Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gender Identity Laws vs. Religious Freedom

It’s hard to overstate the arrogance of legislators who regularly fail to take care of basic governmental responsibilities—education, prisons, infrastructure, budgeting—yet impose laws about social mores that have no civilized precedent.

Two years ago our philosopher-kings in Sacramento passed a law, AB 887, that added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of non-discrimination categories that apply to employers and housing officials.

As that piece of social engineering explained, “Gender identity refers to a person’s deeply felt internal sense of being male or female. Gender expression refers to one’s behavior, mannerisms, appearance and other characteristics that are perceived to be masculine or feminine.”

In abstract language the provision sounds benign, but when one asks how this idea plays out in real life, questions abound about the wisdom of this radical innovation.

Specifically, this bill requires employers to accept male employees who express themselves by wearing blouses and skirts to work. Conversely, biological females who feel the need to express their inner maleness can dress accordingly without fear of workplace repercussions.

The situation gets stickier when these “let a thousand sexual flowers bloom” rules are applied to students—a scenario now playing out in Massachusetts schools where “gender identity” laws allow gender-questioning students to use bathrooms of the opposite biological sex or to play on the sport teams of the sex with which they identify.

According to Bay State directives, the fact that female students feel uncomfortable about a boy in the bathroom “is not a reason to deny access to the (sincere) transgender student.” The absurdity extends to eliminating gender-based clothing at graduations—a policy that would logically require the elimination of gender-based bathrooms.

One should also ponder the application of these regulations to teachers—a hypothetical that, as one can see on the website, isn’t entirely hypothetical in Massachusetts.

Not content to extend a middle finger to traditional mores in schools and the workplace, California legislators are now considering withdrawing tax-exempt status from private organizations that don’t follow their unprecedented gender-identity rules.

SB 323 requires organizations with tax-exempt status to abandon any discriminatory criteria related to “gender identity” and sexual orientation. The most obvious group targeted by this recent expression of liberal fascism is the Boy Scouts, but private schools and other groups like the American Youth Soccer Organization are also explicitly mentioned.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, describes SB 323 as “an extreme example of intolerance” to the “convictions held by private benevolent non-profit organizations.” He also warned that, if successful, the next target of the LGBT lobby will be non-complying churches.

Thus does “tolerance” reveal itself as intolerant libertine secularism.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


California, the epicenter of environmental religiosity, leads the nation in purchasing electric cars. These zero-emission vehicles not only make their owners serious candidates for eco-sainthood, they also bestow on them a number of more tangible benefits.

Being allowed to drive in carpool lanes with only a single occupant is one nifty perk. Other bonuses are the steep government subsidies given to purchasers. The feds dole out up to $7,500 in rebates while the oh-so-green Golden State could kick in an extra $2,500.

Despite these emotional and financial incentives, 2012 sales for electric vehicles came in at only about 50,000. These numbers make President Obama’s nationwide goal of a million EVs by 2015 as unlikely as achieving a balanced federal budget by that date.

The good (or bad) news is that the environmental efficacy of EVs has been vastly overstated. This conclusion comes not from an oil-industry analyst but from “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg’s recent “Wall Street Journal” article on this topic focuses on the entire “life-cycle” of electric vehicles, not just on their post-production carbon dioxide emissions.

Taking into account the carbon emissions needed to produce a vehicle, electric cars begin their exhaust-free existence with more than twice the emissions required to make a conventional automobile (30,000 vs. 14,000 pounds). Then there’s the problem of recharging, a process that typically employs electricity produced from fossil fuels.

Here is Lomborg’s bottom line with respect to emissions: “If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles.”

Another discouraging word for EV aficionados is that the Nissan Leaf has only a 73-mile range per charge and, according to one test, recharging takes so long that on extended trips the average speed is about six (yes, 6) miles per hour. Add to that tidbit the fact that within five years battery degradation brings the car’s range down to 55 miles. Thus, the likelihood of achieving any positive “carbon offset” with this vehicle is slim.

Despite these inconvenient truths, California and the feds continue to generously subsidize these hugely expensive vehicles—more out of blind allegiance to the green lobby and the goddess Gaia than out of a reasonable cost-benefit analysis.

California’s Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors greatly appreciate governments that dish out billions of dollars to battery and electric car manufacturers like themselves—all so that benighted greenies can feel good about themselves.

Informed taxpayers and honest environmentalists shouldn’t feel so swell about these dubious investments.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


A voice breathlessly commenting on a dramatic emergency scene declares that “every second counts when it comes to saving lives” and that without Proposition A “your safety is at risk.” Los Angeles’ Police Chief appears on screen and grimly announces: “I’m Charlie Beck. Public safety is now in danger. Please support me by voting ‘yes’ on Proposition A.”

That’s the choice for voters: Support Proposition A or put public safety at risk. What exactly Prop. A is, isn’t stated, but obviously only sociopaths would oppose it. Such is the nature of today’s “my way or the apocalypse” political discourse.

For the benefit of the more than eighty percent of registered Angelinos who sat out this election, Prop. A called for a permanent half-cent increase in the city’s sales tax—a rise that the city council hoped would generate over $200 million in additional revenue.

Buoyed by the success of Proposition 30 last fall, which linked tax increases to the welfare of California’s school children, L.A.’s city council rushed through this local tax measure without public hearings and hoped for a ‘yes’ vote by tying it to emergency responders.

Fortunately, enough sentient citizens went to the polls to defeat this measure (55-45%). At a minimum this new pile of municipal cash would be an important bargaining chip that public employee unions would employ in upcoming contract negotiations.

The issue never addressed by proponents of this and other new taxes is why the most essential and popular government services are in jeopardy if new taxes aren’t approved. Why, in other words, is funding for emergency services, schools, and parks always at risk and not exorbitant pensions, proliferating bureaucrats, and dubious programs?

In his teaching days economist Thomas Sowell told students to “imagine a government agency with only two tasks: building statues of Benedict Arnold and providing life-saving medications to children.” Sowell then asked how the agency would respond to a budget cut. The bureaucrat-savvy answer is that medications for children would be reduced because that action would likely result in getting the budget cuts reversed.

The Obama White House is playing the same cynical game with the puny $85 billion cut to a federal budget projected to be over $3700 billion (3.7 trillion). Thus, school children planning a visit to the White House are turned away in order to make cuts as painful and obvious as possible.

The worst case scenario, as one Obama lackey opined, would be if “the sequester hits and nothing bad really happens”—a result that would confirm the obvious truth that most governments are awash in redundancy, regulatory overreach, and graft.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


The ancient Greeks said to count no man happy until he dies. After all, one never knows what unexpected turns a person’s life might take.

Two years after I moved to San Diego in 1984, the city chose as its mayor a perky 38-year–old woman named Maureen O’Connor. “Mo” was first elected to the City Council in 1971 when she was only twenty-five. She served in that capacity for eight years, and then had a five-year stint as commissioner of the Port of San Diego prior to becoming mayor. In 1977, during her rise to political power, she became the wife of Jack in the Box founder, Robert Peterson.

In short, by the early 90s O’Connor was respected, powerful, and wealthy. Currently the former mayor is facing prosecution for taking over two million dollars from her deceased husband’s charitable foundation—money that she gambled away, along with much of the fortune she inherited.

A deal struck with federal prosecutors allows the 66-year-old O’Connor to defer prosecution for two years as she attempts to repay her debt to the foundation. O’Connor, who underwent surgery for a brain tumor in 2011 and suffers from its aftereffects, now lives with her sister and is virtually broke.

The former mayor suffered the loss of her husband in 1994, and according to her attorney the deaths of several other close friends contributed to his client’s compulsive “grief gambling”—a habit that reportedly began around 2001. During the next decade she wagered, won, and lost over a billion dollars. But her net losses topped $13 million.

It’s hard to imagine the number of hours O’Connor must have been spent in front of lifeless video poker machines to reach those staggering figures. But gambling houses in San Diego, Las Vegas and Atlantic City were happy to accommodate a presumably wealthy patron who would occasionally drop $100,000 in a day. It’s a portrait quite at odds with the happy scenes conveyed by casino ads on TV.

O’Connor likened her gambling habit to heroin addiction and suggested that her brain tumor may have added to the compulsiveness. Federal prosecutor Phillip Halpern, however, observed that a ten-year fuse for a brain tumor is unlikely.

My own guess is that the absence of children, the loss of intimate friends, and separation from the reins of power all combined to create a vacuum for which even millions of dollars could not compensate. A politician out of power can be like an ex-athlete who misses the adrenaline rush of competition, cheers and victory.

And when those “celebrities” find themselves short on close friends, a video poker machine is cold comfort.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Black Gold Versus Green Religion

Gas prices in the Southland are again well above four dollars, and in some regions of California over five. The typical political response to this state of affairs is to blame the dastardly oil companies, as Dianne Feinstein did last October when prices spiked even higher and the senator demanded a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the presumably nefarious cause of this rise.

Even a non-conservative source like NBC news, however, was still honest enough to report that Californians have only themselves and their elected officials to blame for soaring prices at the pump. Boutique gas blends, limited refining capacity, and the second-highest gasoline tax in the country (almost fifty cents a gallon) are three factors that regularly combine to push pump prices into the stratosphere.

Fortunately, the once-Golden State is now sitting on a vast store of oil within the Monterey Shale formation. This geological region measuring 1,750 square miles and stretching from southern to central California constitutes two-thirds of the country’s estimated shale oil reserves and dwarfs the ample supply in North Dakota that has fueled an economic boom in that state.

Unfortunately, the chances that California’s Green political machine will allow this resource to be effectively tapped—to reduce unemployment, erase budget deficits, and eventually trim gas prices—are slim and none.

Hollywood, the prime source of misinformation for many West Coasters, has already launched a major theatrical broadside against the fracking process by which oil is obtained from shale. In the film “Promised Land” Matt Damon is the celebrity employed to show that oil companies are ruthless and will go to great lengths to discredit environmental concerns. The movie, not coincidentally, was largely funded by an enterprise owned by the United Arab Emirates—an OPEC nation that clearly hopes to stifle U.S. oil production.

Ironically, there are significant potential environmental upsides to accessing this huge oil reservoir—like reducing tanker-spill risks and cutting greenhouse gas emissions in refineries due to the quality of Monterey oil. But it’s unlikely the oil-is-evil crowd will care about these considerations since, as one pundit observed, “their opposition is more religious than rational.”

Radical environmentalists have so cluttered the Internet with apocalyptic fracking scenarios that it’s hard to find unbiased expert information. Geologist Ian Duncan’s sober analysis, for example, is buried beneath scores of anti-fracking screeds.

Last October Senator Feinstein declared that forcing motorists to pay dearly for gasoline was “untenable.” But don’t count on Feinstein’s support for accessing a resource that could actually lower those prices. Her position will likely follow the theological urgings of the state’s green, wealthy coastal elite—not the distress of reddish inlanders.