Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Cop-killer to give commencement speech

Walker above is referring to a movie about Mumia Abu-Jamal, who killed a Philadelphia cop in 1981. "What has happened to him" could "happen to any of us" only if we're convicted of shooting a cop to death. But to folks like Walker, Mumia is black and the cop he killed was white, so he must be innocent, right?

Naturally, our "progressive" Board of Supervisors recognized what a great injustice Mumia's conviction was. They passed a resolution in 2005 calling for a new trial. Michela Alioto-Pier, Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, Bevan Dufty, Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, Gerardo Sandoval, and Ross Mirkarimi all voted for it. Only Sean Elsbernd and Fiona Ma voted against it.

Turns out that Abu-Jamal will be giving a commencement address from his prison cell:

By Dave Boyer
The Washington Times
September 30, 2014

A convicted cop killer and former Black Panther whose case helped to derail one of President Obama’s top nominees has been chosen to give the commencement address at a Vermont college.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has been selected by undergraduate students at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, as their commencement speaker on Sunday.

Abu-Jamal was convicted in the 1981 slaying of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. He was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was reduced on appeal to life imprisonment.

The inmate’s notoriety helped to sink the nomination earlier this month of Debo Adegbile, who was Mr. Obama’s choice to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. Mr. Adegbile had helped to represent Abu Jamal’s case on appeal while working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Senators opposed to Mr. Adegbile’s nomination said he went beyond legal representation into political advocacy in the case. Mr. Adegbile withdrew from consideration earlier this month, and Mr. Obama has not announced a new nominee for the post.

The college said Abu-Jamal’s speech has been prerecorded by Prison Radio.

“As a reflection of Goddard’s individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker,” Goddard College Interim President Bob Kenny said in a statement. “Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that.”

The college said Abu-Jamal received a bachelor of arts degree from the school in 1996, completing his coursework by mail.  

The case against Abu-Jamal:

The prosecution presented four witnesses to the court. Robert Chobert, a cab driver who testified he was parked behind Faulkner, identified Abu-Jamal as the shooter. Cynthia White, a prostitute, testified that Abu-Jamal emerged from a nearby parking lot and shot Faulkner. Michael Scanlan, a motorist, testified that from two car lengths away, he saw a man, matching Abu-Jamal's description, run across the street from a parking lot and shoot Faulkner. Albert Magilton, a pedestrian who did not see the actual murder, testified to witnessing Faulkner pull over Cook's car. At the point of seeing Abu-Jamal start to cross the street toward them from the parking lot, Magilton turned away and lost sight of what happened next.

The prosecution also presented two witnesses who were at the hospital after the shootings. Hospital security guard Priscilla Durham and police officer Garry Bell testified that Abu-Jamal confessed in the hospital by saying, "I shot the motherfucker, and I hope the motherfucker dies."

A .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver, belonging to Abu-Jamal, with five spent cartridges was retrieved beside him at the scene. He was wearing a shoulder holster, and Anthony Paul, the Supervisor of the Philadelphia Police Department's firearms identification unit, testified at trial that the cartridge cases and rifling characteristics of the weapon were consistent with bullet fragments taken from Faulkner's body.

In SF only the Chronicle's Debra Saunders got Mumia right.

Thanks to Pamela Geller for the link to the Washington Times story.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Obama: "Islam is a religion that preaches peace"

President Obama (at 3:14): "Islam is a religion that preaches peace." That's simply untrue, since for millions of Muslims Islam is a weaponized version of their religion requiring jihad, death to apostates, death to homosexuals, the genital mutilation of girls, "honor" killings, etc., all of which is supported in the Koran and other Muslim holy books.

Obama says "We are not at war with Islam," but we are in effect at war with a significant number of Muslims who see us as nothing but infidels and "crusaders." They even see other Muslims as enemies to be killed whenever possible.

Like a lot of people who have no serious interest in religion---his church attendance is more of a political chore than a heart-felt religious act---President Obama patronizingly assumes that all religions are more or less the same, that they all advocate peace and brotherhood. Wrong!

Pat Oliphant

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Monday, September 29, 2014

$55 million for bike projects

Click on graphic for larger view

Note too the $383 million for the Central Subway boondoggle.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jason Henderson: "Prop. L must lose big"

Jason Henderson teaches a course called Bicycle Geographies at SF State, and he wrote a book supposedly based on the city's recent transportation history that features the illusory significance of bicycles. Even his vacations are about bikes. And he writes for the Bay Guardian, the editor of which is also a dedicated bike guy.

Who's better qualified to express the "progressive" view of transportation in San Francisco? Unfortunately for Henderson (see Money for Muni in this week's Guardian) and city progressives, that case has some serious shortcomings:

Prop. A's campaign also touts $142 million going towards pedestrian, bicycle, and motorist safety in corridors where the most death and injury have occurred.

Specifically which "corridors" are those? Impossible to say in light of that UC study that found that for years the city has been seriously under-counting cycling accidents. An earlier report found that the city has been making the same mistake counting pedestrian accidents. Along with counting accidents on the streets of the city, the purpose of the city's annual Collisions Reportanalyze where and why accidents happen to determine how they can be prevented. If the city isn't counting a lot of accidents, that analysis can't really be done. 

Odd that Henderson, a dedicated bike guy, ignores a report that finds he and his cycling comrades are in greater danger on city streets than they thought. Of course the real reason he and the editor of the Guardian are strenuously ignoring the study: it shows that riding a bike in the city is more dangerous than they, City Hall, and the Bicycle Coalition have been telling us. It's the same with the debate about wearing helmets when you ride: it makes many bike advocates uncomfortable because it implies realistically that cycling can be dangerous, which would discourage would-be cyclists from adopting that transportation "mode."


If [Prop. A is] approved it will also leverage state and federal matching funds, such as new cap-and-trade funding, hastening shovel-ready projects that many San Franciscans are clamoring to get done.

And exactly what kind of projects are people "clamoring to get done"? Henderson doesn't say, though paving city streets would seem be high on the list, since the condition of city streets is among the worst in the country. What should be low on the list: more bulb-outs, bike lanes, and cosmetic makeovers like the one on Divisadero. City Hall should pave the streets and then leave the neighborhoods alone.

Had Mayor Ed Lee not pandered to wealthier motorists, Sunday metering would be providing millions annually in Muni operating fees. Sup. Scott Wiener, the author of Prop. B, and his colleagues on the board, were shamefully silent about blowing that $10 million hole in Muni's budget. They were also silent or complicit in stopping expansion of SF Park, which is smart management of our streets and would provide millions more in operations funding for Muni...

Mayor Lee is rightly worried about passing Proposition A, which is why he has tried to placate neighborhood discontent by deactivating Sunday parking meters; why he wanted raising the vehicle licensing fee off the ballot; and why he opposed putting Supervisor Wiener's Prop. B on the same ballot as Prop. A. (Supervisor Wiener will be re-elected easily, so it's easy for him to grandstand with Prop. B).

As Henderson notes, Prop. A needs a 2/3 vote to pass. According to the Chamber of Commerce poll early this year, it was only getting 54%.


Meanwhile, congestion pricing---or charging drivers to access the most traffic-snarled portions of the city during peak hours---could bring in up to $80 million annually. Together with a reestablished VLF[vehicle license fee], that would simultaneously erase the need to do Prop. B and reduce our need to incur more wasteful debt.

According to that same poll, congestion pricing is even more unpopular in the city this year than it was last year: 72% disapprove of the idea and only 21% approve.


But ultimately, all of the supervisors, including Wiener, are complicit in the mayor's mess. Why didn't the supervisors speak up when Sunday metering was repealed? Why didn't the supervisors insist on placing the VLF on this year's ballot? With a two-thirds vote of the board, it would be on the ballot now. And unlike Prop. A, the VLF only needs a simple majority to pass. And now, because the mayor and supervisors have pandered to motorists to the umpteenth degree, a small group of them feel even more emboldened and entitled to grab more.

Obviously, as elected officials, the supervisors understand Mayor Lee's fears about Prop. A, which is a much bigger deal than Sunday parking meters or raising the vehicle licensing fee. (A prediction: both those issues will soon be back on the ballot whether Prop. A passes or not.) The mayor wanted to clear the ballot of other money issues to give Prop. A a better chance of passing.

Henderson wraps it up:

That takes us to Prop. LProp. L must not only lose at the ballot, it must lose big, so that maybe our politicians will get the message that we want a sustainable, equitable, and transit-first city.

In the city charter, the definition of "transit first" is so elastic it includes bicycles, which is why Henderson likes it. That means that the city can do whatever anti-car "improvements" it wants to city streets, and they can always be called "transit first."

But what if Prop. L passes, comes close to passing, or even just gets a substantial vote? "Our politicians" would then get a different message, one that would shatter the phony consensus about redesigning city streets on behalf of Henderson's small special interest group against the overwhelming majority that uses city streets.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Another lie from Scott Wiener

Scott Wiener, photo Dyami Serna, SFBC

Scott Wiener in the NY Times on the soccer field issue:

“Beach Chalet is the absolute epitome of San Francisco’s inability to have a planning process where you have a beginning, a middle and an end, and then you move forward,” said Scott Wiener, a member of the city’s board of supervisors, who voted in 2012 to approve artificial turf on the fields, along with nine of the board’s other 10 members...“What we struggle with in San Francisco is saying ‘We had the process, you had your voice, you didn’t get your way on this specific issue, but we’re moving forward,’ ” says Mr. Wiener. “If it takes this long and this many millions of dollars to get a straightforward soccer field project through, you can understand why it’s taken over 10 years for us to get our first bus rapid transit project done.” (‘Parks and Recreation’ Comes to Life in San Francisco).

The lie is the claim about BRT in San Francisco. Presumably Wiener is talking about the Geary BRT project, which has been mired in the planning process for years, not because of appeals or litigation by opponents of the project, but because the city has yet to approve a BRT project for Geary Boulevard. There is no project yet to oppose. The reason: the inherent difficulty of engineering a BRT project on Geary, with its many cross-streets and, more important, the underpasses at Fillmore and Geary and Masonic and Geary. 

City Hall apparently wants to fill in these underpasses, which of course will create two horrendous intersections and jam up traffic on Geary, which now efficiently handles more than 65,000 vehicles a day. A really dumb idea, that City Hall tries to justify by claiming that it will unite the neighborhoods on either side of Geary. (See Worst Idea of 2008, 2013, now Worst Idea of 2014.)

Wiener surely knows he's lying, though compulsive liars often end up believing their own bullshit. Wiener also lies about the Bicycle Plan and CEQA. Wiener apparently resents that part of the "process" that includes people opposing City Hall's projects, which is why he tried unsuccessfully to undermine our initiative rights several years ago.

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Lost Boys of Sudan and Islam

The story in today's NY Times (Film on Lost Boys of Sudan Uses Keys to Stand Out) about how a new film based on the Lost Boys of Sudan is being promoted doesn't mention why they became "lost" in the first place: The Islamic North Sudan attacked and slaughtered the non-Muslim people of South Sudan, making thousands of Sudanese children into refugees. A fatuous version of multiculturalism strikes again!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Punks on Bikes kill peds in New York

In today's New York Times (In Central Park, Cyclists Still Compete With Pedestrians):

Police enforcement appeared scant on Tuesday on West Drive, near West 63rd Street, where Jill Tarlov, 58, was struck by a cyclist on Thursday. Most cyclists stopped for the red lights dotting the road, but others, joined by a pedicab or two, zoomed through, even when pedestrians were waiting to cross.

Some pedestrians described an increasingly hostile environment on the six-mile road, which is closed to car traffic in the middle of the day. In recent years, they said, the number of cyclists on racing bikes has grown, and those riders jockey with more leisurely cyclists, joggers, walkers, horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs.

“It’s a free-for-all,” said David Crawford, an opera singer, who was with his wife, Laura Wells, pushing their 2-year-old daughter in a stroller. “They need to have a barrier between the bicyclists and the walkers. It’s scary.”

Ms. Tarlov, of Fairfield, Conn., was walking through the park during a shopping trip to Manhattan. In the late afternoon, she stepped onto the roadway and was hit by a bicyclist, Jason W. Marshall, 31, who told authorities that he had swerved to avoid other pedestrians. Ms. Tarlov died on Monday.

In August, a 75-year-old jogger died on the other side of the park after being struck by a teenager who was riding on the pedestrian path, part of the loop road near East 72nd Street...

Jamie O’Reilly, a dog walker with two Labrador retrievers and a Catahoula in tow, said she was intimidated by the packs of racing cyclists.

“They are horrible,” she said. “They scream obscenities at tourists who have one foot in the road. They are like a gang”...

Some cycling enthusiasts said new electronic tools had increased the competitiveness of bicyclists. Two in particular, Strava and Garmin Connect, allow cyclists to track their average speed over a set distance and then to compare their times to those of other users.

“You can compete with someone without having to physically ride together,” said Ray Delgado, manager of Tread Bike Shop in Upper Manhattan. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this guy went around Central Park in five minutes, and I want to see if I can do it in four minutes and 55 seconds.’ ”

A follow-up story in the Times on Sept. 29.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The MTA at work at the Pittsburgh junket

Joe Was's column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that I posted the other day was in reaction to this conference that brought the country's anti-car folks together to tell themselves how wonderful they are and what great work they're all doing "to create great public places, to restore the environment, and to build what will soon be a world class active transportation network." Driving motor vehicles is not an "active" transportation mode, you understand. Only riding bikes and walking qualify.

San Francisco was well-represented at the conference/junket:

The MTA's Mike Sallaberry, a "Senior Engineer" at the MTA, led a seminar on "Level of Service F for Grade A Streets" (page 15):

Relying solely on Level of Service criteria for street design, which evaluates vehicle congestion, leads to poor outcomes on many of our roadways. LOS F, far from a failure, creates opportunities to reallocate roadway space for more livable street designs. In this session, learn about projects in Cambridge and San Francisco that overcame opposition and generated community support in prioritizing better bicycling and walking over vehicle capacity during the peak hour of travel.

The LOS F rating for an intersection is the worst possible rating, the equivalent of a traffic jam. If traffic jams in the city are "opportunities," where does that leave Muni vehicles? Out of the mud grows the lotus! What Sallaberry and the folks who attended the Pittsburgh conference mean by "livable" is creating impediments to motor vehicles whenever possible.

Like to hear more about how "San Francisco overcame opposition and generated community support" for Sallaberry's notion of "reducing vehicle capacity" on city streets, which, by the way, will delay the buses his agency is supposed to be making move more efficiently through city streets. Does delaying Muni's "vehicle capacity" on city streets make San Francisco more "livable"?

As we know, managing a functional Muni bus system is now a secondary consideration at the bloated---more than 5,000 employees!---MTA bureaucracy. Redesigning our streets on behalf of cyclists and traffic "calming" is now that agency's priority.

(Back in 2008 Sallaberry came to my neighborhood with a Power Point presentation of a dumb plan to remove scarce street parking on Divisadero to make a "transit lane" for the #24 Muni line during commute hours. His plan was rejected unanimously at that community meeting.)

On the same page of the conference agenda, we learn that a representative from the city's Bicycle Coalition was a "presenter" at a seminar to tell those in attendance about "a multi-year initiative to transform San Francisco's flatter streets" with "networks of protected bike lanes."

Oliver Gajda, "Senior Planner, Livable Streets" for the MTA and someone from New York lectured on "Vision Zero for Pedestrian Safety: New Thinking from San Francisco and New York" (page 17): "Find out how San Francisco and New York City are achieving their ambitious goals to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities..."

I wonder if Gajda mentioned the December, 2012 UC study that found San Francisco has been significantly under-counting cycling accidents in the city? That's one way of reducing the number of traffic injuries on city streets: don't count them all!

Still waiting for the MTA to officially acknowledge the study and issue their annual Collisions Report, though Ed Reiskin recognized the problem back in March. Nothing but silence from the MTA since, except for Gajda's boasting about the city's "New Thinking" on safety at this conference. (The last Collisions Report was released way back in August, 2012.)

Another MTA "Senior Planner," Matt Lasky, lectured on "A Strategy for Long-Term Bike Parking in San Francisco." In light of the Transportation Balance initiative on the November ballot, maybe the MTA should have one of these overpaid guys start doing a long-term study of parking for cars and trucks in San Francisco.

The conference had seminars on getting more children to ride bikes, since they understand that all cults have to indoctrinate the next generation:

"From WTF to WTG (Way to Go): Risk, Safety and Getting Past No"

One of the top barriers to getting more children to embrace walking and biking as a daily activity are the real and perceived traffic and personal safety concerns of their parents. Learn about risk perception, safety concerns and getting past the ''the world is a different place these days,'' and ''it is too dangerous out there'' viewpoints, with the goal of creating approaches that can influence decisions and perceptions.

Yes, how do you get parents to change their "risk perception" of the obvious danger of allowing their children to ride bikes in the city? San Francisco is already trying to do that. Leah Shahum wants to solve that "perception" problem by redesigning our streets so that even six-year-olds can safely ride bikes on them (Shahum doesn't have any children).

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Climate Change: The video


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mayor Lee's Muni photo-op

From today's letters to the editor in the Chronicle:

No on Prop. A

Regarding “Mayor rides jam-packed Muni train with the masses” (Sept. 17) and “Mayor Cautious” (Sept. 17), Mayor Ed Lee and city officials are indeed cautious ... by not riding Muni at all except for election photo ops. And Lee is trying to raise $1 million in campaign cash to push his $500 million transportation bond?

It’s far better for donations to actually ease the crush in the Market Street Metro, because Prop. A does not restore years of Muni service cuts in every neighborhood. Prop A is an attempt to raid $1 billion ($500 million in bonds and $500 million in interest) by increasing property taxes and rents (50 percent pass-through) for non-Muni work and pet projects.

During future election cycles, Muni riders and touring bigwigs will still watch sardine-packed trains pass them by. Instead, reject Prop. A!

Then we sardines can help plan for four-car trains, free neighborhood circulator buses and more futuristic transit found around the world.

Howard Wong
San Francisco

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Tony Hall supports Prop. L

SF's war on motorists
by former supervisor Tony Hall

In this column, I want to encourage you to consider supporting the initiative Restoring Transportation Balance, which is a Declaration of Policy calling for the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, and the SFMTA Board to restore transportation balance, as opposed to their current “Transit and Bicycle Only” Policy.

The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, along with the West of Twin Peaks Central Council and various community organizations and leaders all across the City, are supporting this initiative, which should be enough motivation for our poll-watching politicians to take notice, lest they prefer a mandating Charter Amendment in 2015.

The origin of the initiative is centered on the fact that 79% of San Francisco households who own or lease a motor vehicle have been the target of bad transportation policy for the past 15 years, as determined by the radicals who have taken over the SFMTA Board and espouse a “car-less” San Francisco. These holier–than-thou know-it-alls have declared war on motorists by re-engineering our streets, removing traffic lanes, eliminating off street and on street parking, raising meter and garage rates and ticket fines in the naïve belief that motorists will “see the light” and stop driving (or sell their cars out of the County), and take MUNI, bike, or walk to every destination within the City.

Not only are motorists and their passengers under attack, but also the City’s War on Motorists has caused collateral damage, adversely affecting a broad cross section of San Franciscans, for example, first responders such as police, fire and medical services, whose response times have increased due to difficulty navigating the City’s re-engineered and narrowed streets. Seniors and disabled who depend upon automobile transportation are finding it increasingly difficult to get around the City and have lost hundreds of white and blue curbs and the ability to get curb to curb service because of bike lanes. Small businesses and merchants operating on a 1% to 3% profit margin are losing money because their customers can’t find nearby parking, and instead shop in Daly City or Tanforan. Families can’t drive their kids to school on a timely basis because of the City’s re-engineered streets, traffic calming obstacles, increased traffic congestion and slower commute times. Even members of the Faith Based Community have to look at their watches repeatedly rather than worship unimpeded for fear that their cars may be ticketed or towed.

A good example of this lopsided policy making, or should I say politically motivated policy making, is the fact that the SFMTA Board has approved a plan to remove all street parking on Polk Street from Market to California and install two bike lanes, and a tow-away zone from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on the east side of Polk between California and Broadway, so bicyclists can continue unimpeded to the unknown destinations to the north. Two years from now, bicyclists (who largely don’t patronize the stores on Polk Street in the first place but are passersby), will be able to peddle safely and quickly up and down Polk, against the backdrop of boarded up storefronts....

Oh, and just in case I forget, there is being proposed a $500,000,000 transportation general obligation bond measure, which is unlikely to provide any benefit to motorists.

Motorists already pay the majority of SF’s portion of the SFMTA Budget---23.82% versus 22.42% for riders, with 80% of the balance paid for by the Feds, State, and Regional Government through gas taxes. The people at City Hall can’t quite determine whether they want to continue to milk motorists for very nickel and dime that they can---or to draw and quarter them by making it impossible for them to drive in the City. In either account, the War on Motorists needs to come to a screeching halt.

The Restoring Transportation Balance Initiative proposes that it be City policy to:

1) Restore free street parking on all Sundays, Holidays, and between 6:00 p.m.and 9:00 a.m. daily.

2) Freeze meter and parking rates, tickets, and fines for five years (to make up for the 40% across the board increase the SFMTA Board imposed in 2009.

3) Not impose meters and the so-called “demand-responsive pricing” ($.25 to $6.00/hr.) in neighborhoods where they don’t currently exist except upon petition of the majority of households and merchants in the neighborhood.

4) Allocate a portion of new parking/vehicle fees and new bond monies to construct and operate new parking garages in our commercial districts.

5) Assure that any re-engineering of the City’s streets be based on providing greater safety and improving the flow of traffic.

6) Enforce all the traffic laws for everyone using our streets and sidewalks, and

7) Require that the Mayor appoint a broad spectrum of transportation stakeholders to the SFMTA Board, including motorists, rather than just Muni and bicyclist advocates, and create a Motorists Citizens Advisory Committee, where none exists currently.

Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7

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Friday, September 19, 2014

No on A and B, Yes on L

The latest from ENUF:

Our official ENUF platform is: Vote NO on A and B (No money without accountability) and YES on L. Or as some like to say, "L YEAH!"

Please help us get the word out to people about Prop L. We need to pass this policy declaration to prove SFMTA is not doing its job. The more votes we get the harder it is for SFMTA to claim they have the support of the citizens to continue raiding Muni operations and disrupting the traffic on our city streets.

Contact me with any questions, comments, or to sign up to volunteer:

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Kerry and Code Pink

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Cars produce smog, and bicycles produce smug."

Talking About Bikelash In Your City from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Even after years of witnessing the arrogance and smugness of cyclists in San Francisco, I'm surprised that the folks who put this video together think it makes their cause endearing.

No doubt it does to the True Believers---it's target audience---but it only confirms what the rest of us think: arrogance and smug self-righteousness: "And it makes all of us giggle and be happy, and we just go on doing good work.” Oh yes, because you are one of the Good People and so adorable! 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leave your work at the office

by Matt Davies


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

To anti-war left, the US is the bad guy

Sean Thomas quotes George Orwell's statement that he made in 1941:

England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.

The United States has a similar problem with its left wing. Browse through the leftist Alternet and you learn about the many evils of our society---gun violence, violence against women, violence against blacks, violence against the environment, etc. You learn that the United States is a pretty terrible place---except when you compare it to most of the rest of the world.

Like every other society on the planet, the United States has serious problems, but this anti-Americanism goes back to the invasion of Iraq---or even back to the US attack on and invasion of Vietnam. We are always the Bad Guys!

On Obama's plan to destroy ISIS, the Alternet tells us that the turmoil in the Middle East is all the fault of the US, mostly because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And ISIS, al Qaeda and the other Islamic terrorist groups supposedly are not motivated by Islam, even if the terrorists themselves say that they are, with many citations to the Koran.

It's all about our politics and US foreign policy, which is some kind of reverse spin on nationalistic narcissism. And of course oil, even though Islamic fanatics were slaughtering each other centuries before oil was discovered in that part of the world. The Founding Fathers were dealing with Islamists even before they wrote the Constitution.

If we would only leave those poor people alone to abuse their women and children in peace, there would be no Middle East problem. Especially if we let them destroy Israel, which would solve a lot of problems.

The progressive Daily Kos makes an isolationist argument against President Obama:

We've spent billions arming our Middle East allies to the teeth. They are the ones directly threatened by Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL. Not us. So why is it us that have to do the fighting? It's their backyard, but they can watch comfortably as the United States bleeds trillions more to bail them out? Nice gig, if you can get it. Let those directly threatened by Islamic State put their skin in the game.

As if the United States has to be directly threatened by an enemy before it acts to defend itself and its interests.

The president is criticized by the right-wing for not getting involved in Syria, but Alternet sees the opposite, that the US is somehow responsible for Syria:

The chaos that Obama's doctrine of covert and proxy war has wreaked in Libya, Syria and Iraq should be a reminder of one of the obvious but unlearned lessons of September 11, that creating and arming groups of religious fanatics as proxies to fight secular enemies has huge potential for blowback and unintended consequences as they gain power and escape external control. Once these forces were unleashed in Syria, where they had limited local support but powerful external backers, the stage was set for a long and bloody conflict.

All the US did in Libya was use its air power to prevent the Gadaffi regime from slaughtering the rebels in Benghazi, which was a certainty, given the disparity in firepower between the regime and the rebels. And the US was joined by the UN and 19 other countries in that effort. The US has had very little to do with the Syrian civil war, and US troops have been out of Iraq for several years. But it's still all our fault!

See Jonathan Chait on the anti-Obama left in the US, which is disappointed that the president is not another Lincoln.

Ron Radosh on the right throws Obama's statements about Iraq and the Constitution before he was elected back at him.

But Obama has learned what Lincoln learned about being president: "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

Jeffrey Goldberg has a more balanced estimate of Obama's foreign policy.

What about the city's left on the president's ISIS plan? Nothing but silence at the Bay Guardian and Fog City Journal. Maybe they understand that they really have nothing sensible to say about the issue. (Before he became editor, Steven Jones had a not-very-sensible response to my comment on his article opposing the surge in Afghanistan.)

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Derailing democracy

Bump at the pump

California's Democratic Derailment
Sept. 13, 2014

Politicians ignore the legal caveats that voters added to the bullet train

In theory at least, courts and ballot referenda are checks on legislative tyranny. A California appellate court has effectively done away with both by ruling that the legal requirements of a bond measure approved by voters for the state's bullet train are merely "guidance." Californians ought to try this law-as-guidance defense when they're stopped for speeding.

Six years ago voters approved a referendum authorizing $9 billion in bonds for high-speed rail construction, including language with stringent "taxpayer protections." These stipulations were, among other things, that the state high-speed rail authority present a detailed preliminary plan to the legislature identifying funding sources and environmental clearances for the train's first "usable segment" prior to a bond appropriation.

The legislature in 2012 green-lighted the bonds while ignoring these stipulations. The rail authority had pinpointed merely $6 billion of the estimated $31.5 billion necessary to complete the first 300-mile segment from Merced to San Fernando. Only 30 miles of environmental clearances had been certified. 

Last year Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the authority "abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law." But in July Sacramento's Third Appellate District sanctioned the lawlessness with a decision as impressive for its cognitive dissonance as its legal afflatus.

On the one hand, the court opined that "voters clearly intended to place the Authority in a financial straitjacket by establishing a mandatory multi-step process to ensure the financial viability of the project." But then the judges ruled that the challenge to the legislature's invalid bond appropriation and authority's preliminary plan, "however deficient," was in effect moot.

The court could require the authority to redo its plan, but the judges say that would be unnecessary since the Director of Finance must still approve a rigorous final plan before the authority can spend the bond revenue. In other words, the law's procedural requirements don't matter.

Yet the bond referendum had ordered a preliminary plan for legislative review precisely so lawmakers could force the rail authority to address their concerns before appropriating the bonds. This added a modicum of political accountability.

So here we have the spectacle of legislators ignoring the very taxpayer protections that they had used to gull voters into approving a ballot measure that might never have passed without those protections. The lesson is that politicians will grab any new power or spending authority voters give them. They'll blow through the caveats and dare voters to sue to stop them.

As for the courts, they're supposed to enforce the law as written. California's Supreme Court now has an opportunity to do what the appellate judges did not and order Sacramento to follow the bond language. At stake are the rule of law and democratic governance in the Golden State.


The bike movement comes to Pittsburgh

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Enough about bikes, bikes, bikes
September 14, 2014

By Joe Wos

In case you missed it, on Sept. 3 our Mayor Bill Peduto and representatives of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust held a press conference for a bike rack. This will come as little surprise in a city that launches fireworks for the opening of an envelope. But this press conference for the illustrious inanimate rack was just the beginning. That same day the city installed five bike racks — allowing for the parking of literally tens of bicycles in the Golden Triangle. The mayor has made it one of his prime initiatives to make this a bike-friendly city. The bike rack itself had no comment.

Pittsburgh is now the 35th best city to bike in, according to The press conference was a harbinger of things to come as Pittsburgh ramps up its ongoing efforts to gather as many “best of” list rankings as possible. Throughout Lawrenceville, hipsters rejoiced when Pittsburgh added bike lanes heading into Downtown, enabling white men with bushy beards and black-rim plastic glasses a quicker way to get Downtown to play their banjos on street corners.

This past week bike enthusiasts from around the country gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference to explore such exciting topics as “sidewalk roughness standards,” “The tires are getting pumped and so are we” and my favorite, “Making a career as a freelance active transportation consultant.”

Bike advocates point to the success of bike lanes in cities such as New York — cities with many four-lane roads in each direction and more than 200,000 bicyclists daily. Pittsburgh’s bike lanes, however, have taken two-direction roads and cut them down to one-way, one-lane streets!

They also point to other cities throughout the United States and Europe as shining examples of what Pittsburgh could be — ignoring practical issues such as Pittsburgh’s climate and a realistic assessment of how many Pittsburghers really want to bike to work every day.

This completely ignores and denigrates our existing nonbiking culture and forces us to become “better people” by their standards. They neglect to mention a study in Helsinki showed bike paths to be more dangerous than sharing roads, and a study in Vancouver that reported a decrease in business along bike paths.

Safety concerns are pointed to as the main issue driving the introduction of bike lanes, yet Pittsburgh requires neither helmets for bicyclists over 12 nor bicycle licensing or registration.

Now that city officials have squeezed the motor vehicle lanes heading into the city, the next step is to cut the “ittsburgh” from Pittsburgh and replace it with “ortland” — thus fulfilling Pittsburgh’s desire to be the next “any city but Pittsburgh.”

One reason Pittsburgh has taken to promoting bicycling is shame. Shame of who we are as a city and of our roots. Bicyclists have taken to fat-shaming our city, claiming health and environmental benefits as well as the moral high ground. While cars produce smog, bicycles seem to produce smug. Criticize the bike lanes, and angry bicyclists head off in a Huffy. Rather than making this city “bike friendly,” they are making it “automobile unfriendly.”

Drivers are not unwilling to share the road, but they do expect bicyclists to abide by traffic laws, too. How many times have you seen bicyclists run red lights or drive on city sidewalks — flying above the law like some sort of magical Pegasus-Unicorn combination of bike and pedestrian?

Safety is a real concern, and we need to educate not just automobile drivers, but also bicyclists. Drivers are willing and able to share the road responsibly. But saying that will just further pump up the ire of bicyclists who argue that automobiles are the problem, period.

Bicyclists have become religious zealots in the first church of the perpetual Schwinn. They are firm believers that the path to salvation is via a bike lane leading through Downtown. They hail bikes as solving issues as diverse as traffic congestion, pollution and obesity. They make bold claims of bicycling cities having lower rates of diabetes and heart disease and a greater love of kittens. Rather than attempt to solve Downtown’s parking issues, narrow lanes, traffic and public transportation issues, they point to bikes as the great solution to Pittsburgh’s ills.

This kind of blind self-righteousness is overcompensation for a city that suffered through decades of low self-esteem. All this, thanks to a tiny percentage of Pittsburgh’s population — a whopping 1.4 percent of people in Pittsburgh ride bikes to work, according to the Census Bureau — illustrating the old adage, “the squeaky bicycle wheel gets the grease.”

As a lifelong Pittsburgher, I recognize that bike-lane improvements are needed to make Pittsburgh safer, cleaner, more pretentious and white. It is an appeasement to a miniscule percentage of the population to create the illusion of a progressive city at the expense of real issues and needs.

The bike movement is a convenient distraction from issues such as race. Make no mistake; this is partly about race. It is about white privilege and entitlement.

According to Bike Pgh’s annual report, 1 percent of its members identify as African-American. This suggests that only a tiny, tiny percentage of African-Americans ride bikes to work in Pittsburgh — whereas one in three say they rely on public transportation. As bus service and routes have been cut in neighborhoods with the greatest needs, bike lanes have been provided to serve a minority that is, by its own admission, unable to attract real minorities...

I love and adore this city. But, every now and then, you have to say: “Get over yourself, Pittsburgh.” Address the real issues that would be a tangible improvement to this city and make us the best Pittsburgh we can be.

Or have you gotten too big for your bridges?

Thanks to ENUF for the link.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bill Maher discusses Islam with feeble-minded liberal

Charlie Rose is the perfect lame liberal foil for Bill Maher on Islam. He's so uncomfortable even discussing the radically illiberal aspects of Islam, he keeps interrupting Maher. This is a serious problem on Rose's program. When he gets someone interesting---and not necessarily someone he disagrees with, like Maher---he constantly interrupts with banal interjections or dumb questions instead of letting his guest talk.

On important issues all right-thinking American liberals are supposed to either agree on or shut up about, Rose is reliably spineless. Last year he refused to broadcast a conversation with RFK Jr., when the latter voiced serious reservations about the official cover story on the assassination of his uncle, which I blogged about at the time.

Thanks to Creeping Sharia

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

The US is shocked, shocked, about violent athletes

North Dallas Forty was made in 1979, and it accurately portrayed football as a violent game.

There were drugs...

And there was sex and a casual, offhanded sexism.

A few years before North Dallas Forty, there was Semi-Tough, which was mostly about sex---and of course a casual sexist assumption---not violence. But it included a great parody of EST. Bert Convy even looked a lot like Werner Erhard.

USA Today is keeping score of NFL players arrested, and the Niners are well-represented on the list. The Ethicist in the New York Times asks "Is it wrong to watch football?" He thinks it isn't, but I bet a lot of people are unconvinced.

Interesting to note that the two scenes in North Dallas Forty where Nick Nolte and Mac Davis share a joint aren't included in the movie's trailers. Somebody could make an interesting documentary on marijuana in the movies, much like The Celluloid Closet did for gay scenes back in 1981. I remember seeing Paul Newman roll a joint for Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird of Youth in 1962, and didn't Cher and Meryl Streep share a joint in Silkwood?

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Sam Harris: Koran, other "holy" books, are "poison"

Sam Harris deconstructs the liberal delusion that Moslem religious fanatics don't base their actions on Islam (Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon):

In his speech responding to the horrific murder of journalist James Foley by a British jihadist, President Obama delivered the following rebuke (using an alternate name for ISIS):

ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt…. we will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. May God bless and keep Jim’s memory. And may God bless the United States of America.

In his subsequent remarks outlining a strategy to defeat ISIS, the President declared:

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim….ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way….May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

As an atheist, I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away—either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God.

Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no”...

...And just like moderates in every other religion, most moderate Muslims become obscurantists when defending their faith from criticism. They rely on modern, secular values—for instance, tolerance of diversity and respect for human rights—as a basis for reinterpreting and ignoring the most despicable parts of their holy books. But they nevertheless demand that we respect the idea of revelation, and this leaves us perpetually vulnerable to more literal readings of scripture.

The idea that any book was inspired by the creator of the universe is poison—intellectually, ethically, and politically. And nowhere is this poison currently doing more harm than in Muslim communities, East and West...

...Religion produces a perverse solidarity that we must find some way to undercut. It causes in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.

But it remains taboo in most societies to criticize a person’s religious beliefs. Even atheists tend to observe this taboo and enforce it on others, because they believe that religion is necessary for many people. After all, life is difficult and faith is a balm. Most people imagine that Iron Age philosophy represents the only available vessel for their spiritual hopes and existential concerns. This is an enduring problem for the forces of reason, because the most transformative experiences people have—bliss, devotion, self-transcendence—are currently anchored to the worst parts of culture and to ways of thinking that merely amplify superstition, self-deception, and conflict.

Among all the harms caused by religion at this point in history, this is perhaps the most subtle: Even when it appears beneficial—inspiring people to gather in beautiful buildings to contemplate the mystery existence and their ethical commitments to one another—religion conveys the message that there is no intellectually defensible and nonsectarian way to do this. But there is. We can build strong communities and enjoy deeply moral and spiritual lives, without believing any divisive nonsense about the divine origin of specific books...

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