Saturday, May 30, 2009


no, not the CD by Red Hot Chili Peppers nor the show on Showtime...

I'm just really frustrated by this state... again...

Our state budget is in the toilet and essential services are being impacted in a serious way. Cuts to education are particularly troubling to me. And there is no need for it. California is a rich state. If it was a country, its economy would be something like the 9th largest in the world. We have everything from agriculture all over the state that feeds the world to Silicon Valley that shapes the way the world shares information. There is no reason our tax base should be unable to provide the basic services we need and pay for the government...

Well, no good reason. There is a reason. Propositions. I've written about this dysfunctional way of doing government before but it has hit the fan now. If you can get a relatively small number of people to sign a petition, you can get a proposition on the ballot. If you have enough money to do some serious advertising, you can get it passed. Once it is passed, the only way it can be changed is by another proposition. The legislature cannot touch any laws enacted by proposition. You've noticed that there are no requirements that the proposition be well written, aware of collateral consequences, or even helpful. You only have to sell it and then it is law.

So, what typically happens is that some special interest passes a law requiring funding for their cause. It may e a good cause. It may even be a great cause... but rarely does the proposition include provisions for a funding stream (that would look too much like a tax). It passes and codifies a program which takes away money from the general budget. Then another proposition is introduced to cut or cap taxes (prop 13 is the grand daddy of all of these). So the income shrinks but the outflow cannot. It is codified. And the legislature cannot address the issue without a proposition. As Bill Maher said in New Rules last week, you end up with a fantasy land where people vote for wonderful programs while also voting to get them essentially for free. And you can see the problem.

FWIW, Paul Krugman had a great column on the issue this week.

Prop 8 showed the other problem with propositions. After the court ruled that the prop 8 stands, there were lots of folk in the media commenting that the people had spoken and the role of government was to honor the wishes of the majority. Frankly, I'm glad that hasn't been the policy in the past. Segregation would not have ended in the south as the majority would clearly have voted to keep the races separate. The list of examples is long. Part of the role of government is to stand against the tyranny of the majority and to ensure the rights of those outside of the mainstream. Regardless of how one feels about this issue, this was not the way to address it.

I don't see any way to get rid of the proposition process... but I sure would like to see it happen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


it's been a while since I posted a video so here is a vocal group that I think is pretty cool... would love to see them live some time.

Friday, May 15, 2009


There is an awful lot of discussion going on these days regarding the appropriateness or inappropriateness of waterboarding and whether those involved should be prosecuted.

Let me give my short answer and then I'll discuss the issue a bit...

Waterboarding is torture and as such it is never acceptable under any circumstances. All of those who were involved should be prosecuted and it should not be only at the lowest levels. If those higher in the Bush administration approved or ordered those "techniques," they should be prosecuted as well... all of the way up to the president if the trail leads that far.

Yesterday, I was listening to the Dennis Miller show on the radio and he had an exchange with a listener who said whaterboarding is wrong. Miller castigated the values of the listener saying something to the effect of, "you'd probably say that if it was a choice between 100's dying in a building that was attacked vs. waterboarding one known terrorist to get the information to stop the attack, that you'd have the innocent die. I don't want to live in that world. Do what you must do to get the information to save the innocent."

At the most simple level, I would say, "yes, let the attack happen if we must cease to be who we claim to be in order to stop it." But the simplest level is more than a little over simplified. It assumes that there is no other way to get the information and that torture works. Neither of these assumptions are accurate. All of the studies show that torture does not give accurate information. Those being tortured will say anything to stop the pain... and they do. Good police work and good intellegence efforts provide much more accurate and helpful information. But, let's allow thse two assumptions for a moment. Miller's argument begs us to follow his path to its logical conclusions as well... let me do that.

Let's assume we have chatter that an attack is imminent and we have in custody a terrorist who we are 100% positive has the information needed to stop the attack. (again, assumptions that are never accurate but for sake of argument...) So we waterboard the prisoner and he gives no helpful information. We know that waterboarding doesn't always give immediate information or those prisoners who were waterboarded would not have suffered the "technique" hundreds of times. So it becomes clear that the needed answers are not forthcoming. With Miller's argument, we would go the next step. After all, we are dealing with a clearly guilty person and trying to save the lives of 100's of innocents. So do we pull out fingernails? Or cut off fingers? Or electrocute? And then wat if the information still isn't forthcoming? We know the attack is coming and are sure he has the information we need to stop it. Do we bring the prisoner's wife in and rape her in front of him? Or do we begin to cut his 9 year old son's fingers off, one by one? After all, we are dealing with a known terrorist and we are trying to save the lives of 100's of innocents? What is the comparison between the family of one known terrorist killer and the lives of innocents? And so the argument goes to its logical conclusion... Do whatever it takes to get the information. The end justifes the means.

The question is where do we draw the line? The Bush administration tried to draw a line. Waterboarding is OK so many times. Slaming a head against a wall with X force in this way is OK but doing Y is not. Miller's arguent clearly leads to a conclusion that there is no line as long as the end can be construed as noble. I argue that there is a line that stands independent of the end and the line is clear in the law and in international treaties. No torture, ever, and waterboarding is torture.

There are those who argue that because the terrorists kill children, cut off heads, etc. that a little torture is not a problem. I refuse to allow terrorists to define for me what is right and wrong. I refuse to allow them to give me justification to break the clear laws of this country and the treaties we have signed in the past. I think America is and needs to be better than that. If we change who we are in response to their evil, then we have already lost the battle.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Saving Faith

My daughter, Alexis, has recently begun a new video blog - Saving Faith - where she will be sharing some of her thoughts about the Church, where it is and where it needs to be. I think the issues are especially close to her heart since her move to Phoenix. She has had difficulty finding a faith community where she feels like she fits. There are lots of big conservative churches which don't work on a theological level and there are a few liberal churches that she has visited that don't work on a cultural level. So, she continues to struggle and search. I understand her difficulties.

She is passionate, thoughtful, has had a very interesting set of experiences in her life )including a mission experience in Central America and 6 months in India looking at the role of faith in building a civil society), and is very bright... sometimes oversimplifies things a bit perhaps (isn't that a prerogative of someone in their 20's?), but will certainly raise some good questions. I hope some of you will check out her thoughts and enter into genuine dialogue with her.

here is her second entry...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

big government

With all of the folk complaining about "big government" these days, I'm thankful for big government. Resources came from all over the state of California and were organized and coordinated and paid for by... the government all to fight the Jesusita Fire. If we hadn't had "big government" at work in Santa Barbara literally thousands of homes would have been lost and who knows how many lives.

Yesterday I heard Dennis Miller say that single payer healthcare would be "like the post office only with wounds." Two observations... everybody gets mail from the post office and I don't remember the last time they lost something of mine. And... so, if you don't like the post office, why not look at the parts of government that you do like? Miller LOVES the military? Would he argue that we privatize the military? Would he have privatized the fire fighting effort in SB? Would he make all roads private so that with every change of ownership you had to stop and pay a toll?

So where should the government be involved? Anything that has to do with the commons... and that includes roads and firefighting and the military and... healthcare.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

beauty and fury

this photo is looking at the Gaviota Pass with the ocean to my back.

I tell people that I have the most beautiful commute in the world. I leave my house and drive south about 9 miles through the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains and then through the Gaviota Pass. In some areas the mountains are covered with Live Oak trees, others with chaparral, others with golden grasses swaying in the winds, and still others with dramatic rock formations. I catch a few glimpses of some vineyards but most of them are to the north of my commute. I go through the pass and within about 1/4 of a mile I come to the ocean and make a left turn. For about the next 20 miles I drive with the ocean on my right and the mountains on my left. There are almost no buildings. The mountains continue their variety and occasionally are dotted with cattle or llamas grazing. I see the pelicans swooping along the shoreline and birds of prey watching for lunch or just enjoying the thermals. Every now and again, I glance out to the ocean and see a pod of dolphins swimming by. Traffic is generally pretty light. The final 5 miles are in the city of Goleta, traffic picks up and the view of the ocean is obscured. The mountains move a bit away from the coast but are still the dominant feature. It is easy to see why people refer to this area of the country as paradise.

heading west, about 7 miles east of the Gaviota Pass

But we can't forget the fury... The Jesusita fire is our third big fire in a very short time and this one was both dramatic and frightening. The flames have burned nearly 9000 acres as I write and at times the flames stretched over a five mile line along the mountains above the city of Santa Barbara and Goleta. The last I heard, 80 homes were confirmed destroyed. Many of my church members live in the mandatory evacuation zone and the church is located in the warning area. It is possible that one of our members lost a home and we know that some friends did. And then there was a small earthquake in nearby Ojai. At times the ash falls from the sky like snow and the ground looks like an old ash tray. Air quality is terrible down wind from the fire. When the rains come next fall, all of the areas burned will be subject to possible mud slides.

this is an AP photo by Keith Cullom

The beauty comes with a price and sometimes it is a high one.

Just as information, my home is far to the west of the fire. We can see the plume of smoke but haven't even had ash here.