Obamacare: Destroying the middle class, one family at a time (by Anonymous)

Jonathan Gruber Health Care Obamacare for DummiesA Bay Area resident who reads my blog, asked that I publish an open letter to Dr. Jonathan Gruber.  Because the letter’s writer has to make a living here in Marin (70% Democrat), she’s writing under a pseudonym.  I’m betting that this letter will resonate with many of you:

***

Dear Dr. Gruber,

I watched your panel discussion videos with fascination where you talk about creating Obamacare and how you needed to obfuscate and deceive in order to get it passed. I noticed how you hold the voting American public in contempt, saying how stupid we all are.

After viewing it I thought I would write to you to let you know how your important legislation for which you got paid $400,000 in consulting fees has affected my life. Because when I hear you speak about the voters of this country I don’t get the feeling that you have any understanding or empathy for us. I am sure you have more important things to think about.

[Read more...]

Government incompetence reveals itself in big ways and small — here’s a small way

CERT-LogoI won’t be blogging tomorrow (or at least, I won’t be blogging until late in the day Pacific Time) because I’ll be attending a CERT training class. CERT stands for “Community Emergency Response Teams” and is a FEMA production. After 18 hours of class, I’ll theoretically be a member of the front line handling any local disaster, whether “man-caused” or act of God. (In our neighborhood, we’re all preparing with an eye to the next big earthquake.)

Because FEMA is behind the CERT program, it prepares the materials we’ll be using. The introducing email recommended that we read the materials before the class, so I’m currently the section having to do with terrorist attacks. It was there that I discovered this gem (emphasis mine):

Experts generally agree that there are five categories of possible terrorist weapons. The acronym CBRNE will help you remember the five categories.

1. Chemical
2. Biological
3. Radiological
4. Nuclear
5. High-yield Explosives

I have a lousy memory, so I’m always looking for shortcuts and “handles” for remembering things.  Useful mnemonics and acronyms are wonderful, and I used them to great effect when I passed the bar exam (on my first try, I might add).  But I ask you, how in the world is “CBRNE” a memorable acronym?  There are memorable acronyms to be had, but CBRNE isn’t one of them.

If someone who was not a bureaucratic drone was dealing with this issue, he (or she) might have ordered the list thusly:

1. Chemical
2. Biological
3. High-yield Explosives
4. Radiological
5. Nuclear

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the acronym C-BERN (“In an emergency, you might “C” a “BERN”, i.e., “see a burn”) is infinitely more memorable than CBRNE, which has neither rhyme nor reason.  Although shorter than “Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-yield Explosives,” I find CBRNE equally difficult to commit to memory.

And yes, I know I’m being hypercritical here, but this is the kind of thing that irks me when I’m in a classroom situation and makes me re-commit to my vow never again to attend school.  After 20 years (from kindergarten through law school), I’ve had all I can stomach of that institution.

Important Public Service Announcement about communications from the IRS

Internal Revenue ServiceThis is a verified message from a well-respected CPA and Tax Attorney who undoubtedly has heard too many stories from clients scammed by fraudsters purporting to be IRS agents.  Please take this message to heart and pass it on:

Remember this. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Too many good, honest, trusting (that is, vulnerable) people have fallen for this lunacy and lost thousands (and tens of thousands) of dollars as a result.

The IRS is very old fashioned. They are all about putting stuff on paper. If they want your attention, they will attempt to contact you, not just once or twice but again and again and again, via a written notice, on a piece of paper, which they will send to you in an envelope, in the U.S. Mail. The IRS will not call you, fax you, email you, text you or try to reach you via Facebook or other social media.* They will send you a piece of paper in the U.S. Mail.**

If you are contacted by “the IRS” in any fashion other than by a piece of paper in the U.S. Mail (avoided by fraudsters because the penalties for mail fraud are very severe), the chances are 99.999999% that this is really not the IRS and you are being scammed.

Don’t talk to them.

Hang up on them.

Then, immediately, call the IRS Scam Reporting Hotline at (800) 366-4484 and report the incident.

* In extreme cases, the IRS might show up on your doorstep. If that happens, it’s almost certainly a criminal matter so, once again, Don’t Talk To Them!! Ask for the agent’s card and call a lawyer.

** If you get a written notice, you’d still be well advised not to handle it yourself. Hire an experienced CPA or an Enrolled Agent to handle it for you. The fees you pay will be worth it, saving you time, money and headaches, in the long run.

photo by: saturnism

The Bookworm Beat (10/3/14) — End of the week roundup and Open Thread

Woman writing

Ebola in America is a failure of Big Government

Yesterday I pointed out that, in all times and all places, protecting a population from epidemic disease is one of government’s core functions. (It’s irrelevant that these efforts often failed; government was still expected to make them.) Obama is failing that most basic government task. Not only do we have Ebola in Dallas, with exposures going into the hundreds, it appears that Ebola has entered Washington D.C. too.

What’s striking about Ebola’s spread into the U.S. is that it’s not just an Obama failure, it’s a Big Government failure. The Obama failure begins with his absolute refusal to protect our air, land, and sea borders. The Big Government failure goes to Obama’s certainty that he needn’t do anything special to combat Ebola because Big Government will be sufficient in and of itself to protect us:

The chances of an Ebola outbreak in the United States are “extremely low,” Obama said. U.S. are working with officials in Africa “to increase screening at airports so that someone with the virus doesn’t get on a plane for the United States.” And then this:

In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared here at home. We’re working to help flight crews identify people who are sick, and more labs across our country now have the capacity to quickly test for the virus. We’re working with hospitals to make sure that they are prepared, and to ensure that our doctors, our nurses and our medical staff are trained, are ready, and are able to deal with a possible case safely.

Obama added that in the unlikely event an Ebola case appeared in the United States, “we have world-class facilities and professionals ready to respond. And we have effective surveillance mechanisms in place.”

As Rich Lowry explains in the article from which I quoted, everything Obama assumed about his wonderful Big Government was wrong. Rather than blocking Ebola, Big Government just provided that many more cracks through which the virus could slip.

Scratch an anti-gun Leftist; find a blood-thirsty killer

When news about Ebola in Dallas broke, one of my old high school friends, who has had a political trajectory precisely the opposite of mine (from moderate guy to hard-core Leftist), voiced the wish that the patient had, instead, been in Austin (Texas’s state capitol) and that, while there, he had spread bodily fluids on the Republican politicians, starting with Governor Perry. When I politely pressed him for a reason, he explained that it was because these politicians had cut back government services, adding belatedly that he was just kidding.

Sometimes, though, Leftists go from “just kidding” to “let’s kill them.” Charles C.W. Cooke looks at anti-gun Leftists who want to use SWATting tactics to try to kill legal gun carriers. That is, when they see someone with legal open carry, they are proposing that they should call 911 and describe a dangerous situation in the hope that the SWAT teams will show up and, expecting the worst, just kill the guy with legal carry.

Indeed, Cooke, who spoke with gun-expert extraordinaire Bob Owens, writes at Bearing Arms, suggests that this is precisely what may have happened to John Crawford at the Ohio Wal-Mart:

[Crawford] was killed because, to borrow a phrase from Lisa McLogan Shaheen, a fellow shopper “called 911 so the cops could gun him down.” “If you sync the phone call to the footage,” Bob Owens tells me, “you’ll notice that Ronald Ritchie, the caller, makes claims that are not true.” Among those claims, the Guardian records, were that “Crawford was pointing the air rifle at customers,” that he threatened “two children,” and that he was recklessly “waving it around.” This does not appear to have been the case. Indeed, when the lattermost statement was made, Owens notes, “the gun’s muzzle was pointed to the ground.” So pronounced are the discrepancies between Ritchie’s story and the surveillance footage that John Crawford’s family is hoping to take legal action. “He’s basically lying with the dispatchers,” the family’s attorney, Michael Wright argues. “He’s making up the story. So should he be prosecuted? Yes, I believe so.”

“Who will rid us of these troublesome gun owners?” the radical Leftists cry out . . . and then use America’s police officers as their unwitting executioners.

Did Jerry Brown sign a good gun bill or a bad gun bill?

I am reflexively opposed to any government interference with gun rights . . . except that I’m wondering whether the bill that Gov. Brown just signed in California might actually have some merit. The new bill allows family members who are concerned about another family member’s gun possession to petition to the court to have the gun(s) taken away.

On the one hand, the bill is another erosion of gun rights and allows anti-gun people to wipe out the gun rights of their pro-gun relatives. Moreover, as we can see from the SWATting tactics above, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Leftist family members won’t take advantage of this law. On the other hand, when someone is becoming dangerous, the family is often the first to know, long before the medical or criminal justice systems catch up.

And then back to the first hand, which is that, if you give the government an inch to grab guns, it will take, not just a mile, but a thousand miles…. Which leads me to the thought that this may be a reasonable law, but one that can’t ever be entrusted to the government to effectuate.

Please tell me what you think. I’m quite obviously conflicted here, in part because I know of several young men who, in their 20s, become schizophrenic, with the family being the first to see that their sweet young boy was becoming scary and dangerous.

History has yet to be written

Jonah Goldberg often attacks the Leftists’ claim that they’re on the right side of history.  The old cliché that history belongs to the victors is at least somewhat more accurate, because it at least looks at history as a thing of the past not as a prediction for the future.

In his latest article, Goldberg points out that one of the problems with the “right side of history” argument is that it’s predicated on the speaker’s belief that events will unfold without any unexpected deviations from plan. When the plans change, as the best laid of them tend to do, the person betting on historic certainty looks foolish at best:

The dilemma for the president is that the once-solid facts that supported these views are suddenly crumbling under his feet. The argument that the fight against jihadism can be managed like law enforcement is easy to make when terrorism is out of the headlines and drones do the messy work out of sight. That same argument is very hard to sustain when the jihadis control territory equal in size to Great Britain and, when not beheading Americans, they vow to fly their flag over the White House. The idea that men who crucify Christians and bury women and children alive would somehow be dissuaded if we closed down the prison at Guantanamo Bay is almost perversely idiotic.

Obama’s love affair with a killer

In 2008, Obama sent an explicit, secret message to Iran, saying in effect “I love you, guys, and I’ll take care of you.” That was one promise he kept. Throughout his presidency, Obama, both actively and passively has worked hard to keep the mullahs in power and their nuclear program on track. He seems to believe that, if he can just be nice to them, they’ll respond by being nice right back to us.

It’s a pity that Obama hates Churchill so much. If he liked him better, Obama be familiar with Churchill’s famous aphorism that “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” That hope, of course, is invariably wrong.

Maybe real facts can bring Obama to see just how horrible Iran is. These harsh realities would include the fact that Iran hanged someone for doubting the story of Jonah and the Whale (something that would certainly see Obama hanged too), and the Mullahs’ continued execution of dissidents.

The only good thing to come out of that second report is this little tidbit (emphasis mine):

On September 29, [political prisoner Reyhaneh] Jabbari was seized by prison guards during her shower, forced to dress and told that she would be hanged in the morning. After the prison staff allowed her to make one last phone call to her mother, she was transferred to Rajai-Shahr prison and placed in solitary confinement to await execution at dawn.

Upon her daughter’s transfer, Jabbari’s mother, Shole Pakravan, rushed to Rajai-Shahr prison with her husband, two daughters and a few friends. In front of the prison a crowd grew quickly to protest Jabbari’s execution. Prison authorities ordered the crowd to leave and assured Jabbari’s family that she was not to be hanged — a statement the authorities commonly make before an execution so it can be carried out quietly, without incident.

That rope with which the mad mullahs hang dissidents may end up being the rope with which they hang themselves. It speaks to their waning power that Iranians will protest executions and that the mullahs will lie to pacify them, rather than just killing them on the spot.

And no, in answer to your unspoken question, I don’t think these news reports will actually change Obama’s mind. He is a hard-core ideologue and they just don’t change.  But I can still dream….

Bureaucracy kills the Secret Service

For more than a century, the Secret Service was a lean, mean fighting machine operating under the aegis of the Treasury Department. Then, George Bush transferred it to Homeland Security, where it became just another bureaucratic beast. Kevin Williamson writes scathingly about the way in which bureaucracy is slowly destroying the agency charged with keeping our president safe.

I share with Thomas Lifson the belief that it’s imperative to keep Obama alive.  His death in office, God forbid, could well destroy this country. And having written that sentence, I should add that no president, ever, should be assassinated. Assassination is not only cold-blooded murder, it is a psychic blow to a nation and the most profoundly anti-democratic act of all.

Transgenderism is only skin deep

The other day, I wrote about the importance of recognizing the substance that lies under any form, with special reference to transgender people. I argued that, when people make cosmetic, hormonal, and surgical changes to their appearance so that they look like a person of the opposite sex, that doesn’t change their genetic essence. While it’s kind and polite to address them as they wish to be addressed, we should never blind ourselves to the reality of who and what they really are.

One British man who had male to female gender reassignment surgery a decade ago, is petitioning the British health care service to reassign him to his original gender appearance. His argument echoes what I’ve been saying all along:

Chelsea, who used to be called Matthew, told the Daily Mirror: “I have always longed to be a woman, but no amount of surgery can give me an actual female body and I feel like I am living a lie.

“It is exhausting putting on make-up and wearing heels all the time. Even then I don’t feel I look like a proper woman. I suffered from depression and anxiety as a result of the hormones too.

“I have realised it would be easier to stop fighting the way I look naturally and accept that I was born a man physically.”

I wonder what the NHS will do. It’s wonderfully politically correct to withdraw funding from an old lady with cancer so as to give it to a young man who wants breasts. Where’s the political correctness, though, when the young man concedes that the problem was never with his appearance at all?

High educated liberals as low information voters

Roger L. Simon lives in the Southern California version of my Marin world: His neighbors are well-intentioned, affluent, and highly-credentialed people who almost invariably hew Left politically. Indeed, those few of my friends and neighbors who know I’ve become conservative point to themselves — affluent and educated — and ask how I can be conservative when the smart people support the Democrats.

Simon has the answer for that and, again, it echoes what I see in my world: These people may have degrees, know about wine, and have seen the capitals of Europe, but they’re fundamentally ignorant about the key issues shaping the world today.

California bans all plastic bags

California Governor Jerry Brown has banned plastic grocery bags from the entire state:

California has fired the first salvo in what could be a national war on plastic bags.

Governor Edmund Brown [sic, since he usually goes by Jerry] on Tuesday signed into law a bill that bans plastic shopping bags, making California the first U.S. state to officially prohibit stores from handing them out for free.

“This bill is a step in the right direction — it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” Brown said in a statement. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

The ban is a victory for environmentalists who say the 13 million plastic bags that are handed out each year in the state end up in waterways and landfills where they don’t break down for decades. Critics argue that the ban is misguided and will cost American jobs.

The new law goes into effect for large grocery chains and pharmacies beginning July 1, 2015. It will extend to convenience stores and liquor stores July 1, 2016.
Under the law, stores will be required to offer customers recycled paper bags or bags made of compostable material at a cost of at least 10 cents. Consumers buying groceries using California’s food-assistance program won’t have to pay for bags.

For me, the ban is nothing new, since it’s already enforced in parts of Marin. Corte Madera stores haven’t been applying either the ban or the “pay 10 cents” requirement, so I prefer shopping in Corte Madera over Mill Valley, which does ban plastic and makes you pay for paper.

I’ve written before about the fact that this ban steams me. I don’t mind if other people want to go around looking like bag ladies with their stacks of dirty cloth and plastic bags, but (a) I don’t want to look like a bag lady; (b) I’d have to use insane amounts of water to keep those bags from being salmonella and e. coli breeding grounds; and (c) even a 10 cent penalty is still a penalty and I don’t believe I should be penalized in this way.

It’s balm to my offended soul to read a PRI study saying that, as is the case with most of the Left’s wild hairs, they’ve got it wrong when it comes to the supposed virtues of banning disposable paper and plastic bags:

Proponents of bag-bans omit the most important consideration, which is what replaces the plastic bags? Other bags (including cloth) have even worse environmental impact profiles, and pose additional risks of cross-contaminating food and spreading dangerous pathogens among those who share the bags.

Increasingly, studies suggest that as with other poorly-thought out environmental intervention; banning plastic grocery bags reduces some harms, while increasing others.

And more environmental news about Leftist’s continued errors

Both these stories come to me thanks to Danny Lemieux. The first story says that, once again, scientists were wrong, this time with regard to the anticipated shrimp die-off in the Gulf following the BP oil spill. In fact, the shrimp seem to like that oil:

Looking at the abundance and size of Louisiana white and brown shrimp before and after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a scientific paper published Wednesday said the amount of shrimp actually increased in local estuaries through 2011 and that the size of that shrimp remained unaffected.

[snip]

Van der Ham and De Mutsert’s study compared abundance and size of shrimp in estuaries that were heavily impacted by the spill with minimally-impacted estuaries, both before and after the spill.

It found that shrimp actually was more abundant in areas heavily impacted by the oil spill.

“The rebound to normal abundance and the absence of any effect on shrimp size agrees with the view that the spill may have negligible long-term effects on Louisiana shrimp,” the study concluded. “However, long-term effects of the spill on shrimp may manifest in other traits, such as compromised immunological or life-history traits.

Don’t you just love that last paragraph?  What the study’s authors could have said was “we are still studying whether there are other long-term effects on the shrimp.”  But they don’t.  Instead, they imply that there must in fact be negative long-term effects on the shrimp, just waiting to be found.  That’s the difference, I guess, between true scientific inquiry and ideologically-driven inquiry.

The second story is about those “green” wind farms.  They’re killing hundreds of thousands of precious bats (which fertilizer crops and are otherwise environmentally useful) because they mimic the wind pattern of trees.

One French woman deserves a medal for her bravery

Check out this picture and tell me if this isn’t one seriously brave French woman.

And one West African woman deserves a medal too

Fatu Kekula, a 22-year-old nursing student in West Africa, using nothing more than courage, common sense, and garbage bags, nursed three out of four stricken family members through Ebola without becoming infected herself. What an amazing story of intelligence and decency in action.

Watcher’s Council Weasel of the Week

Don’t forget to check out this Week’s winner in the Watcher’s Council Weasel of the Week contest.  My daughter came in as I was casting my vote by email.  She saw “I vote for ____________.”  She was shocked.  “But you hate ____________.”  When I explained the type of vote I was casting, it all became clear to her.

Picture!

I’m not yet ready for an illustrated edition today, but this poster that a friend sent me is so good, I didn’t want to wait before sharing it:

Obama is my co-pilot

 

Disaster preparedness is a necessity for smart people and true conservatives

Loma Prieta damage in 1989

Loma Prieta damage in 1989

Over the past several years, our town and the next town over have worked hard to bring disaster preparedness from the government level down to the community level.  Neighborhood emergency disaster preparedness operates on the assumption that, in the event of a major emergency, government will not be there to help.

Here in Marin, we don’t base this assumption on a concern that our government emergency services are corrupt, under-funded, or inept.  Indeed, I’d say that the contrary is true in Marin.  Our local emergency services (fire, police, ambulance) are excellent:  They’re well-funded, there’s never been a smidgen of corruption, and the people on all these forces are enthusiastic, hard-working and well-trained.

These emergency services, though, exist for routine events:  a house fire, a robbery, a traffic accident. They are not intended to handle a massive earthquake — nor should they be.  Given that earthquakes happen at completely random, and usually lengthy, intervals, it would be insane for our community to fund in perpetuity emergency services large enough to cope with a rare (but still inevitable) disaster.

Given  funding realities, should “the Big One” (as Bay Area residents refer to the next anticipated earthquake) hit, it’s a reasonable certainty that people in our community will find themselves going for three to ten days without any access to emergency services, food, potable water, first aid, and shelter.  This is where we have a choice:  we can wait helpless for government first responders, or we can be our own first responders, taking responsibility for ourselves and our neighbors.

Here’s how it works:  At the most basic level, every household should purchase the life-sustaining supplies needed for three to ten days without access to stores, hospitals, fresh water, and shelter.  The rule of thumb is that neighbors will pool resources for a day or two, but it if looks as if the emergency conditions will last any longer than that, it’s every household for itself.

Unfortunately, while it’s easy enough to say “Buy supplies,” the reality is that most people are governed by inertia.  Too many people really do mean to stock up the next time they’re at Costco or Safeway, but when the time comes, they forget, or they haven’t made a place to put the supplies, or they just don’t feel up to the rigors of buying all the stuff, loading it in the car, and then unloading it again at the other side.  They’ll do it another day, they tell themselves.  Somehow, though, that other day never arrives.

What turns out to be the best system to ensure that the greatest number of households act intelligently before, during, and after a disaster is a neighborhood preparedness committee.  When a newspaper article reminds you to stock up supplies, you might think “Eh, I’ll get it done eventually.”  When your neighbor sits on your couch with you and explains what you need and how to get it, it lights a bigger fire, and ensures greater effort.  Likewise, when you get yet another email from yet another organization, you might ignore it.  But when a neighbor hosts a party to take about basic information (supplies, gathering spots, knowing who your neighbors are, etc.), there’s a greater likelihood you’ll be there, you’ll listen, and you’ll learn.

An organized neighborhood is also extraordinarily helpful when the disaster does strike.  This is the neighborhood that will have given already ensured that homeowners have supplies and that they know how to turn off their gas and prevent potentially contaminated water from flowing into their homes.   A prepared community will have block captains who go to the houses on their watch to make sure gas lines are closed, to perform the most basic injury triage (and first aid, if necessary), and to gather information about everyone’s whereabouts and status.  In this neighborhood, homeowners will have signs to place in their windows so that the block captain instantly see whether that home is “OK” or needs “HELP.”  (Even OK homes will eventually get a visit, but not on the first, triage pass.) If homes are destroyed, the prepared neighborhood will know where the emergency gathering spot is.

Lastly and most importantly, when the government “first responders” eventually show up (long after the neighborhood has already provided the actual first response), the organized neighborhood will be able to offer easily accessible information about fatalities, injuries, local dangers (leaking gas lines, downed electrical lines, etc.).  Experience shows that this level of preparedness results in the fastest attention from government emergency services.  This isn’t a case of bias or bribes on the government’s part; it’s a case of the path of least resistance.  If an emergency care provider has heading towards him a level-headed person with a list and a screaming mad-woman, he’ll turn gratefully to the list holder and try to pass the mad-woman off to someone else.

All over Marin, local communities have been accelerating their efforts to get organized.  As more neighborhoods prepare, those neighborhoods that don’t will be left out in the cold.  Their homes will be bare of survival essentials, their response to an actual disaster will be chaotic, and emergency services will give them the cold shoulder in favor of other, better-organized neighborhoods.

In my neighborhood, I’ve been invited to join the steering committee.  You won’t be surprised to learn that my role is communications.  As a committee member, I now get to attend the community-wide meetings for representatives of all the neighborhood organizations.  When I went to last night’s meeting (my first), whom should I see but our own Charles Martel?

At first, I was surprised to see Charles.  I shouldn’t have been.  For starters, he’s an exceptionally decent and intelligent human being, so it made total sense that he would volunteer himself to be in the front line of organization and preparedness both before and during a disaster.  It’s more than that, though.  Charles is a principled conservative who believes that government cannot and should not be responsible for everything in our lives.  We know what that looks like:

Hurricane Katrina victims, lacking any resources, clog New Orleans freeways.

Hurricane Katrina victims, lacking any resources, clog New Orleans freeways.

Conservatives recognize that government cannot be responsible for every eventuality in our lives. More than that, we understand that it should not be responsible for all things, because that gives it way too much power.

Understanding these facts is one thing. Acting upon them is another. We conservatives like to focus on trying to elect politicians who promise small government. Too often, though, once they’re in Washington or a state capital, these politicians either prove to be an ineffectual minority or, worse, they come down with “government spending disease” and think their responsibility ends with keeping the price tag down on yet another Big Government initiative.

What we all can and should do is something closer to home: We should be at the front lines when it comes to encouraging people to take care of themselves. When there’s a vacuum, government will fill it. If we make sure to fill that vacuum before government does, we’ve done our bit to help shrink Big Government. At the same time, we’ve also ensured that we will be in better shape in the long run than those who believe that Big Government is the one and only answer.

Having said that, I’d like to request help from you, my fellow citizens:  Because I am a procrastinator, I understand better than many the inertia that prevents people from getting in their car, driving to the local mall, and stocking up on home earthquake supplies. I’ve found that one of the ways to fight that procrastination is to make the shopping so easy that even the most shopping-averse, lazy, in denial person has no excuses. The answer, of course, is Amazon — and, even better, Amazon Prime.  You can shop from your home, at your leisure, and everything comes straight to your door.  What could be better?

The problem with Amazon, though, is that there are too many choices.  A single person could spend a lifetime trying to find the best quality, best priced emergency supplies at Amazon.  I’d rather use crowd sourcing.

My goal is to put together an Amazon shopping list that has on it the most highly recommended emergency supplies, everything from paper plates to can openers to flash lights to toilet paper to can openers to foil-sealed water (lasts 5 years) to food stuff to first aid kits. I know that not everyone should, will, or wants to everything from Amazon, but I still want a vetted list that enables someone looking for any or all necessary supplies can trust to provide purchase information.

Vetted supplies suitable for my Amazon earthquake list must be (a) high quality and (b) best price, keeping in mind the purpose for which the supplies are intended.  No one wants to buy a $900, 10-person, all-weather tent for a possible emergency when Amazon offers a highly rated, easy-to-assemble, some-weather tent for $110 dollars.  It’s even better if the tent ships free using Prime or it qualifies for Amazon’s “free shipping for purchases over $35.

So here’s my request:  If you have purchased emergency supplies lately from Amazon, and you feel that your purchase meets my “vetted supplies” criteria, please send me a link for that product, either through an email (bookwormroom * at * gmail.com) or by leaving a comment here.

Electric cars, government incentives, and pollution (and an Open Thread, if you want one)

Nissan LeafAside from domestic responsibilities and computer problems, the main reason for my slowed blogging has to do with cars.  Electric cars, to be specific.

Years ago, when I was living my life as a round of carpools, we bought a lovely Honda minivan. I really do mean lovely. It’s the most comfortable car I’ve ever owned. I’m petite, but it provides me with a perfectly elevated seat; it handles like a dream; I like the doo-dads and thingamabobs it offers; and I’m just generally happy with it. The only downside is that it gets around 18 or 19 miles per gallon, which is not a plus with Obama gas prices.

Actually, there’s now another downside, too. With my kids in high school, I’m no longer driving that endless round of carpools. Instead, it’s mostly just me in a car that can seat passengers, not including the driver. Sometimes I add a passenger or two, and I often have groceries, but it really is a shame to burn up so much expensive gasoline to transport a few people and some shopping bags.

We started looking into alternatives and decided that the all-electric Nissan Leaf would be good. It’s a surprisingly spacious car, it handles well, it’s range easily encompasses my daily Marin roamings, and  then there’s the real kicker:  Between federal and state incentives for electric vehicles, we get almost $12,000 towards a three-year lease.

That last factor makes the car eminently affordable. We’ll be paying only slightly more per month on the lease than I was already paying for gas. We’ll keep the old car for short trips or heavy loads (or for times when all three drivers in the family are heading in completely opposite directions), but we’ll use only the Leaf for the local trips.  Our electric bill will increase negligibly, our gasoline bill will decrease dramatically, and our monthly cash flow will be affected minimally.

Nice as they are, I’m actually somewhat embarrassed by those incentives. Yes, it’s true that I pay substantially more in taxes than someone who doesn’t live a nice upper middle class life in Marin. But precisely because I am able to live this nice upper middle class Marin lifestyle, I don’t really need the incentive.

The incentives certainly encourage me to buy or lease an electric vehicle, so they fulfill the government goal of getting more people into EVs, but I think it’s wrong that lower-income taxpayers are compelled to support me in any way. They, after all, are still paying taxes but, even with the taxpayer-funded incentive, they still can’t afford a lease.

A Democrat in the California legislature finally figured out just how unfair this is and has a bill pending to add means-testing to the rebate:

Since 2009, California gave a $2,500 tax rebate on zero-emissions vehicles like the Tesla Model S and Prius plug-in hybrid. And here’s something that should surprise no one: The majority of those rebates went to households earning $100,000 or more. Now that could change.

A bill sponsored by California Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) attempts to address the fact that nearly 80 percent of those rebates went to households bringing in more than $100k and that almost half of Tesla Model S owners receiving a rebate are making at least $300,000.

“A $2,500 rebate to purchase an electric vehicle is not likely to matter to someone earning over $300,000 a year, but it does make a big difference to someone earning $60k a year,” said de León. “Every community deserves clean air, regardless of wealth.”

(Read more here.)

Although I think that bill is the right thing to do, I’m not going to stand on principle here and turn my back on any money the government wants to give me — or, more accurately, give back to me.  After all, thanks to the highest income tax in the nation, a lot of our family’s hard-earned money routinely goes to fund all sorts of ridiculousness, such as California’s infamous “train to nowhere.”  Getting some of my money back towards an affordable, practical car is a good thing.

I’m also ambivalent about the vehicle because I find the whole “zero emissions” thing stupid.  Yes, it’s true that there are no emissions coming out the back of my vehicle, but you can’t escape the fact that it nevertheless generates a lot of pollution elsewhere.  It has a honking big battery, which currently pollutes China even more than China is already polluted.

Additionally, the car relies upon electricity that’s produced by generating a fair amount of dirt.  As I understand it, most American electricity comes from burning coal or gas, or from a nuclear plan (clean, but always unpopular in Progressive circles).   Water’s great, but it’s a distant third, with all the clean energies coming in far behind.  And of course, those clean energies aren’t so great either, given that their unreliable, and that they either slice and dice birds or fricassees them.

It still seems to me that the best way to power our world is to continue to rely on fossil fuel — that most reliable energy source — but to continue to work on ways to decrease the pollutants flowing from its use.  All these other things are pie-in-the-sky stuff.  Indeed, the fact that government needs to coerce and bribe people to use electric vehicles perfectly demonstrates just how ridiculous they are.  If they really were an affordable form of clean energy transportation, private business would be cleaning up on them without any help from the government.

And while I’m on the subject of government’s role in all this, I’d like to put in my application to immigrate to the Republic of Bill:

The suggested list of books for a high school government class

Rear view of class raising handsIf you’re wondering why the younger generation blindly supported Obama through two elections; why they are reflexively hostile to conservatives and Republicans; and why, even though Obama has dismally failed them, they are incapable of considering another, less intrusive, approach to governance, just contemplate the list of books a local high school Government teacher recommended for the class’s mandatory reading requirement:

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I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking most (or all) of those books hew Left, way, way, way Left.

Since the list is supposed to consist of suggestions only, I’m trying to think of a few counter suggestions.  I need books that present conservative approaches to government and economics. Moreover, to the extent that a high schooler is going to be reading the book, I think my counter suggestion should be eminently readable and entertaining.  Of course, since I’m trying desperately to think of something quickly, before the weekend is over, I’m pulling a big, fat blank.

Still, keeping my requirements in mind (accessible, entertaining, easy-to-read), my top choice for a suggestion is Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, which I think is one of the most readable political books out there. Goldberg has an incredibly deft touch. He makes his points lightly, often humorously, without ever resorting to browbeating.

What do you guys think?

The DemProg’s love of government

dmv-line_100369529_mOne of the reasons I didn’t write anything yesterday was that we went into the City to have lunch with friends. The food was wonderful, which I knew would be the case, since Yank Sing is my favorite restaurant. The conversation was frustrating.

It all started when someone tried to look something up on the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, only to discover that it’s a terrible website. I pointed out that, being a monopoly, once the DMV created a somewhat functional website, it had no incentive to create a better one. A DemProg at the table, who works in the private sector, instantly defended government workers.

“I know government workers,” he said, “who work crazy hard.”

“So do I,” I replied. “I’m not talking about individuals; I’m talking about a systemic problem.”

“So you’re saying no government workers can do a good job?”

“No, I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that when there’s a monopoly, which is always the case when government is involved, you only need to get things functional and no more. You’re not going to lose business, after all.”

“That’s not true!”

(It occurs to me as I write this that the DemProg took my argument as a veiled attack on the Obamacare website, although that hadn’t even crossed my mind at the time.)

The argument volleyed back and forth for a while, with the DemProg insistently saying — and me agreeing — that there are wonderful government employees out there. I kept repeating my point, though, that the system discourages hard work and innovation because there are no rewards for either.

Since we were at an impasse, the DemProg switched to another argument:

“It’s not the workers’ fault and it’s not just because no one else can compete with them. It’s because of the regulations that limit them.”

“That’s my point exactly! The nature of government is such that every agency, from its inception, is prevented from growing, innovating, and creating. It’s designed and limited by committees that have nothing to do with it’s actual functioning.”

I’m a bit muddy on where the conversation went at this point. We definitely touched upon government unions, which he said were necessary to protect workers, and which I said were corrupt ab initio, because the people whose money is at stake (i.e., taxpayers) are the only ones not at the table. Instead, I explained, although I doubt he or the other DemProg guests understood, unions pay money to elect politicians who ensure that they get insane benefits, far better than in the private sector, because the politicians know that a portion of those same benefits will be turned into cash to re-elect the politician. No taxpayers — the ones who fund this corruption — are involved. I especially flummoxed my audience when I added that Progressive icon FDR feared public sector unions.

I suggested a thought experiment: Imagine that the DMV is divided into two separate entities, one of which serves all state citizens whose last names end with the letters A through L and the other of which serves all state residents whose names end with M through Z (and we’re assuming that pretty much divides the state population in half). Both DMV entities are given the same goal — do DMV stuff — but they’re not explicitly told how to do that. Moreover, they are told that, at the end of each year, there’s going to be a customer satisfaction survey. Whichever DMV department wins that survey will be rewarded: The employees will get significant bonuses. The other DMV won’t get any bonuses and, if the survey answers are really bad, people will get fired and salaries will be docked.

I then asked, “Would the above scenario improve performance?”

To which my DemProg friend said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Hobby Lobby reveals how public and private spheres have changed in the last few decades

Church rejects Obama as GodBack in the 1980s, when I was a good ol” liberal Democrat (sort of in the Kennedy mold), I kept hearing those Bible Thumpers in the Moral Majority bandy about a word: “Secularist.”

What the heck was that? Nobody I knew (and everyone I knew was a person of the sort-of Left) called him or herself a “secularist.”

What in the world did those zealots mean by labeling me that way and pretending that I’m doing something damaging to them? I understood what was really going on:  Very religious people were abnormal, and then there were the rest of us who were non-religious, or slightly religious in a genteel, non-obtrusive fashion.  The fact that our “religion”  closely paralleled the Democrat Party platform, meaning that laws were informed by our “religious” values was just a coincidence.

We were not foisting anything on them.  If anything, they were the foisters, especially with their stupid pro-Life values.

I’ve obviously come a long way from then, haven’t I?

One of the things that helped me on my journey to rationality was Stephen Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief. It was he who explained to me that to hold values in opposition to traditional Christianity is itself a value system.

Bingo! Light bulb moment. As of 1994, I finally understood what the Moral Majority was complaining about. I didn’t yet agree with the values they advanced, but I instantly became much more sympathetic to their complaints about Leftist, secular culture encroaching upon them.

The societal change Carter noted — that the absence of religious values (as opposed to religious doctrine) was taking over the public forum — has only accelerated in recent years. I actually hadn’t thought about it in any specific way until I read Megan McArdle’s very thoughtful post about the Left’s hysteria in response to the Supreme Court’s extremely narrow, common-sensical Hobby Lobby ruling.

For conservatives, even non-religious ones, the ruling’s correctness was a no-brainer:  The holding that government cannot compel people to purchase a product inconsistent with core doctrinal beliefs is true both to the Constitution and to the traditional American ethos of keeping the state out of people’s religion.

But what if the state itself is the people’s religion? McArdle believes that this trend, which sees public space co-opted by non-religious beliefs that have been themselves elevated to absolute “values” explains much of the hysteria, not among the professional Left, but among ordinary DemProgs.  The change in attitude McArdle notes explains both why Leftists cannot appreciate the seriousness of the issue for religious people and why they do not view the Obama administration’s actions as coercive.

I’m quoting McArdle at some length here, because the logic underlying her theory is so tightly constructed, it’s difficult for me to quote her without doing damage to her reasoning.  I urge you, though, to read the whole thing:

I think a few things are going on here. The first is that while the religious right views religion as a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience, the secular left views it as something more like a hobby, so for them it’s as if a major administrative rule was struck down because it unduly burdened model-train enthusiasts. That emotional disconnect makes it hard for the two sides to even debate; the emotional tenor quickly spirals into hysteria as one side says “Sacred!” and the other side says, essentially, “Seriously? Model trains?” That shows in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, where it seems to me that she takes a very narrow view of what role religious groups play in the lives of believers and society as a whole.

The second, and probably more important, problem is that the long compromise worked out between the state and religious groups — do what you want within very broad limits, but don’t expect the state to promote it — is breaking down in the face of a shift in the way we view rights and the role of the government in public life.

To see what I mean, consider an argument I have now heard hundreds of times — on Facebook, in my e-mail, in comment threads here and elsewhere: “Hobby Lobby’s owners have a right to their own religious views, but they don’t have a right to impose them on others.”As I wrote the day the decision came out, the statement itself is laudable, yet it rings strange when it’s applied to this particular circumstance. How is not buying you something equivalent to “imposing” on you?

I think you can understand this, however, as the clash of principles designed for a world of negative rights, in a society that has come to embrace substantial positive rights — as well as a clash between old and new concepts of what is private and what is public.

All of us learned some version of “You have the right to your beliefs, but not to impose them on others” in civics class. It’s a classic negative right. And negative rights are easy to make reciprocal: You have a right to practice your religion without interference, and I have a right not to have your beliefs imposed on me.

This works very well in situations in which most of the other rights granted by society are negative rights, because negative rights don’t clash very often. Oh, sure, you’re going to get arguments about noise ordinances and other nuisance abatements, but unless your religious practices are extreme indeed, the odds that they will substantively violate someone else’s negative rights are pretty slim.

[snip]

Alongside this development, as Yuval Levin has pointed out, we have seen an ongoing shift, particularly on the left, in the balance between what constitutes the private and the public spheres, and who has powers in which sphere. There’s a reductive tendency in modern political discourse to view public versus private as the state versus the individual.

In the 19th century, the line between the individual and the government was just as firm as it is now, but there was a large public space in between that was nonetheless seen as private in the sense of being mostly outside of government control — which is why we still refer to “public” companies as being part of the “private” sector. Again, in the context of largely negative rights, this makes sense. You have individuals on one end and a small state on the other, and in the middle you have a large variety of private voluntary institutions that exert various forms of social and financial coercion, but not governmental coercion — which, unlike other forms of coercion, is ultimately enforced by the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

[snip]

[O]utside of our most intimate relationships, almost everything else is now viewed as public, which is why Brendan Eich’s donation to an anti-gay-marriage group became, in the eyes of many, grounds for firing.

For many people, this massive public territory is all the legitimate province of the state. Institutions within that sphere are subject to close regulation by the government, including regulations that turn those institutions into agents of state goals — for example, by making them buy birth control for anyone they choose to employ. It is not a totalitarian view of government, but it is a totalizing view of government; almost everything we do ends up being shaped by the law and the bureaucrats appointed to enforce it. We resolve the conflict between negative and positive rights by restricting many negative rights to a shrunken private sphere where they cannot get much purchase.

Put another way, once upon time, things not directly within the government purview were neutral territory in which I didn’t impose upon or demand from you, and you didn’t impose upon and demand from me.  We might have thought the other excessively moral or immoral, but we danced together in uneasy harmony.

Beginning in the 1980s, though, the Left co-opted the public space, declaring that it was not neutral territory but was, instead, government territory.  Further, because Leftists deny that their belief in non-Christian values is itself a value, they insist that by doing so they’re not infringing on First Amendment rights.  They insist upon this denial even as they promote and guard their own secular faith with all the vehemence of a true religious zealot.

The Obama healthcare mandate reflects the fact that, for the Left, the distinction between your private religious space and all the other public government faith space has morphed again.  Now, as a person of faith, the only space you have that’s yours is within the four walls of your home.  Everything else is within the public purview, meaning that it’s under government control and government values (which are, by definition, statist, hostile to matters of faith, and identical to the Democrat platform).  With this rejiggered view of public and private, the government is not infringing upon your religion if it imposes obligations on you (even obligations that directly contradict your faith) as long as it is not constraining you within your own home.

Put another way, the DemProg interpretation of the First Amendment’s promise that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion boils down to this:  I can’t force you to pay for or perform an abortion on your own daughter (provided she lives in your house), but I am not impinging on your faith if I force you to pay for or perform an abortion on your neighbor’s daughter.   Under this definition, your objection to paying for or performing that abortion on the neighbor’s child constitutes an unreasonable attempt to enforce religious values in the public arena.

Thoughts about my traffic travails; or denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

Getting a ticketI’m still brooding about the craptacular implosion of my 36 year run without any driving violations.  This is not something I take lightly.  It disturbs me on two levels.

The first level is my self-confidence. By the time you reach the middle of middle age, shading into the dark side of middle age, you’re reasonably confident that you’ve mastered life’s basic skills. You can shop, prepare yourself some basic meals, get your laundry done, pay your bills . . . and drive your car.

Now, when I get on the road, I recoil from every chimerical possibility of accident or ticket. Contrary to the police’s claim about the intended purposes behind the sting and the red light camera, I am not a safer driver now than I was before, unless you count as safe a driver who constantly second guesses herself and is as skittish as long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

The last time I felt this bad as a driver was when I started driving again after an accident that saw the car in which I was a passenger plummet off an overpass and land upside down 20 feet below. This time, I’m not scared of the car; I’m scared of everything around the car. I do not think this is, or should be, the law’s purpose.

My theory about the law’s purpose gets me to my second point, which is that I feel that both the tickets violated a sort of unspoken social contract I’ve always felt as a driver with the rules of the road. Warning: I strongly urge readers in law enforcement to cover their eyes at this point. What I’m going to say will not make them happy.

To my way of thinking, both my traffic violations involved slightly different violations of the social contract. The purpose behind traffic regulations is to protect people and property, while keeping traffic moving as efficiently as possible. I wholeheartedly approve of this purpose. What regulations are not meant to be is a source of revenue for cash strapped states and municipalities or some sort of lesson created in false, laboratory-like circumstances. Increasingly, though, that’s what they’re becoming.

The cross walk sting I got the other day seems to me to violate the spirit of the law, as well as the letter, insofar as the law is aimed at protecting people and property. If you read the statute (Calif. Vehicle Code sec. 21950), what comes through loud and clear is that it relies heavily on common sense, situational awareness, and individual discretion:

(a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

As you can see, the statute states no specifics. That is, it doesn’t say that, when a driver is 100 feet from a marked cross walk, if he sees a pedestrian within 3 feet or less of the cross walk, or in the cross walk itself, he must immediately apply the brake and remain stopped until the pedestrian is more than 3 feet from the cross walk. It also doesn’t express any specific times within which a driver must act (e.g., within 3 seconds of having a clear view of any pedestrian less than 3 feet away from the cross walk, etc.).

Instead, the statute says that it’s the driver’s responsibility to protect the pedestrian. I agree. It says, despite the driver’s primary obligation to protect the pedestrian, the pedestrian cannot behave irresponsibly. I agree. And finally, it says that the driver has to exercise “due care” and must reduce speed “or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.” It’s the driver’s decision how to act in a specific situation. And unless the driver is a psychopath, his decision will be to do everything possible to avoid that pedestrian.

I know my car, I know my intersection, and I know the way normal adult pedestrians behave. (When it comes to children, I slow to 5 miles an hour if they’re on a side walk within 20 feet of my car whether or not they’re at a cross walk. Like drunks, their behavior is totally random, and “due care” requires extraordinary caution.) Normal adults stop at the curb, look both ways and, if they see a driver coming, carefully check the car out before leaning their bodies forward into the intersection.

When I am about 100 feet from an intersection and see an adult pedestrian engage in normal behavior, I take my foot off the gas to reduce speed and, if necessary, gently touch the brake while I assess the situation. If it’s clear the pedestrian’s going for it, I stop. Because I’m familiar with my car, I know that this “reduce speed, observe, and stop if needed” technique will invariably have me stopped at least 30 feet from the pedestrian.

Normal pedestrians don’t observe a car coming down the road and, when it’s 100 feet away, suddenly step off the curb into the street without any other body “pedestrian body language.” And they don’t, as the driver draws near, but is still about 60 feet away and not accelerating, hop like a bunny back on the curb. In other words, all of the ordinary signals were wrong. That’s why I didn’t instantly stop. Or — until I see the video and confirm that this is how things really played out — that’s the story I’m telling myself for why I didn’t stop.

Even if my perception of the event is somewhat off, the sting’s scenario wasn’t a real driving scenario. It applied an objective test (must brake and stop within “X” number of feet of the supposed pedestrian) to an extremely subjective event, one that depends on the by-play between both driver and pedestrian, and on the driver’s knowledge of the terrain and her car.

In its effort to apply an objective test to a situation that his subjective both in law and in fact, this sting differed a great deal from other police traffic activity I’ve seen. Alcohol check points depend subjective things (smelling of booze, being unstable), clinched by an objective breathalyzer test (although even that is dependent on the size of the person and the way they metabolize alcohol). Speed traps depend on your speed, measured by a relatively proven technology. Traps at school bus stops use real school buses that really stop, and ticket people who engage in a behavior that’s highly objective — they drive by the stop. None of these stings operate within the shade of gray of an arbitrary distance for action, with that action dependent on the enticing behavior of an actor who may or may not behave in a way that would demonstrate to a real driver in real-time that the person intends to enter a cross walk.

The right light camera is just as bad in terms of applying an objective standard to a subjective situation. I’m not talking about driving straight through an intersection. I’m talking about right turns on yellow.

Let me begin by saying that I’m an almost excessively law-abiding citizen. I always use my cruise control so I don’t speed. If a sign says “no left turn,” I obey it. I don’t litter. I’d never dream of shoplifting and didn’t even do the stupid thing of trying it when I was young. I don’t use illicit drugs.

When it comes to yellow lights, if I’m heading straight, and if I’m not going to get rear ended by doing so, I stop for them. Doing that isn’t just because of the written rules. It’s because, in those circumstances, the law’s purpose is manifest: stopping decreases the chance of a collision, as laggards try to clear the intersection before the light changes red or eager bunnies try to start driving before their light changes green.

Making a right turn on a yellow, even one that’s shading into red, is a different proposition. At a large intersection, unless the traffic coming from the left uses warp speed, there is no possibility of a collision. And if I’ve been paying attention, and I know that there are no pedestrians either ahead of me or to the right, that turn cannot put anybody at risk. Moreover, if I’ve gotten into my turn by the time the light changes, I’m heading in the direction of the green light and I’m not running anything.

Again, as with the pedestrian situation, I’m applying my discretion to a situation because I know absolutely that there is no danger attached to what I’m doing. I’m also counting on the fact that I can get away with it. It’s a neat, quick little maneuver that a police officer probably wouldn’t catch because, in my opinion, it’s safe and, if I finish angling my turn by the time the light changes, I’m traveling with not against the green light.

The problem with the red light camera is that it has no discretion. It sits there and churns out tickets despite the fact that the driver is engaged in a manifestly risk-free activity and, moreover, is moving with the traffic, not against it by the time the light changes.

The Vehicle Code, surprisingly for a government code, vests a lot of discretion in drivers. They’re supposed to calculate whether activities are safe or dangerous, and behave reasonably under such circumstances. Even some of the ostensibly black and white things aren’t really. For example, about that speed limit: yes, normally you’ll get nailed for exceeding the speed limit, but officers actually have discretion. If driving at the posted speed is unsafe, whether because traffic should move more slowly or is, in fact, moving much more quickly, you’ll still get ticketed.

So what I’m complaining about here are policing activities — cross walk stings and red light cameras — that violate the spirit of the law by imposing arbitrary constraints on situations that vest the driver with discretion. And worse, with the cross walk sting, the police try to imply objective standards (braking within X number of feet) to a situation that is inherently subjective.

This might be my last word on the subject unless I brood some more.

My traffic karma sucks (pardon my language) — or life with red light cameras *UPDATED*

Red Light Camera(UPDATE:  Aargh!  I was able to view the video on line, and I didn’t stop.  The light had just gone from yellow to red, which would explain my decision.  I know you can still move on a yellow, but not on a red.  I was really scooting to catch the yellow and I clearly decided not to slam on the brake when it turned red.  UPDATE II:  I deleted the word “dishonest” from my post caption.  All I can say is that, when it comes to busting my perfect driving record, I’m nothing if not efficient. I also do wonder how long that yellow light was.  It turns out that cities shorten them to increase revenue from red light cameras.  Oakland probably didn’t do that, but thinking that it might have done so gives me a comfortable sense of denial.)

First, an update to the traffic post I did a couple of days ago: Yes, it was definitely a sting.  I know this, first, because a friend got stung too and, second, because a police officer I spoke with confirmed that they were using actors as part of a cross walk sting.  The police department did make a public announcement through social media that it was going to be cracking down on pedestrian violations, but I didn’t check social media and, in any event, the police didn’t announce that they’d have people jumping in and out of intersections.

I checked the law and discovered that it’s very touchy-feely. The California Vehicle Code doesn’t specify distances (i.e., driver must stop so many feet from the pedestrian or cross walk) or times (driver has so many seconds to react). Instead, section 21950 basically says that pedestrians have the right of way, but they can’t throw themselves into the street, and drivers must take all reasonable steps to avoid hitting a pedestrian:

(a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

My contention is that the police decoy was not wearing bright clothes, did not use body language indicating he intended to cross, and stepped into and out of the crosswalk so quickly I had no time to or reason to stop.

The good news is that the police took videos of all the stops. I’m going to make an appointment to view the video.  If I’m wrong, I’ll take my licks because I deserve them. And if I’m right, well, the police might reverse the ticket then and there, or I’ll have good cause (in my own mind, at least) to take the matter to court.

So that’s bad traffic karma number one. Here’s number two (and keep in mind that, before a couple of days ago, I’d never before had a moving violation):

I received in today’s mail a notice from the Alameda County traffic division telling me I was cited for running a red light. What? I was in Oakland last week, but I have no memory of running a red light — and you’d think that would be something I’d remember.  Before I even studied the pictures included in the citation, I studied my memory.  I know that sometime last week, either in Marin or in the East Bay, I was in an intersection when it turned yellow, but I got out before it turned red, so that couldn’t be the reason — unless the camera cheated.  I also asked myself whether I could have been so clueless that I not only ran the red light, I didn’t even realize there was a light there. That’s not likely either, because I’m hyperaware driving in that region of England because the traffic is aggressive and the intersections are vast, requiring attention.

Since the memory banks didn’t yield any useful information, I careful studied the small, somewhat blurred photos included with the citation.  They’re clear enough, though, for me to believe that this is the sequence of events photographed:  (1) My car stopped at a red light (you can see my brake lights on) and (2) my car making a right hand turn at a red light.

Here’s what the DMV’s own website has to say about right hand turns on red lights (italicized emphasis mine):

Right turn against a red light – Signal and stop for a red traffic light at the marked limit line. If there is no limit line, stop before entering the crosswalk. If there is no crosswalk, stop before entering the intersection. You may turn right if there is no sign to prohibit the turn. Yield to pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, or other vehicles moving on their green light.

No turn against a red arrow  –  You may not turn right or left against a red arrow.

And here’s a very nice Google Earth picture of that intersection (27th St. and Northgate Ave, Oakland, West Bound):

Google Earth picture of 27th and Northgate WB Oakland

When I look at that picture (which, admittedly is three years old and things change), I do not see either a no turn arrow or a no turn sign.  What I do see, ironically enough, is a person making a right turn on a red light.  I have to go to Oakland this afternoon anyway, so I’ll go to that intersection and see whether, since Google Earth took that picture, Oakland has added a “no turn on red” sign.  If it has, it’s my bad, and I take the consequences.  If it hasn’t, I take a picture and head to court.  Grrrr.

This just sucks. Sorry for my language, but I really am feeling reduced to high school epithets.