Topic: Government and Politics

Not So Free Love in San Francisco

Yet again the city of San Francisco is demonstrating its “love” for humanity.  By threatening to fine them for getting their garbage wrong.

Reports MSNBC:

Trash collectors in San Francisco will soon be doing more than just gathering garbage: They’ll be keeping an eye out for people who toss food scraps out with their rubbish.

San Francisco this week passed a mandatory composting law that is believed to be the strictest such ordinance in the nation. Residents will be required to have three color-coded trash bins, including one for recycling, one for trash and a new one for compost — everything from banana peels to coffee grounds.

The law makes San Francisco the leader yet again in environmentally friendly measures, following up on other green initiatives such as banning plastic bags at supermarkets.

Food scraps sent to a landfill decompose fast and turn into methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas. Under the new system, collected scraps will be turned into compost that helps area farms and vineyards flourish. The city eventually wants to eliminate waste at landfills by 2020.

Chris Peck, the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board spokesman, said he wasn’t aware of an ordinance as tough as San Francisco’s. Many cities, including Pittsburgh and San Diego, require residents to recycle yard waste but not food scraps. Seattle requires households to put scraps in the compost bin or have a composting system, but those who don’t comply aren’t fined.

“The city has been progressive, and they’ve been leaders and it appears that they’re stepping out of the pack again,” he said.

San Francisco officials said they aren’t looking to punish violators harshly.

Waste collectors will not pick through anyone’s garbage, said Robert Reed, a spokesman for Sunset Scavenger Co., which handles the city’s recyclables. If the wrong kind of materials are noticed while a bin is being emptied, workers will leave what Reed called “a love note,” to let customers know they are not with the program.

“We’re not going to lock you up in jail if you don’t compost,” said Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom who proposed the measure that passed Tuesday. “We’re going to make it as easy as possible for San Franciscans to learn how to compost.”

A moratorium on imposing fines will end in 2010, after which repeat offenders like individuals and small businesses generating less than a cubic yard of refuse a week face fines of up to $100.

Businesses that don’t provide the proper containers face a $500 fine.

Most everyone wants to be loved.  But this sort of government “love” we can all do without!

Good News: No Eminent Domain for Flight 93 Memorial

Whether the federal government should be building a $58 million memorial to the heroic passengers on United flight 93, who thwarted the plot to crash a fourth plane on September 11, is a question that has yet to be asked in Washington.  But it clearly is improper for the authorities to acquire land for the memorial through eminent domain.

Thankfully, Washington has backed down from its plans to seize the property. 

Reports Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Yesterday, the U.S. government announced that it wouldn’t resort to eminent domain to seize land in Somerset, Pa for the proposed Flight 93 memorial. This is good news for fans of the concept of private property. When the National Park Service announced that it would seize the land from the seven property owners for the memorial rather than pay the landowners what they were asking for the lots, you didn’t have to be a libertarian to know something unjust was happening. The National Park Service was engaging in behavior that was fundamentally un-American, anti-democratic and an affront to the concept of property rights. Sure, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the government’s right to do such a thing in the name of the public good, but it was questionable whether a memorial to a plane load of heroes that crashed in a field on 9-11 outweighs the rights of the current owners to use the land as they see fit. Fortunately, the government has declined to grab the final 500 acres it needs for its $58 million, 2,200 acre 9-11 memorial and national park.

The United 93 passengers embody the best of America.  Commemorating their heroism should be done in a manner that best reflects the values they were defending.

End War—At Least the Drug War

War is an awful thing.  Yet, to show they are serious, politicians constantly use the “war” analogy.  A “war on poverty.”  An “energy war.”  The “drug war.”

Yet militarizing these and other issues is precisely the wrong way to deal with them.  So it is with the drug war, which has come most to resemble a real war.  Indeed, more Mexicans have been dying in their “drug war” than Americans have been dying in Iraq.

It’s time to call a truce.  Writes Sherwood Ross:

Gil Kerlikowske, Obama’s new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has renounced even the use of the phrase “War on Drugs” on grounds it favors incarceration of offenders rather than treatment. But talk is no substitute for action.

To his credit, Obama has long appeared to be open to a fresh approach. In an address at Howard University on Sept. 28, 2007, then Sen. Obama said, “I think it’s time we took a hard look at the wisdom of locking up some first time nonviolent drug users for decades.” 

“We will give first-time, non-violent drug offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior,” he added. “So let’s reform this system. Let’s do what’s smart. Let’s do what’s just.”
And as prison overcrowding worsens and governors currently whine they can’t balance budgets, the public might get some real relief.

Last year, more than 700,000 of the country’s 20-million pot smokers were arrested for marijuana possession, according to NORML, an advocacy lobby that works for decriminalization. Over the past decade, 5-million folks got arrested on marijuana charges, 90% of which were for “simple possession, not trafficking or sale,” NORML says.

“Regardless of whether one is a ‘drug warrior’ or a ‘drug legalizer,” writes Bob Barr in the May 25 Atlanta Journal Constitution, “it is difficult if not impossible to defend the 38-year old war on drugs as a success.”

Drug abuse is a serious social problem.  But so is alcoholism.  And many other social (mis)behaviors.  We should start treating it as a social, health, and moral problem, not as a matter for the criminal law.  

President Obama:  End this war!

War Is the Health of the State, Redux

Randolph Bourne warned us nearly a century ago that “war is the health of the state.”  There may be no better present evidence of the danger of promiscuous war-making comes than a new article by columnist Ralph Peters.  Faced with the inevitable horror of war, he says embrace the horror rather than forgo the war.

Argues Peters:

While the essence of warfare never changes—it will always be about killing the enemy until he acquiesces in our desires or is exterminated—its topical manifestations evolve and its dimensions expand. Today, the United States and its allies will never face a lone enemy on the battlefield. There will always be a hostile third party in the fight, but one which we not only refrain from attacking but are hesitant to annoy: the media.

While this brief essay cannot undertake to analyze the psychological dysfunctions that lead many among the most privileged Westerners to attack their own civilization and those who defend it, we can acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that, to most media practitioners, our troops are always guilty (even if proven innocent), while our barbaric enemies are innocent (even if proven guilty). The phenomenon of Western and world journalists championing the “rights” and causes of blood-drenched butchers who, given the opportunity, would torture and slaughter them, disproves the notion—were any additional proof required—that human beings are rational creatures. Indeed, the passionate belief of so much of the intelligentsia that our civilization is evil and only the savage is noble looks rather like an anemic version of the self-delusions of the terrorists themselves. And, of course, there is a penalty for the intellectual’s dismissal of religion: humans need to believe in something greater than themselves, even if they have a degree from Harvard. Rejecting the god of their fathers, the neo-pagans who dominate the media serve as lackeys at the terrorists’ bloody altar.

Of course, the media have shaped the outcome of conflicts for centuries, from the European wars of religion through Vietnam. More recently, though, the media have determined the outcomes of conflicts. While journalists and editors ultimately failed to defeat the U.S. government in Iraq, video cameras and biased reporting guaranteed that Hezbollah would survive the 2006 war with Israel and, as of this writing, they appear to have saved Hamas from destruction in Gaza.

Pretending to be impartial, the self-segregating personalities drawn to media careers overwhelmingly take a side, and that side is rarely ours. Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

Sometimes war will be inevitable, but America’s many economic, geographic, and political advantages allow us to more easily avoid it.  The cost to our people, foreign peoples, and our domestic freedoms are all good reasons to treat war as the last resort rather than the first tool of choice by Washington policymakers.

“There Is No Gain to Keep Them”

Thus explained Khmer Rouge apparatchiks on why children of perceived regime enemies were killed.

In the midst of America’s political and economic mess, it is worth remembering how blessed we are and how deep humanity can fall.  Cambodia is in the process of trying the former commandant of Tuol Sleng, a prison that specialized in torture and murder, and from which only a handful of prisoners emerged alive.

Reports the Associated Press:

The Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s killed babies and toddlers — sometimes by holding their legs and smashing their heads against trees — so they would not seek revenge later in life, the group’s former chief jailer said Monday.

Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, commanded the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 prison, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured before being sent to their deaths.

Duch, 66, is being tried by a U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died under the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime from forced labor, starvation, medical neglect and executions.

Duch recounted a Khmer Rouge policy on detained children: “There is no gain to keep them, and they might take revenge on you,” which he said was told to him by the regime’s former defense minister, Son Sen.

Today Tuol Sleng is a museum.  I visited it several years ago, along with the “killing fields,” in which thousands of the Khmer Rouge’s victims were buried.  Seeing the former prison is an experience simultaneously moving, sobering, chilling, and depressing.  It offers a tragic reminder of the horrors that result when sinful human beings take control of powerful state institutions and seek to remake society.  No wonder liberty is so precious.

Money in Politics, Virigina Edition

Bruce Bartlett has a good opinion piece on money in politics in Forbes.  He mostly focuses on self-funding candidates who rarely win even when they contribute large sums to their own campaigns.  The recent Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia, which Bartlett mentions, saw Terry McAuliffe spend over $7 million and lose badly.  McAuliffe financed his bid in the usual way by attracting contributions. His success at fundraising may have cost him votes in the end.

Despite the McAuliffe example and others mentioned by Bartlett, people still believe “only money matters in politics” or “money buys elections.” The truth is, money matters but not all that much. Other factors, like circumstances, partisanship and the quality of  the candidate, have more effect on the outcome of any election. It is true that incumbent members of Congress generally raise more than their challengers and almost always defeat them. But if you take into account the quality of a challenger, money has little effect on the outcome of a race.

We hear little these days about money buying elections. The people who complain about the power of money to subvert democracy are almost always on the left. If money buys elections, is Obama’s presidency a subversion of democracy? After all, the current president is the most successful fundraiser in American history, and not all of his money came from small contributors. But Obama didn’t buy the election of 2008. He was running against an unpopular administration with the economy mired in a deep recession. Obama was a skillful candidate who ran an effective campaign. John McCain could have matched Obama’s fundraising and the Republican still would have lost.

Money is overrated in politics. Just ask Terry McAuliffe.

Campaign Finance Reform, European Style

Europe just held elections for the European parliament.  The British National Party — an essentially fascist, all-white grouping — won two seats.  And access to potentially a lot of money.

It isn’t literally public campaign financing, but once elected, parties in the European parliament often can get their hands on a lot of public funding.  Reports the Independent:

Both men will be entitled to about £310,000 in annual funding, including an £80,443 salary, a staff budget of up to £182,000 and £40,000 for office expenses. But the British National Party (BNP) could also unlock a share of the £22.8m allowance that is given to parliamentary groups if it can find at least 25 fellow MEPs from seven member states willing to form a bloc within the European Parliament.

Being part of a group is crucial in terms of power as it entitles members to EU funding, a party office, administrative staff and, crucially, the right to vote in committees which are the nerve centre of the Parliament.

A parliamentary group is also entitled to up to £5m of extra funding over the next five-year term.

A number of far-right groups have secured seats in the European Parliament, many of whom hold outwardly racist or neo-fascist policies. Prior to the European elections, high-ranking members of the BNP had attended rallies held by neo-Nazis in both Italy and Hungary.

It’s bad enough for Europeans to have to tolerate such folks in the European Parliament.  But subsidizing their activities seems ridiculous.  So it is with the public funding of elections and government restrictions on private fundraising and advertising in elections in the U.S.  The thought of jackboots at the trough, as some in Britain put it, is as good an argument as I can imagine against the public financing of elections here.