Tuesday, January 31, 2012


A high-speed railroad takes a long time to stop—not because the imaginary vehicle travels so fast and carries so many passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles and points south, but rather because career politicians like Jerry Brown are determined to build legacies for themselves, come hell or high-water.

The governor’s recent State of the State Address was vintage Moonbeam. Brown claimed credit for making serious spending cuts while simultaneously calling for tax increases—including a previously announced half-cent boost in the sales tax rate.

Most egregiously, the governor clung passionately to the whitest elephant in the budget—a high-speed rail system whose Phase I estimated costs have already mushroomed to around 110 billion dollars, give or take ten billion.

The California High Speed Rail Authority’s own Peer Review group recently offered this grim assessment of the project’s feasibility: “…we cannot overemphasize the fact that moving ahead on the HSR project without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the State, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the State of California.”

Put in plain language, the group says it doesn’t know where the money to build this system will come from, and it doesn’t see a business plan that demonstrates a clear benefit to the state. What they see as likely (“an immense financial risk”) is that the railroad will become the costliest white elephant in the state’s history.

As General Custer might have said at Little-Big Horn, “Outside of those problems, everything is fine.”

This Peer Review assessment echoes many prior analyses including those of the Bureau of State Audits, the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies, and the Reason Foundation. Even Democrats, including Treasurer Bill Lockyer and a trio of state Senators headed by Alan Lowenthal have issued withering criticisms.

Were Governor Brown more concerned about the state’s fiscal welfare than his own legacy, he’d support Assemblywoman Diane Harkey’s bill, AB 1455, which halts state debt funding for the high-speed rail project. Instead, Brown holds a gun to the head of Californians and pretends the only alternatives are tax hikes or drastic cuts in education.

This bit of political theater reminds me of a scene in “Blazing Saddles” where the new black sheriff in a bigoted frontier town holds a gun to his own head and then threatens to shoot his hostage if town-folks don’t holster their weapons. The ruse works.

There is a more logical and poll-popular option for Governor Brown: Shoot the white elephant.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


It happens all the time. Someone reads an opinion piece with which he or she disagrees and then responds with a stream of venomous rhetoric directed toward the author—occasionally myself. It comes with the territory—the kitchen and heat.

What’s noteworthy, however, is how often critics accuse yours truly or other political opponents of hatred in messages brimming with that very quality—an incongruity that stands out more prominently when a respondent’s invective is compared with the mild verbal jabs in the article to which he is responding.

My own generic criticisms of pornographic “smut-peddlers” and the “abysmal vulgarity” of “much rap music,” for example, was enough to set one reader off on an e-mail tirade that labeled me, personally, as a hypocritical right-winger who’s insensitive to homelessness, murder, and poverty.

In psychological parlance what we have in this instance is a case of projection. The writer’s own anger is being attributed to his adversary.

It’s annoying when an individual labels you a hater based purely on opinions that don’t coincide with his own. It’s positively destructive for society, however, when it becomes a common political tactic to smear opponents as “haters” simply because their views don’t agree with passionate beliefs on the other side.

The most obvious recent example of this tactic concerns the phrase “Proposition H8”—a coinage used to vilify anyone who dares assert that the male-female definition of marriage is part of a longstanding familial ideal that’s worth preserving.

One can make arguments for or against the proposition, but when an opponent is labeled a “hater,” all rational exchange is undermined. One need not listen to the words of a “hater” because his views are presumed to be outside the realm of civility—regardless of how civilly and thoughtfully his positions are expressed.

Progressives are particularly apt to use the h-word (or other ad hominem labels) to marginalize arguments they don’t wish to consider. Liberal columnist Ellen Goodman, for example, likened global warming dissidents to Holocaust deniers.

Other terms regularly employed to squelch rational debate include sexist, homophobic, racist and bigoted.

Even the term “tolerant” is inadequate for the crowd that demands ideological conformity. What we need, I was once told in a teachers meeting, is “acceptance,” not “tolerance.”

This passionate ideologue may or may not have known that “acceptance” in his scenario obliged opponents to “accept” views they didn’t share. Meanwhile his political allies weren’t even expected to “tolerate” ideas that differed from their own.

In short, “acceptance” means everyone must get with the progressive program or risk being labeled a “hater.” That’s not a good prescription for a democracy.

Thursday, January 05, 2012


Here’s an electoral item indicative of the morally confused thought process now employed by many Americans, especially Californians.

The Adult Film Workplace Condom Initiative recently gathered enough signatures to be placed on a ballot for Los Angeles voters. This proposal, backed by more than 70,000 hyper-conscientious Angelenos, would require adult film companies to use condoms in their productions as a precondition for receiving film permits. 

The proposal also calls for industry fees to fund inspectors (condom-cops?) who will make sure smut-peddlers comply with the prophylactic terms of their permits.

To modify a mantra from the “Occupy” crowd: Is this now what democracy looks like?

Naturally, the measure is embroiled in a legal challenge. L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich contends that the initiative is a “needless and wasteful expenditure of public resources made in connection with a measure which the voters have no power to adopt.”

Of course “needless and wasteful expenditures” are the mother’s milk of government. Witness the half-billion dollars blown on Obama’s pals at Solyndra.

Trutanich might more persuasively argue that if voters in the state of California don’t have the authority to adopt a law defining marriage the way it’s been viewed for millennia, then residents of Los Angeles don’t have the power to stipulate the “technical” conditions under which pornography is produced.

But that would be a losing argument given the moral myopia of Americans who, to borrow a biblical phrase, “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”

The mainstreaming of porn is a prime example of camel-swallowing. Another exhibit is the shameless sexualizing of childhood by commercial maggots like those at MTV. Consider also the abysmal vulgarity of much rap music, a commodity often deemed an authentic ethnic art form.

Many progressives turn a blind eye to these hugely corrosive elements within the culture. They compensate for this fashionable cowardice, however, by focusing obsessively on gnatish matters like requiring condoms for porn actors, banning plastic grocery bags, protecting endangered minnows, and denouncing second-hand smoke.

The same folks who frequently wink at grotesque vulgarity and rampant illegitimacy exhibit absurd hypersensitivity when it comes to language they consider politically incorrect—especially comments about favored ethnic groups and non-conservative females.

Porn isn’t a problem, but sex without a condom is a no-no. A million-plus abortions annually aren’t noteworthy, but smoking around a child is big news. Crude musical misogyny is excused, but the use of traditional, gender-insensitive grammar (“his” versus “their”) becomes an ego-crushing insult to womanhood.

In short, the common left-coast response to increasing depravity is to downplay or ignore real decadence while exaggerating and tirelessly condemning faux-deviancy.

A related link: