Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

His fate a reminder

His fate a reminder

There’s a wonderful article at the BBC about the traditions surrounding the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords, which opens Parliament. The whole article is worth a read, but this in particular delighted me:

And here is the really cheeky move: parliament forces Her Majesty to consider her own mortality as she gets dressed for the occasion. For in the Robing Room of the House of Lords, where the Queen puts on her robe and imperial state crown, the authorities have chosen to display a facsimile of the death warrant of her ancestor, Charles I.

If ever there were a symbol to express the end of the divine right of kings and the limits of a constitutional monarchy, that document is it.

Who says the British don’t have a puckish sense of humor? 😀

Of course, fair is fair. The Queen is allowed to keep a member of Parliament hostage during her speech, to guarantee her safety. This year’s designated fall guy will have to suffer by sitting in Buckingham Palace and drink tea, while watching the speech on TV.

Oh, cruel fate!

The author makes an excellent point at the end, though, about why the British maintain these seemingly silly rituals:

The point is this: as you watch the state opening of parliament, remember it is one of the strongest ceremonial demonstrations of our liberty that we have. Democracy is not just the freedom to vote out a government we dislike; it is also the freedom not to be ruled by an autocratic monarch chosen by God.

It is what our ancestors fought over in the civil war. And it is a right that we are reminded of every year.

I can appreciate that.

Read Full Post »

"Banned by Nanny State"

“Banned by Nanny State”

I want to congratulate my city councilman, Mike Bonin, for his support of Los Angeles’ ban on plastic grocery bags.

You see, earlier this evening, I was at my local Albertson’s (1). While there, I had trouble finding a handbasket to hold the items I was buying. The manager saw me and came up to apologize. You see, they were low on baskets and had to order 200 more because…


Which phenomenon, by the way, has happened before.

Knowing our city council, they’ll probably pass an ordinance against stealing the baskets, rather than admit their mistake and rescind the bag ban.

Great work, guys.

(1) Sepulveda and Palms, if you want to know where the cool kids shop.

Read Full Post »

"Banned by Nanny State"

“Banned by Nanny State”

Starting today, plastic grocery shopping bags have been banned in the city of Los Angeles. Shoppers are now required to either bring their own reusable bags, pay extra for paper bags, or… grow extra arms?

Proponents claim the bag ban will be better for the environment. This is disputable.  A 2012 article in Reason described the reality of plastic-bag pollution:

First, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t reduce waste. California’s Statewide Waste Characterization Study [pdf] shows that “Plastic Grocery and Other Merchandise Bags” consistently make up just 0.3 percent of the waste stream in the state. That’s three-tenths of 1 percent. In comparison, organic waste such as food and yard clippings makes up 32 percent while construction debris comprises about 30 percent. The effect of eliminating free grocery bags on the amount of waste generated in the city would be insignificant.

Second, despite misleading claims from environmental groups and the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t do much to reduce litter in the public commons. Litter studies from across the country demonstrate that, on average, plastic retail bags make up about 1 percent to 2 percent of all litter.

Even that small amount of litter doesn’t decline when bans are enacted. In San Francisco, plastic bags comprised 0.6 percent of litter before the city banned plastic bags and 0.64 percent a year after the ban took effect [pdf, pg. 35]. Since plastic grocery bags make up less than 2 percent of roadside trash, banning them will affect neither the total amount of litter nor the cost of cleaning it up.

Third, banning free plastic grocery bags won’t reduce our consumption of foreign (or domestic) oil. L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation claims [pdf] that “approximately 12 million barrels of oil go into the US supply of plastic bags.” But plastic bags made in the U.S. are not derived from oil; they’re made from a byproduct of domestic natural gas refinement. Manufacturing plastic grocery bags does not increase our need to import oil, and banning them in Los Angeles or anywhere else will not reduce US oil consumption.

Despite claims that plastics threaten our oceans and sea life, there is no evidence that free plastic grocery bags make up any significant portion of the plastic waste found on beaches or in the ocean. In fact, reports from environmental groups doing beach and ocean clean-ups show that plastic bags make up only about 2 percent of the debris.

There’s a lot more in that Reason article about the myths and realities of plastic bags, including the economic harm it will likely do to thousands who will lose their jobs. I recommend reading the whole thing.

And what about public health? And I’m not just thinking of what people are going to use to pick up their dog’s droppings while on a walk. This 2010 Washington Post article describes the inherent health hazards of reusable plastic bags, themselves:

Nearly every bag examined for bacteria by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found whopping amounts of bugs. Coliform bacteria, suggesting raw-meat or uncooked-food contamination, was in half of the bags, and E. coli was found in 12 percent of the bags.

Running the bags through a washer or cleaning them by hand reduced bacteria levels to almost nothing, the study reported, but nearly all shoppers questioned said they do not regularly, if ever, wash their reusable bags. About a third said they also used their food-shopping bags to haul around non-food items.

In fact, in 2012 athletes came down sick with norovirus, thanks to their reusable grocery bags.

Sure, we can wash them and even bleach them, but is it your business to put us in a position of having to do that? We’ll come back to this in a minute.

Finally, there’s a crime issue. Seattle banned plastic bags in  July, 2012. Since then grocery stores have reported a sharp increase in shoplifting:

Mike Duke, who operates the Lake City Grocery Outlet with his wife, said that since the plastic-bag ban started last July, he’s lost at least $5,000 in produce and between $3,000 and $4,000 in frozen food.

“We’ve never lost that much before,” said Duke, who found those numbers through inventories of stolen and damaged goods.

The Dukes opened the Lake City grocery store in June 2011, and Mike Duke said in the year before the plastic-bag ban losses in frozen food and produce were a small fraction of what he’s seeing now. As he explained to seattlepi.com and also the North Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the shoplifters’ patterns are difficult to detect.

They enter the store with reusable bags and can more easily conceal items they steal. The reusable bags require staff to watch much more closely, and even though the store has a loss-prevention officer and more than a dozen security cameras, it’s tough to tell what a customer has paid for and what they may already have brought with them.

They’ve even seen an upswing in plastic hand-baskets being stolen (Hey, shoplifters have to carry their loot in something!) and then found dumped around the city. Shall we ban those, too?

More importantly –and this ties into the health issue– is it the place of the Los Angeles city council to impose these risks on residents and businesses?

The answer is no. When our streets are falling apart, when the city’s finances are a wreck, when the schools badly underperform, there are far better uses for councilmen’s time (and the salary money we pay them) than to pass a needless, possibly harmful law for the sake of “promoting environmental awareness” or “making a statement.” The intentions may be good, but we all know where that path leads.

Returning to the Reason article, author Jay Beeber speaks for me when he touches on the larger issue the bag ban is a symptom of — government that has grown too large and too intrusive in people’s lives:

But the real crisis—the one that rarely gets discussed—is that these types of bans require another public acceptance of total government intrusion into our lives. Is it a legitimate role of government to prohibit one individual from giving a free bag to another individual on the pretext of a supposed societal benefit that does not withstand even friendly scrutiny? Doesn’t every human interaction, no matter how small, have some arguable effect on society? And if so, what’s to prevent those who seek to dictate how everyone lives from invoking that argument at every turn? The crisis in Los Angeles and around the country is that too few people are asking those questions.

As an Angeleno, a taxpayer, and a voter, I ask that you members of the LA city council ask these questions of yourselves and then do the right thing.

Repeal the ban.

Read Full Post »

Normally I don’t put politics on this blog, but there are reasons to make the occasional exception; this is one of them. My State Assemblywoman, Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass (D), voiced some opinions regarding the rights of free speech that I found, well, objectionable. The following is the letter I sent her:

Dear Speaker Bass,

As a resident of the 47th district, I’m writing to express not just dismay, but absolute shock at the opinions you expressed in an interview with Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times. This is the exchange in question:

How do you think conservative talk radio has affected the Legislature’s work?

The Republicans were essentially threatened and terrorized against voting for revenue. Now [some] are facing recalls. They operate under a terrorist threat: “You vote for revenue and your career is over.” I don’t know why we allow that kind of terrorism to exist. I guess it’s about free speech, but it’s extremely unfair.

So, wait a second. Calling up a talk show or the legislator’s office directly and expressing a strongly-held opinion is the equal of terrorizing someone? Promising to oppose their candidacy or even to attempt to recall them -a process provided for under state law- is terroristic? For a talk-show host to call attention to legislation he opposes to try to gather opposition to it is extremely unfair?

Perhaps it’s slipped your mind, but Americans, even Californians, have the right to free speech and to petition for the redress of grievances, even if rudely expressed. It’s protected under the 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights. May I also remind you of Article 1, Section 2(a) of the California Constitution:

SEC. 2.  (a) Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.

Everything you complained about is protected political speech under both the US and California constitutions and surely cannot be considered “abuse.” They are expressions of the natural-born rights of all people, and for you as a public official to accuse political opponents exercising these same rights of being terroristic is elitist, insulting, and profoundly anti-democratic. That you, one of the highest officials of our state government, should complain that free speech allows this to happen is appalling, and it calls into question your qualifications to serve in any elected office.

So, let me engage in a little free speech of my own: I do not want someone with your cavalier attitude toward the rights of citizens to represent me in any capacity, and I will work to see you replaced in the next election.

with regards,

–Anthony Ragan

Is it any wonder that the state of California is in the mess it’s in, when its so-called leaders hold the electorate and democracy itself in such contempt?

Read Full Post »