Tuesday, September 16, 2014

To the anti-war left, US is the bad guy

Sean Thomas quotes George Orwell's statement from 1941:

England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.

The United States has a similar problem with its left wing. Browse through the leftist Alternet and you learn about the many evils of our society---gun violence, violence against women, violence against blacks, violence against the environment, etc. You learn that the United States is a pretty terrible place---except when you compare it to most of the rest of the world.

Like every other society on the planet, the United States has serious problems, but this anti-Americanism goes back to the invasion of Iraq---or even back to the US attack on and invasion of Vietnam. We are always the Bad Guys!

On Obama's plan to destroy ISIS, the Alternet tells us that the turmoil in the Middle East is all the fault of the US, mostly because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And ISIS, al Qaeda and the other Islamic terrorist groups supposedly are not motivated by Islam, even if the terrorists themselves say that they are, with many citations to the Koran.

It's all about our politics and US foreign policy, which is a reverse spin on nationalistic narcissism. And of course oil, even though Islamic fanatics were slaughtering each other centuries before oil was discovered in that part of the world. The Founding Fathers were dealing with Islamists even before they wrote the Constitution.

If we would only leave those poor people alone to abuse their women and children in peace, there would be no Middle East problem. Especially if we let them destroy Israel, which would solve a lot of problems.

The progressive Daily Kos makes an isolationist argument against President Obama:

We've spent billions arming our Middle East allies to the teeth. They are the ones directly threatened by Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL. Not us. So why is it us[sic] that have to do the fighting? It's their backyard, but they can watch comfortably as the United States bleeds trillions more to bail them out? Nice gig, if you can get it. Let those directly threatened by Islamic State put their skin in the game.

As if the United States has to be directly threatened by an enemy before it acts to defend itself and its interests.

The president is criticized by the right-wing for not getting involved in Syria, but Alternet sees the opposite, that the US is somehow responsible for Syria:

The chaos that Obama's doctrine of covert and proxy war has wreaked in Libya, Syria and Iraq should be a reminder of one of the obvious but unlearned lessons of September 11, that creating and arming groups of religious fanatics as proxies to fight secular enemies has huge potential for blowback and unintended consequences as they gain power and escape external control. Once these forces were unleashed in Syria, where they had limited local support but powerful external backers, the stage was set for a long and bloody conflict.

All the US did in Libya was use its air power to prevent the Gadaffi regime from slaughtering the rebels in Benghazi, which was a certainty, given the disparity in firepower between the regime and the rebels. And the US was joined by the UN and 19 other countries in that effort. The US has had very little to do with the Syrian civil war, and US troops have been out of Iraq for several years. But it's still all our fault!

See Jonathan Chait on the anti-Obama left in the US, which is disappointed that the president is not another Lincoln.

Ron Radosh on the right throws Obama's statements about Iraq and the Constitution before he was elected back at him.

But Obama has learned what Lincoln learned about being president: "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

Jeffrey Goldberg has a more balanced estimate of Obama's foreign policy.

What about the city's left on the president's ISIS plan? Nothing but silence at the Bay Guardian and Fog City Journal. Maybe they understand that they really have nothing sensible to say about the issue. (Before he became editor, Steven Jones had a not-very-sensible response to my comment on his article opposing the surge in Afghanistan.)


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Derailing democracy

Bump at the pump


California's Democratic Derailment
Sept. 13, 2014

Politicians ignore the legal caveats that voters added to the bullet train

In theory at least, courts and ballot referenda are checks on legislative tyranny. A California appellate court has effectively done away with both by ruling that the legal requirements of a bond measure approved by voters for the state's bullet train are merely "guidance." Californians ought to try this law-as-guidance defense when they're stopped for speeding.

Six years ago voters approved a referendum authorizing $9 billion in bonds for high-speed rail construction, including language with stringent "taxpayer protections." These stipulations were, among other things, that the state high-speed rail authority present a detailed preliminary plan to the legislature identifying funding sources and environmental clearances for the train's first "usable segment" prior to a bond appropriation.

The legislature in 2012 green-lighted the bonds while ignoring these stipulations. The rail authority had pinpointed merely $6 billion of the estimated $31.5 billion necessary to complete the first 300-mile segment from Merced to San Fernando. Only 30 miles of environmental clearances had been certified. 

Last year Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the authority "abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law." But in July Sacramento's Third Appellate District sanctioned the lawlessness with a decision as impressive for its cognitive dissonance as its legal afflatus.

On the one hand, the court opined that "voters clearly intended to place the Authority in a financial straitjacket by establishing a mandatory multi-step process to ensure the financial viability of the project." But then the judges ruled that the challenge to the legislature's invalid bond appropriation and authority's preliminary plan, "however deficient," was in effect moot.

The court could require the authority to redo its plan, but the judges say that would be unnecessary since the Director of Finance must still approve a rigorous final plan before the authority can spend the bond revenue. In other words, the law's procedural requirements don't matter.

Yet the bond referendum had ordered a preliminary plan for legislative review precisely so lawmakers could force the rail authority to address their concerns before appropriating the bonds. This added a modicum of political accountability.

So here we have the spectacle of legislators ignoring the very taxpayer protections that they had used to gull voters into approving a ballot measure that might never have passed without those protections. The lesson is that politicians will grab any new power or spending authority voters give them. They'll blow through the caveats and dare voters to sue to stop them.

As for the courts, they're supposed to enforce the law as written. California's Supreme Court now has an opportunity to do what the appellate judges did not and order Sacramento to follow the bond language. At stake are the rule of law and democratic governance in the Golden State.


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The bike movement comes to Pittsburgh


From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Enough about bikes, bikes, bikes
September 14, 2014

By Joe Wos

In case you missed it, on Sept. 3 our Mayor Bill Peduto and representatives of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust held a press conference for a bike rack. This will come as little surprise in a city that launches fireworks for the opening of an envelope. But this press conference for the illustrious inanimate rack was just the beginning. That same day the city installed five bike racks — allowing for the parking of literally tens of bicycles in the Golden Triangle. The mayor has made it one of his prime initiatives to make this a bike-friendly city. The bike rack itself had no comment.

Pittsburgh is now the 35th best city to bike in, according to Bicycling.com. The press conference was a harbinger of things to come as Pittsburgh ramps up its ongoing efforts to gather as many “best of” list rankings as possible. Throughout Lawrenceville, hipsters rejoiced when Pittsburgh added bike lanes heading into Downtown, enabling white men with bushy beards and black-rim plastic glasses a quicker way to get Downtown to play their banjos on street corners.

This past week bike enthusiasts from around the country gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference to explore such exciting topics as “sidewalk roughness standards,” “The tires are getting pumped and so are we” and my favorite, “Making a career as a freelance active transportation consultant.”

Bike advocates point to the success of bike lanes in cities such as New York — cities with many four-lane roads in each direction and more than 200,000 bicyclists daily. Pittsburgh’s bike lanes, however, have taken two-direction roads and cut them down to one-way, one-lane streets!

They also point to other cities throughout the United States and Europe as shining examples of what Pittsburgh could be — ignoring practical issues such as Pittsburgh’s climate and a realistic assessment of how many Pittsburghers really want to bike to work every day.

This completely ignores and denigrates our existing nonbiking culture and forces us to become “better people” by their standards. They neglect to mention a study in Helsinki showed bike paths to be more dangerous than sharing roads, and a study in Vancouver that reported a decrease in business along bike paths.

Safety concerns are pointed to as the main issue driving the introduction of bike lanes, yet Pittsburgh requires neither helmets for bicyclists over 12 nor bicycle licensing or registration.

Now that city officials have squeezed the motor vehicle lanes heading into the city, the next step is to cut the “ittsburgh” from Pittsburgh and replace it with “ortland” — thus fulfilling Pittsburgh’s desire to be the next “any city but Pittsburgh.”

One reason Pittsburgh has taken to promoting bicycling is shame. Shame of who we are as a city and of our roots. Bicyclists have taken to fat-shaming our city, claiming health and environmental benefits as well as the moral high ground. While cars produce smog, bicycles seem to produce smug. Criticize the bike lanes, and angry bicyclists head off in a Huffy. Rather than making this city “bike friendly,” they are making it “automobile unfriendly.”

Drivers are not unwilling to share the road, but they do expect bicyclists to abide by traffic laws, too. How many times have you seen bicyclists run red lights or drive on city sidewalks — flying above the law like some sort of magical Pegasus-Unicorn combination of bike and pedestrian?

Safety is a real concern, and we need to educate not just automobile drivers, but also bicyclists. Drivers are willing and able to share the road responsibly. But saying that will just further pump up the ire of bicyclists who argue that automobiles are the problem, period.

Bicyclists have become religious zealots in the first church of the perpetual Schwinn. They are firm believers that the path to salvation is via a bike lane leading through Downtown. They hail bikes as solving issues as diverse as traffic congestion, pollution and obesity. They make bold claims of bicycling cities having lower rates of diabetes and heart disease and a greater love of kittens. Rather than attempt to solve Downtown’s parking issues, narrow lanes, traffic and public transportation issues, they point to bikes as the great solution to Pittsburgh’s ills.

This kind of blind self-righteousness is overcompensation for a city that suffered through decades of low self-esteem. All this, thanks to a tiny percentage of Pittsburgh’s population — a whopping 1.4 percent of people in Pittsburgh ride bikes to work, according to the Census Bureau — illustrating the old adage, “the squeaky bicycle wheel gets the grease.”

As a lifelong Pittsburgher, I recognize that bike-lane improvements are needed to make Pittsburgh safer, cleaner, more pretentious and white. It is an appeasement to a miniscule percentage of the population to create the illusion of a progressive city at the expense of real issues and needs.

The bike movement is a convenient distraction from issues such as race. Make no mistake; this is partly about race. It is about white privilege and entitlement.

According to Bike Pgh’s annual report, 1 percent of its members identify as African-American. This suggests that only a tiny, tiny percentage of African-Americans ride bikes to work in Pittsburgh — whereas one in three say they rely on public transportation. As bus service and routes have been cut in neighborhoods with the greatest needs, bike lanes have been provided to serve a minority that is, by its own admission, unable to attract real minorities...

I love and adore this city. But, every now and then, you have to say: “Get over yourself, Pittsburgh.” Address the real issues that would be a tangible improvement to this city and make us the best Pittsburgh we can be.

Or have you gotten too big for your bridges?

Thanks to ENUF for the link.

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