obama is unfriendly toward Israel or wishes to undermine Israel's security in order to win support among Arabs.  I believe that he is trying to move the parties toward renewed negotiations, which may or may not happen regardless of what he does.  That the Palestinian Authority, or Fatah or whatever name its given, has agreed to some ill-defined coalition with Hamas, may doom negotiations.  Then, again, this may (and I stress may) be the beginning of some movement on the part of Hamas that the United States and Israel should be attentive to and seek to encourage.  There was a time when Arafat and the PLO were intransigent opponents of Israel's right to exist.  Over time Arafat moved politically.  While many question whether he truly changed his deepest feelings, I think it is fair to say that he and his organization did move toward moderation, as reflected in Abbas' positions on issues today.  Israel, with encouragement and support from the United States, must be willing to move as well.  While some might say that the abandonment by some right wing Israelis of a dream of Israel as encompassing Judea and Samaria constitutes a concession, I respectfully do not agree.  Israel needs to make concessions regarding the abandonment of its settlements and move toward further accommodations.  Perhaps the pre-1967 borders are indefensible.  Then that has to be negotiated.  But let's not fault President Obama for trying to get things moving by not entirely embracing one side's position or the other and by making explicit what seemingly has been American policy on the subject for decades.

Thanks again for your article.  Keep up the good work.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Does Obama Want to Make Himself Irrelevant? Sadly So It Seems.

Today, Saturday, April 9, 2011, I caught part of a video clip of President Obama who, I think, was on the National Mall speaking to visitors to D.C.

I thought I heard the President say: "Because Congress was able to settle their differences," the museums and monuments are open.  I know he said what I've put in quotes.  I think the rest was the essence of his statement.

BECAUSE OF CONGRESS SETTLING ITS DIFFERENCES????  That's how Obama sees this recent dispute over the budget, or wants to portray it?  Sheesh.

And where the heck was the White House in all this?  Sitting on the sidelines?  Obviously not.  Obama, Biden and others at the White House were obviously key players in this drama.  But, sadly, Obama's comment reflects the way he wants to be seen, the way he wants to portray himself -- above the fray, almost a non-partisan.

No doubt Obama is trying to move to the center for 2012 and not appear opposed to major trimming of America's deficit and debt.  And that may be good policy and make political sense for him.  But only so far.

As I recall, after Gingrich and the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in the 1990's, some called President Bill Clinton irrelevant.  Clinton would have nothing of that and knew how to assert himself and remain relevant, winning a second term in the process.

Obama is not irrelevant.  The Republicans handily won the House in 2010 but neither control the Senate nor the White House.  And while many Americans worry about the deficit and national debt and the Tea Party has shown some ability to whip up concern over those issues, there is much to be said about not panicking on either of these two issues, nor rushing to radically reduce the budget when the economy has yet to find its way out of the Great Recession.  Obama may have made the right decision during the lame duck session of Congress last year in caving on opposition to a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy but he will weaken himself, even if he wins re-election, if he flip flops all across the spectrum, which is what he appears to be doing.

Yes, Obama needs the House of Representatives to pass legislation, including a budget, so compromise is necessary.  But Obama should nonetheless use the bully pulpit to continue to try to educate the American people on the role of and need for a strong federal governmental presence.  We are no longer an agrarian society; we are a highly urbanized society with an economy that is not only fully integrated across this nation but with much of the world as well.  We need a central government that can regulate economic swings, protect Americans against the excesses of private entrepreneurs and enterprises, stimulate economic growth and trade, assure minimum standards of healthcare and education, and perform many other tasks, in addition to defense.

Obama should also not throw in the towel on increased taxes to balance the budget and assure certain "entitlements", particularly now that the Republicans are finally showing their fangs when it comes to attacking Medicare, with Social Security likely to be next.  Reform of these programs?  Yes.  The kind of radical restructuring and privatization that Republicans seem to favor?  Absolutely not.

Obama is not irrelevant but sometimes it appears he wants to make himself so.  During the 2008 campaign Obama spoke of presidential styles and he definitely seemed to favor Reagan's, which Obama himself described as essentially above the fray, letting others fight over the details only to emerge near the end.  This has been Obama's style, with respect to fights over the stimulus package, healthcare reform, and now the 2011 budget.  He and his aides have been involved in all of these battles but he himself has let others take central stage.  In my judgment this was and continues to be a big mistake for him.

Obama has been an eloquent speaker and communicator when in campaign mode, whether during the campaign or as president.  But in his daily talks and press conferences he has come across as dry, distant and without affect.  He came across that way during some of the debates during the 2008 campaign as well.  He needs to go into what I'll call campaign mode more often.  He needs to show passion and not get caught speaking in a dry, distant tone, carefully selecting his words as if he were lecturing somewhere.  He needs to show he cares and that, while open to necessary compromise, he still has his own set of values and will pursue and fight for them.  It's okay to compromise and even stand aside on some campaign promises that simply aren't achievable.  But if he bends on almost everything and comes across as dry and drab in a move toward the center, he will not only not be a good president, but he will, in my judgment, undermine his chances of re-election.  And even were he not to win re-election, he will have been true to himself and to all those who voted for him.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Letter to Long Beach Councilman Gary DeLong on 2nd + PCH Project (Major Shopping Center in Eastern LB)

Dear Gary,

I read with interest the coverage of the 2nd + PCH project in the Belmont Shore – Naples Patch of April 5, 2011.  I want you to know that I am opposed to the project and I found points made in the article as well as comments from Mike Ruehle disturbing.

I have lived in Belmont Shore since 1979 upon my return from attending law school at UC Davis.  I had previously lived in Seal Beach while teaching.  Back then there was no Marina Pacifica let alone the twin shopping centers.  The Hyatt Edgewater Hotel wasn’t the eye sore it became but its glory years had passed it by.  Traffic was not a major problem.  I welcomed the construction of the shopping centers despite the dismal failure the first time around at what subsequently became known as the Wow (Tower Records, et al.)  And I would not have minded had the Hyatt Edgewater been replaced but despite rumors from year to year that did not happen.

But the 2nd + PCH is going far beyond what is truly suitable for that location.  Nor does Long Beach need the high end stores contemplated in the project.  Yes, I shop at South Coast and to a lesser extent at Cerritos and Westminster Mall (which has truly disappeared as a rival to the other two).  And I enjoy the high end stores, particularly at South Coast.  But that location has enormous parking and access from a number of separate approaches.  And it is not very far from Belmont Shore.

I wouldn't mind 2nd + PCH were it not destined to fundamentally transform this part of Long Beach forever.  Trust that I'm not given to nostalgia but I think it will serve business interests far more than it will serve the public interest.  It will transform eastern Long Beach from a beach/marina oriented area with some convenient shopping and movie venues to a built up commercial area filled with shoppers and automobiles.  And, I know it will turn out to be an enormous traffic problem, regardless of whatever "mitigation" the builder and/or City will make.  I say I know not because I am a traffic engineer but because I have lived here for decades and also am familiar with what happens when major projects are built in areas not truly containing the infrastructure needed to sustain them.  Even if lanes are expanded at the 2nd and PCH intersection, I can only imagine that congestion will be enormous and those of us living in the area will be heavily impacted.  As you well know, access to Belmont Shore and Naples is limited.  For those of us living here, that's a good thing but the 2nd + PCH project will make it a bad thing.

I was in law school when CEQA was adopted by the California Legislature and participated in Environmental Moot Court.  I am quite familiar with its processes and standards.  While it contains mechanisms intended to truly mitigate negative environment impact, it also does not ultimately stand as an obstacle to a legislative body intent on building a project regardless of its environmental consequences.  If the process is followed the legislative body may do almost what it pleases.  I'm concerned that this is exactly what is happening this time through and that you are facilitating that turn of events rather than opposing it.  If true, Ruehle's allegations that your election chairman has become the developer are troubling in this regard.  What exactly is your position on this project?   You may have commented on it in your emails and I assume you support it strongly, albeit with appropriate mitigation which will ultimately mean little.

I am not a wide-eyed environmentalist.  While I am concerned about the environment, my frustration above all is traffic.  In fact, I write also to share my frustration at the recent changes in street design and consequent traffic flows elsewhere in Long Beach, beginning right here on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore and focusing as well on downtown Long Beach where I currently work.  Bicycles and bicycling are good things and should be encouraged.  But the recent conversion of the second lane in both directions on 2nd Street through Belmont Shore and Naples is wrong, creates needless safety risks and should be reversed.  Whose idea was it and what role, if any, did you play in this?

Even more problematic has been the changes made in street design in downtown Long Beach, on Broadway, 3rd Street, and Marina Drive.  On Marina Drive near the Aquarium an entire lane of traffic heading from the end of the Long Beach Freeway to Ocean has been eliminated, presumably to allow more parking on Marina Drive for the restaurants at The Pike.  What a disaster.  Cars pour onto Marina Drive from the return commute home from Los Angeles and create enormous congestion given the removal of a lane.  I work in that downtown Long Beach area and both see and experience the congestion daily.  As for Broadway and 3rd Street, the elimination of a lane for a bicycle lane is another miscue.  Bicycle traffic is minimal from my daytime observations but automobile traffic is now worse than ever.  A commitment to "green" is meritorious but not for its own sake and not when the negative consequences outweigh any real positive contribution.  In my opinion that is the case with these street design changes of late.

I previously wrote to you a number of years ago about parking in Belmont Shore that leads residents to forego trips away from home out of fear that they will not be able to park near their homes upon their return.  You indicated that individual streets could vote in favor of some kind of permitting but I may have noted in response (or simply noted to myself) that such an approach merely sets one street against another as shoppers on 2nd Street or visitors to the beach will simply park on a neighboring street.  I renew my complaint here and once again call upon you as our Councilman to consider a systemic approach that would require permitting throughout Belmont Shore as a way of making parking tolerable for residents.  Many cities and parts of cities have such plans and it is time that Long Beach adopted such a plan for Belmont Shore.  In fact, such a plan should have been adopted long ago.

Thanks for considering my opinions.



Saturday, February 26, 2011

On David Brooks, "Runaway Debt" and America's Moral Challenges

David Brooks, a conservative columnist who writes in The New York Times, wrote that he is saddened that Mitch Daniels, Republican Governor of Indiana, is inclining not to run for President.  In praising Daniels, Brooks commented that "the country's runaway debt is the central moral challenge of our time."  I think that is ludicrous and sent the below email to David in response.  His column is at
Dear David,
  Do you truly believe that this country’s runaway debt is the central moral challenge of our time?  It's truly sad if you do.
  Not the increasing inequality in this vast and still wealthy country.  Not the failure to grapple with millions of uninsured were so-called Obamacare to be eliminated.  Not this country's failure to recognize its limits as the world's policeman.  Not our need to face up to the challenges of a country increasingly changing in its demographic character, by which I mean the incredible growth of the Hispanic population.
  Yes, the debt is and should be of major concern.  But the greatest moral challenge?  Spare me.  How about focusing on the "morality" surrounding its emergence -- a banking system focused on creating obscure and obscene kinds of financial instruments based on mortgages given to non-qualifying candidates?  What say you on that?  I don't know Mitch's position on Obama's financial regulation legislation but I know Republicans in general oppose it, despite lessons all of us should have learned from the recent Great Recession.
  No, David, you're wrong.  That you see the debt as a moral challenge rather than the consequence of a good faith effort to avoid the pitfalls of the Great Depression by priming the pump through government spending is quite sad.
  Please think more before you write.  You're more balanced than most conservatives but you truly need to clean your lenses and check out what the real "moral" challenges are that face us.
  Donald A. Newman
  Long Beach, CA

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Contempt for 'Talking Heads' and Budget Cutters

I have such contempt for all the so-called 'talking heads' who appear on the bankrupt cable news channels (CNN, FoxNews, MsNBC) at times of crisis claiming to know what they are talking about, not that the usual suspects know anything either.  Now it's Egypt.  Was Tunisia a month ago.  On to Yemen.  Of course, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq remain perennials.

And then there's the domestic agenda but my contempt there focuses on the self-described budget cutters.  Cut the budget by $100 billion say the Tea Party losers but, uh, don't touch defense, Medicare, Social Security.  Which leaves what?  Environmental Protection?  Federal subsidies for education?  Why not eliminate the Food & Drug Administration?  Let the states handle highway construction and regulation of commerce.  They do such splendid jobs at it.  Obama is talking about taking the federal government out of the mortgage industry (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac), something that probably makes sense, but the real estate industry -- yes, the business side -- is hollering no, as they fear their industry will suffer.  The FACT is that if federal spending is to be curtailed defense and the entitlement programs will have to be hit.  But will seniors stand for that?  (I won't!!!  ;-) )

Anyway, the time may have come to offer myself for prime time.  The older I get, the more I realize how dumb, uninformed and ignorant the next generation is proving itself to be.  ;-)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Rant on Disproportionate "Taxes" on Motorists

On December 31, 2010, two Los Angeles Times reporters wrote separate articles on related subjects.  Nardine Saad wrote an article about the State of California's intent to impose an additional $4 charge on all traffic and parking tickets, purported to pay for "emergency air transport services because of a revenue shortfall in Medi-Cal funding." Marc Lifsher wrote an article about the imposition of "crash taxes" on motorists who are found "at fault" in vehicle accidents for the costs of emergency services at the scene.

Nardine's article is at,0,6845681.story.  Marc's article is at,0,2932838.story?page=1.

I am deeply troubled by this increasing tendency of government to essentially tax individual citizens (indeed all persons) to pay the costs of governmental services and obligations that these same citizens are already supporting through their payment of income taxes, sales taxes, other revenue taxes and the like. Requiring the recipients of services to pay for those services often makes sense but double taxation does not and, as discussed below, in these instances the new taxes have been undertaken as "practical" necessities to cover budget shortfalls rather than as the result of well thought out public policy. I protest and so should you!

Below is an email I sent to Nardine and Marc thanking them for their articles but also urging them to probe further and expose this tendency to double tax.  I admit that my own anger over this approach is in part the result of having been given a ticket for a traffic violation I did not commit, only to discover that a base fine of $35 or so had been multiplied into a fine of about $250 or more. As most of you know, I am (still) a liberal Democrat but these kinds of governmental measures risk pushing me into the anti-tax alliance!

My email to Nardine and Marc:

Thank you for your complementary articles in yesterday's (December 31, 2010) Los Angeles Times. I recently was given a traffic ticket for allegedly having made a so-called California stop. I was amazed at the amount due to multipliers and additional fees for courtroom construction and the like, above and beyond a rather small "base" fine. Your articles captured what is happening but, in my opinion, only begin the discussion which I urge you both to pursue.

Nardine, your article, "Price of a Traffic Ticket Going Up $4," reflects the decision by legislators to impose on motorists who violate, or are accused of violating, parking and traffic laws taxes masquerading as fines for governmental functions that are only indirectly related to traffic and parking. In this case, you report that the increased fine is intended to pay for emergency air transport services because the legislature and voters have chosen to underfund Medi-Cal.

Marc, your article on "Crash Taxes" at least describes a tax that directly relates to a traffic event, but again seeks to impose on the taxpayer who was "at fault" in an accident an additional tax above and beyond what he or she already pays for police, fire and other emergency services.

I strongly urge either or both of you to research and write an article or articles on this entire process that seeks to impose on individual motorists the costs of various governmental services and/or obligations that traditionally have been funded more directly by the legislative bodies. Building and maintaining courthouses is a basic responsibility of government and to single out a particular class of citizens to pay an undue proportion of the costs is, in my view, grossly unfair. That those saddled with this burden have broken a law may make them less sympathetic but, particularly in the case of those who have illegally parked or not fully stopped at a stop sign, we aren't talking about folks who have intentionally set forest fires or otherwise engaged in purposeful illegal acts. Then, too, as you both know, most motorists who are ticketed end up paying the "bail" rather than contesting the matter in court. Many if not most do this not because they have committed the violation but because the costs of contesting the matter as well as a recognition that in a liar's contest between citizen and police officer the court is more likely than not to believe the officer make challenging the ticket are, as an economic calculation, greater than the costs of paying the "bail." That economic calculation itself is deplorable and contrary to what a fair justice system should require.

Marc, in your article on "crash taxes," I commend you for covering much of this issue of what I consider double taxation on those who may be "at fault" for an accident but already pay taxes for emergency and other governmental services.

What at least I find a bit ironic here is that I am not a conservative or a supporter of the insurance lobby. Quite the contrary! But this increasing movement toward "pay as you go" taxation or taxation focused on the so-called user of services must have its limits and be fully discussed as a public policy option. We see at our public universities an increasing movement toward student fees, now finally called tuition, as the general public and legislators refuse to allocate public funds to support higher (or K-12) education, once thought of as a core governmental function that should be funded through the General Fund to enable all citizens an opportunity to improve themselves and thereby strengthen the society, the economy, and the democracy.

I recognize, as a former political scientist turned attorney, that there are arguments on all sides of these issues. But I fear that there has not been any real public discussion. Rather, the state, cities and public universities, cash strapped because of underfunding and economic crises, have simply gone forward and taken what they often call "practical measures" to raise fees and taxes on individuals. These actions are not truly driven by some public policy consideration that has been discussed and debated but merely by exigencies and that is dangerous.

Thank you both for your efforts to cover these important issues! I encourage further probing and pushing legislative bodies to discuss these matters more openly, something the Los Angeles Times has been doing well as of late!

Happy New Year!

Donald A. Newman
Long Beach, CA