Monday, August 11, 2014


  Imagine being able to board a train in San Francisco and three hours later be in Los Angeles.  Comfy overhead sitting on the tarmac for hours airplane at all.  It's the stuff of great fantasy and Jerry Brown says he wants the state of California to build this bullet train.  I can't think of a worse idea.

     I don't get to see local papers very often.  (who would have thought I would miss the Chronicle?)  Once in a while one will cross my bunk and I get to see what's going on in the Bay Area.  One story seems to jump off the pages.  It is the disaster that is the construction of the new part of the Bay Bridge.  It is an on-going series of revelations revealing a comedy of errors and outrageous incompetency on a grand scale.

     From the snippets I get to read, CALTRANS chose a Chinese company to make the steel for the bridge even though it had never been involved in a bridge project before.  The company balked and failed to follow stringent requirements for the manufacture of the steel and for the quality controls needed and instead of firing them and finding someone new, CALTRANS granted the exemptions and made excuses.  Now inspectors are finding corrosion and bolts which are shearing off and evidence the company did not manufacture the steel up to standards.  The steel is exposed to elements and water and salt and reacting to them when there shouldn't be a reaction.  There are also reports of suspect concrete used in pilings and other places on the bridge as well as well as innumerable other problems and all of this plus a price tag which isn't even close to any original estimates and gives a new definition to the term sticker shock.

     The latest outrage is the accusations that employees of the state who raised red flags about many of these concerns or warned about problems with the steel, concrete, structural plans, incompetence or criminally bad engineering were fired or demoted by CALTRANS.  A report issued in January confirms an environment in which critics or whistleblowers, or just people trying to do their jobs, were intimidated and brow beat into shutting up and looking the other way or else.  In the last few weeks, three more employees have come forward to accuse CALTRANS of firing them because they dared to raise questions about the quality of the work being done.

     This is typical of the government's reaction to criticism.  This happens on Pentagon procurement all the time.  (the colonel who blew the whistle on the Bradley Fighting vehicle that it hadn't been tested and would kill everyone inside if struck by a rocket propelled grenade, was transferred to Greenland until Congress stepped in)  Companies get government contracts and then cut every corner possible to maximize profit including shoddy material, poor construction and bad design.  When someone raises questions about the practices, they are the ones attacked by a government bureaucracy which reflexively circles the wagons to protect itself.  It is exactly what CALTRANS appears to have done in this case.  As far as I can see, and I don't have all the data, no one in the upper echelons of CALTRANS or anyone in the state government, has lost their job because of this debacle.  No one has been brought up on criminal charges, charged with obstruction or for cheating California taxpayers.  As is typical, the whistleblowers lose their jobs while the higher ups stay untouched.  Brown, of course, has done nothing and held no one accountable.  No one has been fired nor has the leadership of the agency been shaken up and in fact he denies there are any serious concerns about the structural integrity of the bridge.  At the very least taxpayers and commuters will both have to pay more through higher tolls and more tax revenue, and will be on the hook for billions in repairs and maintenance costs far into the foreseeable future.

     Now this same governor...this same CALTRANS...this same incompetent group of state employees, contract supervisors, engineers and designers want to spend more than $60 billion to build a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Really?  Given what we know about how badly they blundered on the Bay Bridge and given how the costs were out of control...given their willingness to ignore or cover-up problems with materials, design, construction and other key facets of the project, you are being asked to let them have at another major construction undertaking?  What is the definition of insanity?

     "They" say it will cost about $60 billion.  This means it will cost at least twice that, or more, when it is finally completed.  "They" say it will be constructed with the best materials...the most advanced designs...using advanced high tech engineering.  You know they will hire an incompetent company to save some money (which you will pay for at the back end when it's poorly completed).  The company will try to cut every possible corner to maximize profit and if anyone raises an alarm, they will be fired or demoted as CALTRANS, or whoever is in charge, protects their own jobs at your expense.  "They" say safety will be their highest priority just as it was with the Bay Bridge.  How safe does that make you feel?  "They" say this will create much needed construction and other jobs.  Why not spend far less money repairing the state's infrastructure of roads and bridges which are in terrible condition and actually create more jobs right now in the construction industry and related fields?

     It is impossible to look at the debacle of the new Bay Bridge and then rationally hand these same people over $60 billion of your tax dollars to do it again.  The State of California, and the governor, (perhaps any governor) is incapable of building this train on-time, on budget, safely and they will stick taxpayers with the tab and it will never live up to even half of the promises being made about how it will perform and how much prosperity it will bring to the state.

     My grandmother used to say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  If you use the Bay Bridge as an example, it tastes like ass and smells just as bad.  I would never vote, nor support anything which involves CALTRANS in a big construction project and the bureaucrats who come with it after watching how poorly they performed on something as vital as this bridge.   Would you?

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Reading Section A of the Wall Street Journal for Thursday, August 7th, left me wanting answers...full of thoughts and comments...aghast.agog and wanting to throw it all into one Mulligan's stew of a literary meal.

 ___ Bank of America is going to pay $17 billion for ripping off people with bogus sub-prime mortgages and securities which were issued by Countrywide Financial Bank and Merrill Lynch and Co., companies which B of A purchased at the height of the depression of 2007.  This follows $13 billion which J.P. Morgan paid in fines, $7 billion by CitiBank, and numerous other banks who have admitted to committing fraud and theft and malfeascence on a global scale.  Not one bank official will be charged with a crime and the fines are perceived as just the cost of doing business.  (It almost reminds one of a mob operation where payoffs and bribes to cops and judges is just a cost for doing their business too)  Fearing the beating of an expired equine, how is it possible these "banks" could commit such egregious fraud and do serious damage to the nation's economy, causing millions of Americans to needlessly lose their homes, exacerbate the income gap between the 1% and everyone else, and yet not one person is punished.  How can Eric Holder et. al. go to sleep at night with any sense of being part of a "Justice" department?  The gang at Justice trotted out the cheerleaders and pom poms trumpeting their latest triumph, a triumph which solidifies once and for all the reality if you are rich enough and steal big enough, you can pass Go, collect your $200 and not ever even need a get out of jail free card.  Compare this to the federal prison system where more than 200,000 people are incarcerated, not one of whom can be claimed to have wrecked our economy, stole hundreds of billions of dollars, (hell Maddoff only stole about $20 billion maybe), threw millions of Americans out on the street and saddled our children's generation with debt and the probability of not being able to achieve any where near the economic success of their parents.  How does that equate?

___ If you want to know where you stand vis a vis privacy, the N.S.A. (National Security Agency), government spying and constitutional protections, it appears we are all totally screwed.  A federal judge, who used to sit on the secret F.I.S.A. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, has written letters to a congressional committee opposing reform legislation aimed at curbing the electronic rape which has been going on in this country since 2001.  Federal District Judge John Bates, doesn't like a bill by Sen. Patrick Leahy which, among other things, would advocate creating public interest advocates who would represent you and me, in front of the secret court, when the government is asking to give you or me a cyber colorectal exam.  Currently, the F.I.S.A. court grants about 99% of the government's requests.  (so much for judicial review)  The idea that someone ought to be looking out for us to prevent a government fishing expedition into your most personal information seems to offend Judge Bates.  He seems to find transparency un-American.  He has written at least three letters opposing reforms championed by Leahy, the A.C.L.U., 4th amendment defenders and those concerned about an intelligence community run amok.  My question is why he is allowed to write and lobby on this issue at all?  The judiciary is supposed to be a check on the executive and legislative's supposed to be blind taking up neither side in a dispute. It’s supposed to be an impartial arbiter.  So, how can it be in anyone's best interest when federal judges want to shape legislation they might later have to review?  What's worse, given what Bates has written, how would like to have your case of government spying allegations come before him?  How do you think he would rule?   Bates went so far as to argue a lawyer representing you and me would create an adversary to fight the government.  He doesn't like that concept.  What?  We want it to be adversarial...we want the government to have to defend its actions...we want someone challenging their assumptions and demanding a show of probable cause...we want it to be hard to get permission to shred the 4th amendment.  Apparently Judge Bates finds the concept abhorrent and thinks judges should be writing, and then reviewing, the laws of the land.  This is 1984 scary.

___ Currently, the United States is threatening Iran with possible war if it develops, or gets close to developing, a nuclear weapon.  Crushing economic sanctions have been justified as a means to convincing them not to continue to push to be a member of the nuclear club.  Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty which allows it to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. says that is not what they are up to and they will suffer until they knuckle under.  The president says military action is possible if the status quo doesn't change.  (President Bush got the American people to support a war in Iraq by claiming Saddam was trying to build a bomb and that could not be allowed...even if it was a lie)  A new report say Israel stole over 200 lbs. of bomb-grade uranium from a Pennsylvania company in the 60's, from which at least two Hiroshima-sized bombs could be fashioned.  We know they did it.  We kept it a secret.  (from us)  Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and by law the U.S. should be imposing economic sanctions as well as refusing to sell them military equipment and other assistance.  We ignore the law for them.  We allow them to deny they have nuclear weapons.  We turn a blind eye as they modernize them and as they threaten to attack Iran, and drag us into a disastrous war we could not win.  This is the same Israel we condemn for killing women and children in Gaza, and then resupply them with the very ammunition and weapons they used to carry out those attacks.  This is our ally about whom we conveniently ignore their flaunting of our laws and about whom we know they got their bombs by stealing from us.  People then wonder why we are not seen as an honest broker in the Middle East.

___ Women prefer Democrats and their economic plans over Republicans.  Women are more concerned about income inequality and the growing gap between the 1% and the rest of us and thus believe Democrats will do more to address this problem than will Republicans.  If women vote in decent enough numbers, they could blunt the Republican effort to take over control of the Senate.  Men love the the gap between the 1% and everyone else or at least aren't troubled by the idea of a pro-business, anti-labor Congress.  The midterm elections in November could result in the largest gender gap in any national election.  Here's to hoping it's a women's world in November.

___ From the bat-shit crazy department...President Obama's popularity is at an all time low and Americans give him poor marks in his handling of foreign policy.  They say it's not "muscular" enough.  However, the same polls say these Americans don't think the crisis in Syria, Libya, the South China Sea, Egypt, even the Ukraine are any of our business as a nation and do not support any use of American forces in those arenas.  Can you tell me based on these opinions, what course the President should steer internationally which would garner approval from the American public?

Monday, August 4, 2014


  Subject to new updates, at least 1,400 Palestinians have been killed in the latest battles with Israel.  According to international agencies, from one third to one half of those killed are children and over 80% of the dead are civilians.  Israel has lost 53 soldiers, which are too many, and 3 civilians so far.  (also too many)  Gaza has lost its only power plant which not only produces power for homes and lighting and air conditioning, it also is needed to run pumps which produce drinking water for Gazans.  The Palestinians are thus left in the dark, sweltering and without potable water.  Israeli infrastructure is secure with no damage from thousands of rockets which have been launched.  Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-rocket defense system is said to shoot down over 80% of the rockets which represent the most serious threats to person and property.  Thus, while Israelis face stress, psychological trauma, fear and the rare chance someone might be killed, Palestinians face imminent death, privation, and the destruction of most of their societal infrastructure.  Without debating right or wrong, the above facts point to a serious moral problem.  The threat to Israel and Israelis is not in any way proportionate to their military response.

     The Roman Catholic Church, and to an extent most Christian denominations, has promulgated over hundreds of years what has become known as the "just war" theory.  It is a moral approach to the question of whether any war can be morally justified.  While I find the theory lacking, and while the Church has rarely put any moral force behind it's decisions on just wars, it can be a starting point to examine armed conflict between states and people.  (the Church condemned the Iraq war because it violated the "just war" theory, but refused to sanction or condemn Catholic members of Congress who voted to use force...a reluctance it has never had for members who vote to protect a woman's right to choose.) 

     One of the key criteria in judging the just cause of any war is the concept of proportionality.  Is the alleged grievance caused by one nation, justification for the response of another?  (it was on this criteria the Church, along with most mainline Protestant churches in this country, condemned the Iraq war.  The United State's response was disproportionate to the provocation represented by Saddam Hussein.)

     It is clear to me; Israel's ongoing aggression in Gaza is morally disproportionate to the threat represented by the rocket attacks by Hamas.  Hamas rockets are incapable, due to their own shortcomings and the Iron Dome system, of causing the death and destruction which Israel has brought down upon Gaza.  Even the tunnels, which Israel says Hamas uses to smuggle weapons into Gaza as well as use to sneak attackers into Israel, have not resulted in significant property damage or loss of Israeli lives.

     1,400 dead vs. 3 could not be any clearer.  While Gaza loses its power plant, hospitals, schools and even open-air market places, Israel loses very little.  There is no moral equivalent between the damage and carnage Israeli forces are raining down on Gaza vs. the damage being done by Hamas to Israel and its citizens.

     Despite all the rhetoric from the Palestinian side, Israel has a right to defend itself, but it does not have a moral right to use self-defense as an excuse to try to force the Palestinians to abandon their political support for Hamas.  The truly immoral and disproportionate aspect of Israel's actions is they continue to attack civilians and children who could not and cannot stop the launching of the rockets even if they agreed with Israel's position.  Justifying innocent deaths by accusing Hamas of using human shields doesn't get Israel off the moral hook.  Knowing that, and attacking anyway, puts the onus on the Israelis even with the immoral actions of Hamas.  As their homes and towns are laid to rubble, the people in Gaza are not in a position to do anything affecting Hamas' strategy or military decisions.

     Even though Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies it, the only explanation for the destruction in Gaza is an attempt by Israel to cause regime change.  Israel appears to believe that by punishing the population of Gaza...killing them...destroying parts of cities and towns...shelling beaches filled with children...the people will remove Hamas from governing Gaza and replace it with something more acceptable to the Israelis.  This is the same mentality which President Bush was guilty of in Afghanistan and Iraq and you see how well that has worked out.

     Netanyahu is on the record as opposing a two state solution.  His cabinet is full of advisors who refuse to ever accept such a possibility.  Even as 16,000 more reservists are called up to pursue a ground war, Netanyahu's government reveals plans to expand illegal settlements on the West Bank and Jerusalem. (settlements which the United Nations, United States and Europe all agree are illegal and steal land from the Palestinians)  To think Palestinians will reject Hamas in the face of a continual Israeli occupation is to ignore reality.

     Israel does have the right to defend itself.  It has the right to close or destroy tunnels which allow for Hamas to attack within the country.  Israel has a right to exist and to live without fear of attack.  Israel has the right to respond to provocation, but the response must be proportional to the provocation.

    The United States has been an enabler for Israel since its inception.  We arm them and ignore their development of nuclear weapons while threatening war with other nations who attempt to get a nuke of their own.  We have refused to sanction Israel for disproportionate responses in the past.  We turn a blind eye as more and more Palestinian land is stolen by Israelis and settlements built.  Israel knows it can get away with virtually anything, particularly in an election year.  The current humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not matched by an equal humanitarian crisis in Israel and the U.S. is silent on the disparity.  Israel sees no downside to their current offensive.

     I don't have an ounce of Solomonic wisdom in me and don't know how to split this baby to bring about peace.  I do know it has to involve a two state has to involve an end to settlements and giving back the has to recognize Israel's right to exist in peace with secure has to represent hope for both sides.  I do know the only thing Israel is doing now is sewing the seeds of future wars and deep-seated hatred along with more destruction and the current offensive is immoral.