Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, December 31, 2007

Bush Fatigue

In an excellent post yesterday, Glenn Greenwald expanded upon an NY Times report on the Bush administration's destruction of the CIA tapes. This follows Dahlia Lithwick's excellent ten-point summary of the Bush administration's worst lies and legal fictions. I read these articles and felt a moment of outrage... then numbness. Sad, miserable numbness.

For seven years, the Bush administration has lied blatantly, lied maliciously, and then lied again. The Bush administration has evaded or outright deceived all attempts at oversight from Congress and the judiciary, and they have concocted outlandish claims of "executive privilege" and "war powers" to conceal their wrongdoing. In the name of freedom, the Bush administration has secretly kidnapped hundreds of people from around the world--even here at home--and held them captive for years in secret prisons without charge, sometimes without telling anyone. In the name of justice, the Bush administration has tortured hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women. The Bush administration has turned our proud nation into a rogue state, hated around the world.

And yet, despite a mountain of evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, nothing seems to stick. They blame "a few bad apples"; they alternately claim ignorance and secret knowledge as it suits them; they impugn the character and patriotism of anyone who questions them; they invoke 9/11 to defend everything. They portray all attempts to find the truth as mere partisan attacks. They have gotten away with murder and the American public has yet to call them on it.

How is this possible? Why do Americans react, as I did, with sadness and numbness? Because they have managed to wear us all down, to make us all feel like helpless, frightened victims. No wonder those countdown clocks are so popular, marking time until Bush must leave office: we have given up hope of holding these bastards accountable and are just waiting for the nightmare to end. This national fatigue may be the most insidious legacy of this administration. But we can still fight it.

There is still time to impeach. And have a Happy New Year.


Democracy is the Best Revenge

Benazir Bhutto's party has chosen a new figure head...her 19 year old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Remember how Pakistan's median resident is only 20 years old?? This is a smart political move. It will combine the sympathy and anger revolving around Benazir's assassination with a clear message to the youth of the country, "We're with you!"

Of course he will be the figure head and speculation is that his father, Asif Ali Zardari Benazir's widower, will be the real party leader. Many of the corruption charges around the Bhutto family lately have centered on Mr. Zardari.

There is some precedent for this. Benazir herself took over the party at the ripe old age of 24 after her father, then Prime Minister, was hanged following a military coup in 1977 led by General Zia.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari concluded his announcement by saying "My mother always said 'democracy is the best revenge!'" It certainly would be. The one thing that Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Musharaff all agree on is that a democratic Pakistan is intolerable.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Konstitutional Krisis at Kamp Krusty

Today, Bush went further than anyone thought possible. He has vetoed the Defense Authorization Bill. His right. But he has insisted that he cast a pocket veto because the Congress is not in session! To prevent a crisis, he did a CYA move to veto it for real, but he nonetheless claims that the Senate's pro forma sessions don't count, and that Congress is not in session. Congress is in session. Period.

To quote him:

"The adjournment of the Congress has prevented my return of H.R. 1585 within the meaning of Article I, section 7, clause 2 of the Constitution. Accordingly, my withholding of approval from the bill precludes its becoming law. The Pocket Veto Case, 279 U.S. 655 (1929). In addition to withholding my signature and thereby invoking my constitutional power to "pocket veto" bills during an adjournment of the Congress, I am also sending H.R. 1585 to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, along with this memorandum setting forth my objections, to avoid unnecessary litigation about the non-enactment of the bill that results from my withholding approval and to leave no doubt that the bill is being vetoed."

If he tries to make a recess appointment, it will be war. Reid will not tolerate that.

This is just the most outlandish of the claims of vast Executive power.

Bush belongs in jail.


Friday, December 28, 2007

What next in Pakistan?

OK, so what next in Pakistan?

Here are some little factoids about Pakistan mostly from the CIA worldfactbook (see link to the right).

population: aprox 165 million
median age: about 20 (the median age in the USA is about 36, the global median is about 28)
Per Capita GDP (adjusted for purchasing power): $2,600 (in USA it is $43,800; the global per capita GDP is $10,200)
Largest import partner: China
Largest export partner: USA
Labor force distribution: ag = 42%; industry = 20%; services = 38%

Pakistan spends about 3% of their GDP on the military and has nuclear weapons. The US provides special military aid that is specifically targeted to protecting/guarding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal (of about 20 to 40 weapons). According to the various websites I looked at Pakistan may not have the missiles to deliver those warheads very far (possibly not even as far as Dehli).

So what we have here is a very poor, very agrarian, very young country with nuclear weapons in which a corrupt (remember the nuclear smuggling that Musharraf's government let happen?) military regime is doing everything it can to maintain the status quo. The problem is that the status quo involves Al Qaeda and the Taliban have the run of half the country. Musharraf apologists say "that's better than them having the run of the entire country." That's probably true if that's really the only alternative.

I haven't thought through what the US policy should be towards Pakistan after this latest development. So let's have a little forum about it here on the blog...


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Killed! Did Musharaff Order the Hit?

The corner stone of the Bush "War on Terror" outside of the debacle in Iraq has been support for Generalisimo Musharraf (who recently retired from the military but who is he kidding). Musharraf has repayed our support with sweetheart deals with tribal leaders who themselves are sheltering Bin Laden and providing troops to the Taliban in what is rapidly turning into our debacle in Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan?).

Well, I awoke this morning to see reports in the European press (see BBC news link to the right) that Benizir Bhutto has been wounded in the third (I think) suicide bombing attack on her rallies since her arrival in Pakistan to take part in upcoming elections. 20 or so people were killed. This story is still very much "breaking news" and as I type this CNN has not picked up on her being wounded yet. BBC and the Danish press are both reporting her being wounded. OK, I just hit "refresh" and the European press is saying that Bhutto was killed in the attack. CNN just reported that she'd been killed. CNN is reporting that she was killed by bullet wound to the neck. Bombs and shooting? Someone wanted to make sure they murdered her.

This is a tragic development! Benezir Bhutto was the first woman to be elected head of government of a Muslim country. Her support came from the urban, more educated, more "modernized" segment of Pakistani society. The attacks against Bhutto have been continued and systematic. I'm not the only one speculating that Bush's friend Musharraf is behind them. Regardless of whether he ordered the hit, I'm sure he's celebrating this murder.

This is a sad day for Pakistanis.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

All in a Day's Work, Part II

As they did over Thanksgiving, Democratic Senators are gaveling one-minute pro forma sessions over the Christmas holidays to prevent Bush from making "recess" appointments. Senate Majority leader Reid (D-NV) had offered to allow Bush to make dozens of such appointments if Bush would just drop his bid to appoint Steven G. Bradbury as head of the Office of Legal Council at the Department of Justice... But of course Bush refused to compromise, as always, so here we are.

There is a good reason why a host of Senators have asked Bush to withdraw that one nomination: Bradbury was the author of the DoJ "torture memos." Moreover, in rather stunning bit of testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee, Bradbury declared to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 2006 that, "The President is always right." (And no, that was not taken out of context.)

In a year when the Democratic Congress has often been thwarted by the Republican Party on big ticket items, these quiet micro-sessions remind us that the Democrats keep fighting and have managed to thwart a thousand tiny ills that the Republican Party would have visited upon this nation. May 2008 bring us a President who will oppose torture, will close Guantanamo, and will understand that she (or he) is not always right.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bush Refuses to Raise Emissions Standards

After years of refusing even to issue a decision, the EPA has rejected California's request to set higher emissions standards for vehicles. It is a smack in the face to Schwarzenegger. And it is surely no accident that this comes today, buried in the news on the very day Bush signed into law the new CAFE standards, trying to trumpet his "green" credentials. (Although of course the new standards were forced on him and he only agreed to them kicking and screaming.)

With one hand, Bush giveth; with the other he taketh away. Gods, what a lousy administration!


Vote Democratic in 2008 for Fiscal Responsibility

The House voted today to shield 21 million Americans from the unintended consequences of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). No doubt the Senate will follow suit and the President will sign it soon enough. This is good news on the whole, but the bill passed is totally irresponsible--courtesy of your Republican Party, which blocked all Democratic attempts to pay for it. This bill will cost on the order of a trillion dollars over the next decade or so, and that goes straight to the bottom line.

The disgusting part of this whole sordid affair is that, even though both parties know the AMT has become unfair and requires massive adjustment (if not outright elimination), all budget forecasts quietly assume the AMT will continue. Every single budget Bush and the old Republican Congress ever presented to justify those unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy only added up because they counted the windfall in the "out-years" (2007 and beyond) when the will AMT hammer the middle class. All those budgets were shams.

This year the new Democratic Congress tried to find ways to pay for eliminating the AMT, but the Republicans ridiculed these attempts as tax "hikes"--even though their own budget numbers still include all that tax revenue and more from the AMT! The Republicans held hostage the fortunes of 21 million Americans until the Democrats finally had to give in. Bush and the Republicans have driven the budget straight over a cliff.

Every time Bush and the Republicans talk about "holding the line" on the budget, it makes me want to puke. They style themselves "fiscal conservatives" and smugly oppose all taxes, while they plow us deeper and deeper into debt. We are now $9.2 trillion in debt--up from $5.7 when Bush took office--and already nearly a quarter of all income tax goes to pay interest on the debt. That's a half-trillion dollar annual subsidy for Wall Street. This crop of Republicans gets off scot free while they force all the tough choices onto the next Congress. Argh!

As Kerry said back in 2004, "These guys are the worst bunch of liars and thieves I've ever seen."


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Harry Shearer

Now we here at The Citizens love us some Harry Shearer. I think it's obvious that a lot of us are Simpsons fans, and we have a link to Le Show on the right -- that's Harry's weekly NPR program. You can get it podcasted for free, by the way, if you want.

Now Harry has his own internet channel! Check it out here. Some pretty good stuff, including his silent debates ...



The NY Times today carried an opinion piece which claims the Iowa Democratic party conceals the actual vote at the caucuses. Unlike the Iowa Republican party, which releases the tally of how many people voted for each candidate, the Iowa Democratic party never does.

Instead, the Iowa Democratic party will release only so-called "Delegate equivalent" totals that result from the delegate selection process and complex apportionment rules. (Republicans also have a delegate selection process, but the op-ed piece claims the press effectively ignores the outcome.)

According to the article, these "Delegate equivalent" totals differ sufficiently from the actual vote that the "winner" could have actually come in second, and someone with 12% support might be reported to have no support at all. Is this true? Can any of The Citizens confirm this? And why is this the case?


Saturday, December 15, 2007

McCain's Surge

I am no longer the only one paying attention to McCain's candidacy. Iowa's Des Moines Register and the Boston Globe have both endorsed McCain for the Republican nomination. (For the Democrats, the Register picked Hillary Clinton and Globe favored Barack Obama.) McCain is now consistently #2 in New Hampshire polling and rising (albeit about 14% behind Romney).

A Newsweek op-ed piece says that McCain has, "got his mojo back." USA Today headline reads, "McCain gaining in New Hampshire." Detroit News notes that when non-Republicans who might vote in the Michigan primary are factored into themix, McCain is actually leading there.

On the one hand, this is sort of good because I think McCain is surely the best of the Republicans running. But that frightens me also. I would far rather the Republicans commit "Huckacide" as one blogger put it. John McCain is the only Republican who consistently polls at a statistical tie with Clinton and Obama--all the other potential Republican nominees lose in head-to-head matches. Food for thought.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Why you should care about steroids and baseball

When scandal happened, the Romans would ask "cui bono?" - roughly meaning "who benefitted?" Lenin asked generally of capitalism "kto-kovo?" (who-whom?) meaning, who is the subject and who is the object?

One response to the steroid scandal is to punish the players for "cheating." The Republican or conservative view would be to view this issue as exclusively one of moral choice by players who deserve to be punished for knowingly making a bad choice. While the players deserve opprobrium for their actions, it is a huge mistake to insist that this is merely a matter of personal moral choice. Cicero and Lenin would disagree. The players' union protected the players, and management knowingly rewarded steroid users for pumping up statistics and attendance with pumped up salaries. Indeed, some may have outright encouraged steroid use for underperfomers. The players were also responding to market forces. So were the unions and the management, also. Marx commented in "Capital" that in capitalism it happens that people frequently make moral choices they would prefer not to make and say that they were forced into it by the market. Money, he said, becomes the subject, and we become its objects. How many bosses have cut wages or laid off employees with tears in their eyes, saying the market required it?

To put turn the steroid issue entirely into a moral lesson on individual responsibility not only misses the operation of the market system in baseball, but takes away our ability to fix the problem. As RBR can tell you better than I can, trying to prevent a person from purusing her own self interest with penalties alone is largely a doomed enterprise. Where everyone is responding to market forces, the blame and corrective efforts must also be applied strongly to those who are best able to resist market forces. Put another way, those who are motivated by economic survival and greed (players and their union) are harder to deter than those motivated by greed alone (the management). Those who knowingly tolerated steroid and HGH use should be punished as much as the players who used them. They need to be given an incentive NOT to reward the players for their steroid use.

We saw the same thing with Enron and other corporate scandals. Individuals were blamed, not the system that incentivized their behavior. Sarbanes-Oxley did not do enough to put the onus on the beneficiaries (the CEOs) to obey the law. Instead, individual corporate attorneys and accountants are again asked to risk their careers to challenge accounting practices. Auditors and accountants are punished for looking the other way, although if they had not done so, they would have been replaced by those who really had the economic power to make better choices. Conservative rhetoric about individual responsibility makes it harder to fix problems by putting all of the enforcement at the feet of those with the most perverse incentive structure.

Conservative republicans may say that I am advocating evading invidual moral responsibility, and that this is a religious issue. They see the Christian religion as preaching only about individual sinners repenting. But that is not the only valid interpetation. Jesus railed against the Pharisees in part because they created a religious and political system that made it much harder for ordinary people to make the right choices. His anger was not only at their sinfulness, but the heavy yoke they laid upon the poor. Individual responsibility should not be used to evade corporate responsibility.

I suspect this conservative individual-first rhetoric is cynically designed to prevent real change. Illegal immigration is blamed entirely on illegal immigrants, and "fixes" are addressed to punishing them, not removing the incentives that bring them here (jobs). Republican businessmen agitate against illegal immigration, but resist legislation aimed at employers that might actually work to stop immigration because want an underpaid illegal underclass. Or, as I like to say when angry, conservatism itself with its praise of self-interest is just an elaborate justification for the wealthy to keep their wallets closed.

The other conservative tack is to say "well, we're all to blame. " The fans are responsible for the baseball scandal. People who buy cheap products knowing they are produced by illegal immigrants are to blame. We must resist this rhetoric also. Collective action problems make it impossible for the general public to have an effect on these bad behaviors, even if they do bear some moral culpability for cheering and looking the other way (I myself once argued vainly that steroids were unlikely to be prevalent in baseball because the sport was more about skill than strength). Blaming everyone is a way of blaming nobody.

A regulatory scheme simply cannot be directed solely at those with the greatest moral responsibility; it must be addressed to those whose incentives can be best realigned. Because the wealthiest and most powerful are the most able to resist market forces (since they are motivated by greed rather than surival), this means that the center-left must vote to realign the incentives of the rich and powerful.


Friday YouTube

Mike Huckabee launches an excellent new ad campaign.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Who is More Electable?

Poll after poll shows that a significant majority of Democrats believe Hillary Clinton is the most electable Democrat running. For example, one recent poll showed 62% of Democrats thought Hillary was the most electable, with only about 14-15% giving the nod to Obama or Edwards. But wasn't the scuttlebutt on Hillary that she was just hated by too many people ever to be elected? What gives?

It seems unlikely that most Democrats are simply unaware of how many people hate Hillary: people have been going after her for years. My theory is that--after the swift-boating of Kerry--most Democrats have bitterly concluded that Republicans will demonize any candidate the Democrats throw out there, no matter who it is. I suspect most Democrats reluctantly conclude the general election will end up as a "50% plus one" slugfest, just like the last two. And so, precisely because she is viewed as such a tough old warhorse, Democrats believe Hillary is the one who best can take it.

If Obama or Edwards is to win the nomination, I believe they must convince their fellow Democrats that the next election can be different. Maybe the successes in 2006 will allow enough Democrats to believe it, just a little. Is hope really too audacious for Democrats these days? I think we will know by the end of Feburary 5th, if not sooner.


Democratic Nomination Shakeup

In national polls, HRC's lead over Obama is diminishing. In Iowa, Obama is leading. In SC, polls show a tie. Today, a new poll shows Obama tied with HRC in New Hampshire also. The vaunted "firewall" of Clinton in NH may be foundering. It's too early to say what will happen, but it is starting to look like Obama has, as Bush pere would say, "the big mo." Attack dogs should be coming soon.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Torture, Rape and Supporting the Troops

Well, it was predicted in some of the comments to the earlier post about the CIA tapes. ABC is interviewing a former CIA operative who was a witness to the torture sessions on those destroyed tapes. You can see the interview here. The man defends waterboarding while admitting that it is torture. He claims the information they got from torture enabled them to foil several attacks. But we have only the torturers' word for it. Can we trust people who use torture to extract information, keep that information secret and then, when they are criticized for using torture, say "Trust us. A bunch of attacks that never happened never happened because of the torture of this guy." At one point in the interview the CIA guy says that he's changed his mind some about torture as time has passed since 9/11/01. So he's saying that he was engaging in torture because he was mad about 9/11.

Another story ABC news is reporting about is the case of a Kellog Brown and Root employee who was gang raped by her co-workers, then imprisoned in an empty container with a bed but not food or water and told that she could not leave or appeal for help. One of her guards took pity on her after days of this and gave her a cell phone which she used to call her father. Her father then called his Congressman who called the State Department who then sent their people to the KBR camp and rescued the woman. You can read the story here.

Now, granted, neither of these incidents involves actual Army or Marine personnel. But it's not like we haven't heard similar stories about them. Of course I'm not saying that all the troops are doing this kind of thing. But I am saying that when you put hundreds of thousands of people into this kind of situation, you get more torture, more rape and more murders etc.

When I hear people - mostly in the media and on the right - talking about "the troops" as if they are some kind of host of saints, I think about this context. Knee jerk support for the troops is completely unjustified. They are human beings. And human beings in particular brutal situation. It does no one any good to give them an automatic free pass for what goes on over there. The only ones who want us to do so are the leaders who would ultimately be to blame. Calls for "supporting the troops" are really calls to "stop criticizing" their leaders.

We need to get out of Iraq as quickly as possible. A gradual pull out will on continue this kind of horror longer and will not change the inevitable consequence of this invasion, occupation and withdrawal.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Rudy Giuliani smokes pot

That's the only conclusion I can draw from his recent Meet The Press appearance.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Getting Rid of the Evidence at the CIA

By now you have probably heard about the destruction of videos of "enhanced interrogations" by the CIA. I won't repeat the details of the story here as you can find them yourself easily enough on any of the news links on the right.

One would be justified in speculating that the leadership in the CIA fears prosecution under a Democratic administration in 2009. At the very least I think we safely assume that the videos would "shock the conscience" and so would violate the Bush administration's own self-serving rules and standards for redefining torture.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Life imitates art

In 1992, the much-regretted Bill Hicks said the following:

I don't find it ironic at all-Christians for the death penalty. 'Cause after all, if it weren't for capital punishment, we'd have no Easter. F**k it, that's a three day weekend where I come from.
Funny, right? Except guess which presidential candidate has made the exact same argument?
“Interestingly enough,” Huckabee allowed, “if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, ‘This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency’.”
That's crazy.

By the way, speaking of Huckabee, LTG left a comment below that reminded me of one of my all-time favorite moments from The Colbert Report ...


Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I just took this interesting test from ABC to determine which candidates I match up best with. The results?

3. Ron Paul (WTF?)
2. Dennis Kucinich
1. Mike Gravel

You have got to be kidding me.

By the way, all you need to know about Ron Paul you can learn from Stephen Colbert. Remember, he wants to get rid of all government programs.


Huckabee and the USA

Okay, so now we learn that Mike Huckabee opposes waterboarding and favors shutting down Guantanamo Bay. Good for him. I mean, he's a minister, for goodness' sake. Predictably, the wingers are going nuts. But it confirms what I have thought, which is that Huckabee is the one Republican who won't entirely destroy our country if elected President. He'd be tough to beat in a general election, though.

But hey ... wouldn't an Obama-Huckabee race make for great TV?


Monday, December 03, 2007

This May Prevent War with Iran

The US National Intelligence Estimate has just been released today contradicting the Bush administration. It says that Iran has kept its nuclear program on hold more or less since 2003. Thus, there is no imminent threat of anything. This is very, very good news.


Rogue State

The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.
The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The 1989 Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The 1997 Land Mine Treaty.
The 1998 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.
The 2001 UN Agreement to Curb the International Flow of Illicit Small Arms.

Any questions...?


Good on you, Australia

Australia received a minute-long standing ovation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali (which runs for 12 days, starting today) when it was announced that newly installed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had, within hours of his accession to office, moved to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. (In a rebuke to former PM John Howard--and in recognition of the new political reality--the new leader of the opposition immediately endorsed the decision.) 175 nations have now accepted the treaty. George Bush's Coalition of the Unwilling now consists pretty much of the US and the glorious nation of Kazakhstan. (Despite what the NY Times writes, Liechtenstein ratified the treaty in 2005.)

The real impact of Australia's decision is that its delegation has now been granted status as full participant in the negotiations at Bali to begin writing the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It is largely a symbolic gesture on Rudd's part, since it is widely expected that signatory nations will not be assessed fines for exceeding their treaty obligations on carbon emissions anyway--it seems to be understood, tacitly at least, that the formulas require revision and renegotiation to be workable.

Still, in a morning of surprising good news--Hugo Chavez' "reforms" were rejected by the electorate, and the British schoolteacher in Sudan jailed for allowing her students to name a teddy bear 'Muhammad' (I'm not making this up!) has now been pardoned, due to strong efforts of the British Muslim Council and the British government--this news stands out.


Friday, November 30, 2007

My Man, Biden

Ok, so the news out today is that Joe Biden will not accept a post as Secretary of State. Thank goodness he has a reputation for being a bit of a waffler. Right now, he is running for president, so it is normal that he will decline the premise of the question, "Would you accept the post." But later, I hope he will reconsider.

In an interview recently, he responded "The problem is you Iowans like us all. The polls show that. And there are folks our there (He means the Clinton camp) saying, 'Look, elect us and you can have Obama as VP and Biden as Secretary of State.'" He has a point. That is what I am doing as I watch debates. Who could go where? What team would I put together?

So let's go with that. Let's play a little parlor game. I'd think it would be a hard call between Richardson and Biden for Sec. of State. I'd look at Kucinish of Health and Human Services and Chris Dodd a for treasury or a potential Fed Chair. If you were Obama as President, where would you put Edwards and Clinton? And if you were Clinton, where would you out Obama and Edwards? I'm having a hard time with that.


On Strikes, Riots, and Rationality

One of the benefits of being home sick is that you can stay in bed all day and read guilt free. So as I was reading through a throw-away copy of an older New Yorker, I came across an article in their financial pages about the costs and benefits of strikes. The article was sparked by the Hollywood writer’s strike. But it has ramifications above and beyond.

Now I choose to NOT have cable in my home. But nevertheless, I get a lot of content on-line, including my daily dose of Bill Maher, Job Stewart, Colbert, etc. and I am getting a little tired of not having them around. So I was interested in James Surowiecki’s (author of Wisdom of Crowds) New Yorker piece from Nov 19th. He says that economically, strikes are not profitable for anyone. He looked at the 1988 writer’s strike that lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry a half billion dollars in lost revenues, wages, and it killed network ratings (which means fewer advertiser dollars). But, he said at the end, the strike had little effect on the final agreement. He says, in fact, that the final agreement was not that much different from the one proposed 5 months earlier. He is of the mindset that the strike cost both sides more than they gained or more than the sums they were fighting over.

In the article he says that most strikes (not all, but most) don’t end well for either side. They end with no major gains or losses and that economists have found that at the end of the day, they don’t have much effect on what workers earn. Unions raise worker wages, but strikes don’t.


Well, look at gaming theory and you might have an answer. 1) There is the problem of asymmetric information (i.e. one side has more info than the other). 2) Then there is the problem of honesty. Is the side with the most information being honest, or lying? One way to find out is to call the bluff and go on strike. If management concedes quickly, then one assumes that management was lying. If the disagreement is protracted, then management is probably bring honest. And the longer a strike lasts, the less likely a big victory will be. The positions become entrenched. 3) There is the problem of over-confidence on the part of one of the parties. A strike can’t help both sides. So that means one side is over-estimating its ability to win, which is probably linked to #1 above. And over-estimation is clouded by one’s desires. We interpret facts based largely on our desires and often fail to be objective enough. And finally, and most interestingly to me, is 5) justice. People get worked up over matters of principle. And this is the one that gets me into trouble the most often. I get more angry, rationally or irrationally, over matters of principle than anything else. And matters of principle are hard to win because they aren’t concrete and can be easily rejected by the opposition. Usually matters of principle are unsupported by concrete facts. Studies show that people will leave money on the table if they perceive that it is split unfairly. Even monkeys will stop cooperating if they deem their reward is somehow inferior to that of others. This is why companies don’t like employees to talk about salaries at work.

All of this is interesting in terms of peace and conflict studies and it makes me think of the riots in Paris. The thing that gets me is that rioters will destroy their own neighborhoods, which is economically and to a point socially irrational. So is suicide bombing- killing yourself and other innocents for what? To make a point? Because it is a matter of principle.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

GOP Attacks Voting Rights in Virginia

Virginia has an open primary, meaning that voters who are registered for either party, or registered independent, can decide on primary day which party's primary election (just one) they wish to participate in. The Virginia GOP is now going to require loyalty oaths from anyone voting in the Republican primary. The problem is that these oaths are worded thus: "I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for President." This is insidious. The stated intent is to dissuade Democratic voters from meddling in the primary. However, many people, particularly older people, are likely to believe that this means they have promised to vote Republican no matter what in the general election. As a lawyer, I frequently see that non-lawyers place quite a bit of stock in things that look and feel like contracts. I can easily foresee the Virginia GOP mailing back copies of these oaths to voters before the election with statements like, "time to fulfil your promise - vote Republican." Many people will seriously believe that, as a matter of personal honor, they need to honor the commitment to vote for the GOP. Republicans should not be allowed to wheedle these statements out of voters, even if they are legally nonenforceable. I hope a legal challenge is brought soon to quash this. Unfortunately, Democrats in VA prefer just to make fun of it right now, thinking that it is a "win" for them to portray the GOP as pushing independents away. That's a good tactic, because it is offensive and offputting to independents, but a legal challenge is important.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This was widely believed to be the end of Nixon's political career

That phrase (or one very similar to it) pops up several times in "Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of The United States". It details all the times people thought Nixon was done. But just like some sort of zombie, he kept on coming back.

I bring this up to warn people about thinking the newest revelation about Rudy (where he billed government agencies to get places to make whoopee with his then-mistress) will kill his chances at the White House. If conservatives can put up with his three marriages, pro-federally funded abortions stance and the like, they can deal with this.

... as an aside, please check out Glenn Greenwald for the ridiculous Time Magazine/Joe Klein saga, if you haven't heard about it already.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When Paris Burns

As if strikes and work stoppage weren't enough for France, for the last three days, Paris has been dealing with riots. And Toulouse, my French hometown, is also seeing unrest. But this time it is proving to be different from the riots in 2005. This time, French police are saying that the rioters are more "professional". They are referring to them as "urban guerrillas". This time, rioters are using fire arms and setting buildings (including a nursery school and library) on fire by ramming cars into them. Eighty two officers were injured, mostly by buck shot from hunting weapons. Have the minority youth brought some new kind of fight to the streets? Is this a new type of movement developing in France?

They are hitting civil establishments, like the library and school. There is some question that the police were sort of set up. The spark was the death of two minority teens whose motor scooter collided with a police car. The accusation is that the police didn't help the youths, but fled the scene. The police deny that claim and they say that they did not run over the teens, but that the teens rammed into them. I tend to believe the police on this one in part because of the tactics that have thus far been used in the riots. Also relations between French police and minority youths are notoriously bad. French papers have made allusions as well to the roll of rumor and conspiracy theory in the events. And this makes me think of what happens in Iraq- such as the rumors that the British were letting loose killer badgers. It got so bad, a general actually had to address it.

I have seen the places these people live, and they are ugly and horrid places, mini third worlds on the outskirts of lovely cities. But the French problem goes beyond immigration and racism to youth unemployment. Even French youth can't find work and student unions have been at the forefront of autumn strikes. But rather than burning local businesses, the rest of the country strikes, which is how civil society should work.

To their credit, French media haven't raised the question of potential links to terrorism, which would have been the first place American media would have gone. And the French seem to be very frank about the roots of the problem and their own shortcomings. They admit that minority youths have been isolated, blocked form full participation, and that most of the cops are white, etc. But they will also tell you that this doesn't justify destroying neighborhoods. And much like the LA riots, they are destroying their own neighborhoods and the businesses of their own neighbors!

I will admit with great guilt that my first reaction when hearing this news was anger . . . anger that people come to a new country and then try to trash it, bringing their rage at their old governments to their new ones. And I think that this is still sort of my thinking on this one. I know it isn't this simple because many of these youths are French born. But it still hits my conservative side in all the wrong places.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All in a Day's Work

Senator Jim Webb presided over the Senate today for its entire session--twenty-two seconds. The Junior Democratic Senator from Virginia was alone in the chamber. He banged the gavel three times--once to open, twice to close--and then announced, "The Senate stands in recess until Nov. 23rd, '07 at 10 a.m." Senator Byron Dorgan will do the honors on Friday and Senator Jim Reed is scheduled to do the same three days later.

This was the first of several pro-forma sessions Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to prevent Bush from making any appointments while Congress goes home for Thanksgiving. The Constitution gives the President the authority to make appointments while Congress is in "recess" and Bush has used this power many times, notably when he circumvented the Senate to appoint John Bolton ambassador to the U.N. Any recess appointments Bush were to make now would last until January 2009.

Never before has the Senate invoked such a procedure to block recess appointments, and the NY Times observes that the Democrats are likely to do this until the end of the 110th Congress, effectively preventing all recess appointments until the very end of Bush's term, unless Bush agrees to also move on Democratic appointments.

Said Senator Webb, "I'd much rather be doing this than allow the President to skirt the confirmation process in the Senate. It's totally appropriate for me to get dressed up this morning, come in here, bang a gavel and preserve the constitutional process."

Doubtless the framers provided for recess appointments merely as a contingency plan--they never intended for the President to wait for a recess to make appointments!--but then they probably would not look kindly on a twenty-two second microsession either. So on the one hand, Senator Reid has merely instituted one abuse to balance another. But on the other hand, such artful re-balancing belongs to the finest of Constitutional traditions.


Obama Leading in Iowa?

Today's Washington post reports Obama is leading in Iowa among Democratic caucus-goers. Could be a wild night there. Particularly with Richardson pulling in 10%+ - not enough to meet the 15% threshold. Where will they go?


Por Que No Te Callas

A few of you may know that a few days ago, the King of Spain was at a summit of leaders of the Spanish-speaking world. Apparently, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela kept interrupting Spanish PM Zapatero. King Juan Carlos then leaned over and exclaimed, "Por que no te callas?" It means, more or less, "Why don' t you shut up." The LA Times article, as is typical of today's LA Times, did a miserable job of explaining why this caused a hullabaloo.

Well, let me fill y'all in: it wasn't saying "shut up" - at least by itself. The real dustup is that the King used the familiar "tu" for the President of Venezuela. It is for intimate family and children. Also for dogs. Today, colleagues will use "tu" at work if they are of the same age group too, as do students as something of a rebellion while at college. But the context is clear here. The Spanish colonists of Latin America used "tu" to refer to all indios and slaves, without distinction, as if they were children.

In one sense, the closest equivalent for an American would be if Trent Lott leaned over to Obama and said, "Why don't you shut up, boy." But of course, it's not a perfect analogy, because the overtones of colonialism are different than those of slavery. The fact that even the President of Venezuela (who is Mestizo and identifies with Indios) gets "tu" from the King of Spain made me gasp when I read it. But that's also a false analogy. The great news is that, all over Latin America, some also love it. Apparently the King's voice saying "por que no te callas" has become, among other things, a popular ring tone. Imagine if Queen Elizabeth leaned over to George W Bush and said, "Why don't you put a sock in it, junior."

Two things: (1) Even Pat Robertson calling for Chavez to be killed doesn't have half the insulting power of King Juan Carlos saying "por que no te callas"; and (2) the LA Times reporting just bites on this one.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why I'm Voting for Biden

She's back . . . . online and going strong.

OK, I watched the entire Las Vegas debate. I think it was great. And I'm voting for Biden in the primary just for kicks.

Let me share a secret. In government qualifications don't matter. And what any of these people say they are going to do now, or any plan that they are talking about now doesn't matter. It is all purely academic. And everyone gets hemmed in by the politics and the party, and the base, and special interests, etc. Since I was 18, I always took every vote extra seriously, as if the fate of the human race rested on my single ballot. And what has it gotten me? John Kerry. So this year, since I have two opportunities to vote- once in the primary and once in the general election, I have decided to cast my first vote for Biden because the guy cracks me up.

I am going to give in and vote for the balding dude with the great smile and the wicked sense of humor. Biden's gaffes make him all the more appealing to me. It's in the gaffes that the real person lives. We want people to be straight and real, then penalize them when they tell you what they really think in the way the really think it. Biden is only in this election out of pure amusement. I'm gonna send the dude $50 just because he's the only guy in the race having fun. You can't take yourself too seriously and survive in government. I already know the winner in the primary is going to be Hilary or Obama, which is such a "yawn" boring idea to me now. And I will proudly vote for either one of them in the Presidential. But in the primary, I am going to vote my fancy.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Playing the Woman Card (on behalf of US West)

I have been unable to blog due to computer troubles, but should be up and running again this weekend. That didn't prevent me from listening to clips from last night's debate. I am irritated over the whole "gender card" crap. HRC addressed the issue last night saying, "I'm not playing, as some people say, the gender card here in Las Vegas. I'm just trying to play the winning card. And I understand very well that people are not attacking me because I'm a woman," said Clinton. "They're attacking me because I'm ahead."

And if you need to point out that you are woman and hear you roar to have the winning card, why the hell not. It's is a stupid "accusation" to toss around because it denies human nature and our need to manipulate to survive. Whether you support HRC or not isn't my concern. But I resent that when people, in this case a woman, play to their strengths, they are criticized. HRC would do better to come out and say, "you're damn right I will play my woman card, just like you play your millionaire cards, your religious cards, your race cards, etc." You play the cards you have. So why is it so unacceptable for a woman to play her gender card? That is pure chauvinism.I play my woman cards sometimes because that is what I have at my disposal to get what I need to do my job. Yes, I smile, ask nicely, act cute to get approval for the printer that I need for my office or to ease the way in the work that I am doing. No one minds or even realizes so long as it isn't abused. And some of this is just natural and very uncalculated on my part. In end, everyone enjoys it because it is called "PERSONALITY". They smile and they feel good about giving you what you asked for because they do it with a laugh. It works both ways. Men use their charm to do the same. They have their golf weekends and the bar nights. They act suave, joke,and flirt as well- sometimes with each other. So get over the "gender card".

Posted on behalf of US West


Who's the Turkey Now?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that he will hold a series of non-voting, pro-forma sessions over the Thanksgiving break to prevent President Bush from making recess appointments. Reid apparently threatened to do the same thing during the Easter break, but reached a compromise with the Bush Administration before the break. This time, he has not been able to reach an agreement.

The interesting twist is that now Bush is also holding up nominations. By law, Bush must nominate Democrats to certain posts on the bipartisan Federal Communications Commission, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, etc., and Bush has refused to do so. Said Reid,

With the Thanksgiving break looming, the administration informed me that they would make several recess appointments. I indicated I would be willing to confirm various appointments if the administration would agree to move on Democratic appointments. They would not make that commitment.

Meanwhile, the ship of state sails on.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How McCain Could Win the GOP Nomination

As Kerry's surprise win in Iowa destroyed Dean's campaign in 2004, a win for Romney in Iowa could seriously wound Giulani's chances. And if Huckabee scores a surprise victory, both Romney and Giuliani could take a nosedive. In either case, Thomspon will probably suffer, since he really needs a victory to get some momentum. But the real beneficiary from the contest in Iowa--especially if Huckabee wins--could very well be McCain.

McCain is the only GOP candidate who does not need a win in Iowa to be competitive in New Hampshire. He is running a solid third in New Hampshire despite having no chance to win in Iowa, and his supporters are thought to be the most committed. Remember that McCain already won New Hampshire once, in 2000, and he was leading in the polls until just a few months ago.

As disaffected voters in New Hampshire look for another candidate, some will get behind the winner of the Iowa caucus, but others will return to McCain. Regardless of who wins in Iowa (but especially if Huckabee has a strong showing) McCain may well pick up enough stragglers from the losing campaigns to eke out a victory in New Hampshire.

If McCain can win in New Hampshire, I think there will be no stopping him. And that worries me, because I still think McCain has the best chance of keeping the White House in GOP hands. But I remain hopeful. My utterly unsubstantiated prediction is still: Hillary defeats McCain 52%-48%.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Obama on Meet the Press

This morning, I watched "Meet the Press" with its in-depth interview of Barack Obama. It reminded me of what I thought a few months ago, that when you listen to him, you realize he is the right man for the job, both as nominee and president. His answers were not politician-like. His vocabulary actually includes the words "yes" and "no." He was asked about the event he put on (I forget where) that included a singer who claims that he is an ex-gay and that homosexuality is a curse. Does he agree that homosexuality is a curse? "No." He then talked about the need to talk to people you don't agree with on every issue, not just people you like and agree with on every issue. He went further and addressed "homophobia" in the black community and black churches, saying that his faith did not run that way. But that he thought dialogue was important. I was left thinking... wow. Apparently six weeks ago, his wife Michelle said that "if we don't win Iowa, this is just a dream." He agreed that it was crucial to do well in Iowa, but added with a smile, "I think she says the same kind of thing when she's in NH or S. Carolina." "But isn't Iowa must-win?" asked Russert. "Well, we have to do well in Iowa, NH, Nevada, and SC. I don't know any candidate who think he or she can win the nomination and not do well in those four states."

The best part was when Obama was asked if Sen. Clinton could win. "Yes." He said flatly. "I just think it will be harder for her than for some, because so many voters already have preconceived notions about her." He then added that, more importantly, he felt she would have a harder time governing. "I want to make sure every child has health care; you need more than 50%+1 to accomplish that. I want to fight global warming; you need more than 50%+1 to achieve that. I think I have the better chance of changing the political climate." This are precisely the conclusions I (and I think RBR) seem to be coming to.

Sadly, I cannot picture HRC answering these questions with anywhere near the candor or definitiveness Obama did. And she would say that she could govern from the center, but would be unable to make an argument for it. I know Dr.S supports HRC, as do others close to me. But I am getting ready to cast my vote for Obama now. I'm convinced that the policy differences between HRC and Obama are minor, and the HRC/Obama decision is about experience, electability, and the ability to govern from the center. As I mentioned earlier, I discount experience except in the field of campaigning itself.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Waiting for Gardner

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, who was expected this week to announce the date of New Hampshire's primary, now says he will wait until Michigan's primary date is resolved. As you may recall, Michigan moved its primary to January 15, leapfrogging New Hampshire's original date and throwing the calendar into confusion.

But then on Wednesday a Michigan state judge declared that move unconstitutional because voter participation lists would subsequently be distributed only to the two main political parties, not to the general public. Today, the Michigan Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution 26-9 to salvage the primary, but failed to achieve 2/3 majority on a crucial procedural motion to allow the law to take effect before March 2008. The full Michigan legislature has until November 15 to act, otherwise the Michigan primary will revert to its original date of February 26.

Meanwhile, by state law, NH must hold its contest 7 days before any other primary, and Gardner is taking no chances. NH has begun distributing absentee ballots overseas. Said Gardner, "We have met the 30 days [requirement]. That leaves early December open." But he would prefer not to move the date into 2007 so regarding when he would issue a final ruling, Gardner said today, "I'm waiting for a decision, a resolution of this, some finality."

Aren't we all. What a way to pick a President.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Beginning of the End for ENDA

The US House of Representatives voted 235-184 yesterday to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) H.R. 3685. The bill now goes to the Senate, where supporters believe they have 51 votes, but may lack the 60 votes necessary to bring the measure to the vote. And it is almost certain that President Bush would veto it. Still, it was a hard-fought victory and it is a historic day.

Shortly before the vote was taken, the bill's sponsor and author, Rep. Barney Frank, turned away a last-minute attempt by Republicans to delay the bill yet again by a parliamentary maneuver. (Frank had first proposed such a bill in 1972 and has fought for similar measures ever since. ) I like what Frank said as he urged the House to finally bring ENDA to a vote.

Mr. Speaker, we say here that we don't take things personally, and usually that is true. Members, Mr. Speaker, will have to forgive me. I take it a little personally...

[H]ere is the deal. I used to be someone subject to this prejudice, and, through luck, circumstance, I got to be a big shot. I am now above that prejudice. But I feel an obligation to 15-year-olds dreading to go to school because of the torments, to people afraid that they will lose their job in a gas station if someone finds out who they love. I feel an obligation to use the status I have been lucky enough to get to help them.

I want to ask my colleagues here, Mr. Speaker, on a personal basis, please, don't fall for this sham. Don't send me out of here having failed to help those people... What you have is a ploy by people who want to keep discrimination on the books, who want to deny protection to so many vulnerable victims of discrimination, but they at least understand that is not something you can say explicitly. So they give us this sham...

Yes, this is personal. There are people who are your fellow citizens being discriminated against. We have a simple bill that says you can go to work and be judged on how you work and not be penalized. Please don't turn your back on them.

As when the California State Legislature twice passed a bill authorizing same-sex marriage (and Gov. Schwarzenegger twice vetoed it) it was in part due to personal pleas of gay and lesbian legislators to their colleagues. This is why "coming out" is so important.

Now, I know many gay and lesbian rights groups were unhappy that Frank removed from the final bill language that would have protected gender identity as well. But it was the right call since that sacrifice was necessary to secure passage of the rest of the bill. (There was no mention of same-sex marriage, adoption, or other rights in the bill, though I am sure he would have liked to ask for those too.) It's a start. At long last, the struggle for ENDA is moving toward and end.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Army of Northern Virginia

In 1861, organized rebels intending to kill American soldiers, attack the nation's capital, and destroy the republic, organized themselves in to the"Army of Northern Virginia" led by a former American officer named Robert E. Lee. We normally hear this story told a little differently. But my how things have changed.

Today, if anyone talks about the Army of Northern Virginia, they would mean the hordes of suburban Washingtonians, northerners, who are changing the face of Virginia politics. In 2005, they propelled Kaine to the governorship as a Democrat. Yesterday, Democrtas won the Virginia Senate thanks to the norhtern Virginia dems.


Freedom Fries are Dead

So check out this. Sarkozy spoke to Congress and received sustained, almost embarrassing applause. It's not entirely clear why Congress is so warm to him, but my guess is that Republicans applaud his pro-Americanism and Democrats applaud both that and his strongly stated (but not stated today) anti-Iraq sentiments. I think it is also a relief.

Franco-American friendship, as every schoolboy knows, dates right back to the founding of the republic. It has not been the easiest relationship, but it has been of great use to both over the years. It is good to see it doing well again, despite Bush's attempts to destroy it. No more Freedom Fries, I think, for a while.


Libertarianism, Ron Paul, and a Triumph of Ignorance

Ron Paul raised $4.3m on the internet on Monday, 11/5. The occasion was Guy Fawkes Day. Apparently, the Ron Paul folks (libertarians in Elephant clothing) have drawn inspiration from Guy Fawkes, via the movie "V for Vendetta," which portrays a pro-democratic revolutionary using Guy Fawkes Day as an occasion to blow up parliament when England has become a totalitarian state. For libertarians, the analogy is clear. Ron Paul is going to end the Tyranny of the US Government with its overtaxation and overregulation, restore the gold standard (!), and the usual libertarian/Ayn Randian litany. Btw, expect some TrueBeliever bloggers to assault this post. Obviously, I have contempt for this agenda.

Well, gee, Guy Fawkes!? Let's sort out who he is, shall we, for the ignorant Paulista/Libertarians who think he is a symbol of liberty because they have misinterpreted "V for Vendetta." Guy Fawkes was what we would call a terrorist. His goal was to blow up the houses of parliament during the state opening of the House of Lords. If successfull, it would have killed the king and most of the protestant nobles on Nov. 5, 1605. It's called the Gunpoweder Plot. He would have flown an airplane into them if they had existed. I have to believe Ron Paul supporters would choose a terrorist as an icon only out of massive ignorance.

Now, it's possible I'm wrong, that the Paulistas do indeed draw inspiration from the terrorist as a terrorist, since they called the one-day fundraiser a "money bomb."

But they've got it ass backwards even so. Guy Fawkes Day celebrates his arrest and (brutal) execution. Re-read that sentence. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered. British patriots and lovers of liberty do not celebrate his attempt to blow up parliament! For those who don't know, Guy Fawkes hoped that by destroying the Protestant rulers of England, he could restore a Catholic monarchy, and further create an absolute monarchy like Spain or France. Guy Fawkes had a radically anti-democratic agenda. In many ways, this was the first shot of the English Civil War that erupted a generation later when Charles I became the king Guy Fawkes longed for. Guy Fawkes day became celebrated widely as a national holiday after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that assured the primacy of parliament (and protestantism, which was associated with English liberty at that time because the Roman catholic monarchs were absolutists). English teenagers create effigies of Guy Fawkes and use them to collect funds for fireworks, which they explode in glee on Guy Fawkes Day. The slogan "Remember, remember, the Fifth of November!" is a pro-government slogan.

The movie "V for Vendetta" suggested that the time could come to turn Guy Fawkes Day on its head. It's just a movie, but I think it was very weird anyway. Imagine if someday 9/11 becomes a symbol of patriotic resistance to religious tyranny, where the 19 terrorists are hailed as freedom fighters by Americans. Or if Jefferson Davis were to become a hero to the Black Panthers. Or if the Mexicans took to the Alamo as a symbol of patriotic resistance. Or if July 4th became a holiday to celebrate British imperialism. One imagines it would take 400 years for that sort of ignorance and idiocy to triumph - just as it apparently has with Guy Fawkes and the Ron Paul people.

And I think Americans should be leery of anyone who would so blithely cotton on to a terrorist for inspiration.


Monday, November 05, 2007

A Los Angeles Moment

Mike Carona, Sheriff of Orange County, California, was indicted last Wednesday on numerous charges of corruption, along with his wife and mistress both. Five years ago, the ever-sycophantic Larry King had lauded Mike Carona as "America's Sheriff" - a mini-Giuliani in the making - not for his heroic TV personality during a major national crisi, but just for his great TV appearances in the disappearance of Samantha Runyon (sp?), a run-of-the-mill kidnapping situation that CNN loves to blow out of proportion. He touted his evangelical credentials and was held up as a future statewide Republican politican. All in smithereens now.

I mention this because I saw him today. I was at the OC County federal court where he was being arraigned. He was in the cafeteria with a retinue of just two young women, and nobody else. I thought that was astoundingly odd. Where were all the hangers-on? I was there with another lawyer. Nobody else was in the cafeteria exception of two lawyers who appeared to be prosecutors. In fact, we got our coffee, then discovered that there was nobody to take our money. I wondered if Mike Carona was just going to walk out, or whether he would pay. I didn't get to see, because I sat down. A couple minutes later, he walked past me with my cup of coffee and smirked over in their direction. If looks can betray guilt, he is guilty as hell.

A host of TV vans were outside, awaiting a statment of some kind. I saw them from the tenth floor forming a perfect circle of notepads and cameras. After lunch, they hurried over to Dodger stadium for Joe Torre's press conference.

I saw Joe Torre at a craps table with Don Zimmer and Pat Riley three or four years ago. Joe and Don looked like thugs. I could see why Pedro Martinez felt he had to defend himself against Zimmer by punching him out. The man is threatening.

Somehow it seemed related to the insipid Larry King trying to make the OC Sheriff into a mini-Giuliani. Another New York leftover for us, perchance? Or are all of them just smalltime crooks?

Writers are on strike. Do we still pretend the news shows don't have writers? Is even the news in re-runs? Another day in Los Angeles.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


It is old news that the MPAA ratings board restricts sex more than violence. Like many fans, I was displeased that Ang Lee's outstanding new film Lust, Caution was rated NC-17. Until this past weekend, however, I had believed the best way to right the imbalance was to lower the rating of films whose sole "offense" was sex and nudity.

Then I watched Saw IV.

I had a visceral reaction to the film--I could barely watch the screen. I should have walked out, but I was with friends who were not similarly affected, and I did not recognize that the film would continue to affect me long after I left the theater. For the first time in my life, I was actually nauseated by sounds and images I could not get out of my head... When I finally got home, I cried and vomited. Really.

It astonishes me that a movie could distress me so much. But now I believe there are sound psychological and medical reasons why certain films should carry warnings. I see now why children should be protected from certain content--if only to err on the side of caution--because unlike adults, children might not think to walk out.

My experience this weekend changed my perceptions, and now I feel the best way to right the imbalance is to raise the ratings of certain films. Because some content is capable of hurting the viewer. And Saw IV damn well should have been rated NC-17.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'll Caucus for Obama

OK, I've chosen my candidate for the Caucus. I leaned towards Edwards for a long time but in the end I picked Obama. Here's why...

First, why I didn't decide to Caucus for Edwards or Clinton:

Edwards would probably be the most competitive candidate in the Republican strongholds. But he strikes me as too populist, too anti-trade and too much of an old 20th century Democrat - an old style New Dealer/Great Society Democrat. I'm not opposed to his goals of eliminating poverty but I don't trust him to get beyond the old approach of massive transfer payments and high taxes. I also think that free trade must be the center piece of any plan to resolve poverty both at home and globally. I don't think Edwards understands that basic economic reality.

Clinton strikes me as not the right person for the job right now. I feel that our next President needs to be less polarizing and more interested in re-establishing constitutional limits on executive power than I think Hilary Clinton will be. I think she is smart and capable and if she turns out to be the nominee, I'd vote for her willingly. I also think it would be important for our country to have a woman President at some point and if we say that Clinton isn't qualified to be our first female President, we would be hypocrites - especially after electing Bush. My biggest concerns about Clinton are that she is evasive and at times self-contradictory about Iraq. Also, I believe that if she becomes President, rather than ending programs like the NSA surveillance of US citizens, CIA renditions and FBI infiltration of domestic political groups, she'll say to herself, "Oh goody! Look at all these neat new powers I have!"

Now, I like Obama for these reasons:

I've heard from two people who are close relatives of Obama's former teachers (one in the 8th grade, one at Harvard Law). Both of these people told me that their relatives told them that they have always singled Obama out as an exceptionally gifted and intelligent young man. If part of the problem we have today is that we have a remarkably unintelligent President, Obama represents the biggest improvement. I think being smart is important because of the tendency of the Washington establishment to try to bully newcomers into taking their positions. I think this is largely what happened with Bush. He was so dumb that he was just clay in the hands of opportunistic factions like the Neo-cons who could get him to go along with their agenda and think it was his own idea. I can't imagine Obama being so manipulated.

Among the major Presidential candidates in both parties, Obama is the one who has been the most clear about his opposition to torture and the Bush extension of executive power. I've also seen TV spots of him in town hall meetings (one on MTV at Coe College in Cedar Rapids in particular) in which he said that he would order his Department of Justice to investigate all past practices by the Bush administration for their constitutionality and end any programs that violate the Constitution. Obama was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago so he probably has a very clear idea of what programs need to be dumped. In the MTV town hall meeting he was asked what kind of Supreme Court justice he would appoint. He said the biggest issue was civil liberties and checks on executive power. I'm paraphrasing here but essentially he said he would look to appoint someone willing to tell him (the President) "no." That's a big advantage in my mind over the other Democrats with a real shot.

Obama has also been the most clear about his intention to make a major break with our current foreign policy - especially with regard to Iraq and the Middle East in general. His willingness to talk to Iran (something Clinton has ruled out) and get tough with Musharraff set him apart from all the other major candidates of both parties.

Early polls in swing states show Obama beating every major Republican candidate except for Giuliani with whom he is essentially tied in Ohio. I don't think Giuliani will get the nomination and if he does, Dobson and his Bigots for Jesus have pledged to run a third party candidate (which would doom the Republicans entirely). Of course, I can imagine that running an African American candidate with a "ferrin name" will lose likely votes - especially in the Old Confederacy states. However, recent elections have shown that Democrats can win without getting any electoral votes from the South so long as they win the Great Lakes states and Pennsylvania. That said, a serious African American candidate might just boost African American turnout. If African American turn out goes up by 10% or so, it could lead to a Democratic Party landslide in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even states like Missouri, Virginia and Florida. So I think Obama is more than viable in the general election.

Finally, I think that recent gaffes by his surrogates in South Carolina regarding homosexuality are overblown and don't reflect his own beliefs.

All that said, I'm concerned about Obama's Kerry'esque/Professorial speaking style when not giving a prepared speech. He has a tendency to make a big show of thinking before he answers questions. A lot of people want to see someone who appears more decisive (thus the appeal of our current Idiot in Chief).


How far we have fallen.

News article from Australian paper "The Age": Obama promises face-to-face talks with Iran. I read this and thought... Really? Is it now seen as so rare for a US President to engage in personal diplomacy that it makes headlines in Australia when even an unnominated candidate says he will do it?

By the way, I happen to agree with Obama more than Clinton on this one... What do others think?


A coup within a coup

As the fuss about Kurds in Iraq and Turkey (and Turkish politicians' posturing over the genocide vote) dies down another of our "friends" is making life difficult for us. Pakistani Dictator, General Musharraf has ordered troops to surround the Supreme Court just before they were to rule on whether he was legally able to participate in the election in which he won "re-election."

This comes after he reluctantly allowed former Pakistani PM, Benizir Bhutto, back into the country. I'm not a Pakistan expert but my impression is that Bhutto is popular with the urban middle class types but her reputation is marred by some pretty serious corruption charges. There have been some attempts on her life since she arrived back in Pakistan and the circumstances (street lights mysteriously shut off, state security absent) were suspicious enough to allow speculation that Musharraff was rooting for the assassins - if indeed, he wasn't actually the one who sent them. Bhutto has garnered some high profile American support and her rhetoric is about rallying the modern elements in Pakistan to defeat the Islamists and reign in the tribal leaders.

So today we wak up to news that Musharraff has sent out the troops, surrounded the Supreme Court and plans for a parliamentary election in January (the reason for Bhotto's return) may be cancelled.

Here is what I think is going on. Bush et al decided to change horses in Pakistan. Musharraf has been protecting the tribal leaders (and Pakistani intelligence agents) who are protecting the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. With Iraq spiralling out of control (just wait until the surgelet is over), Bush would love to capture Bin Laden. So Bush dusts off an old US ally from the late 1980s and 90s and sets her up as a potential replacement for Musharraff. But old Pervez didn't want to play that game so he ordered out the troops. He's called Bush's bluff. What exactly will the US do about a Musharraf coup? My guess is they MIGHT harrumph a bit a press conference but in the end they won't do much.

This situation in Pakistan is just more proof that the Republican party cannot be trusted with foreign policy. How they ever got the reputation as the natural foreign policy party is beyond me...well, actually, I think it's because of their shameless appeal to militarism and other micro-phallic compensations.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Bloggers will not be on strike, however.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has voted to authorize a strike, and WGA leadership have said there will be one, although the timing has yet to be announced formally. There is a possibility that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may intervene this weekend as a mediator, but most expect a strike on Monday.

There appear to be two key issues: residuals for DVD sales and for streaming over the internet ("new media"). Producers originally wanted to change the contract so they would not have to pay any residuals until they recouped the production costs for the DVDs, but they backed down from this. Given Hollywood's notoriously skewed bookkeeping, it is no wonder writers were unwilling to accept that change. Producers also want keep the current arrangement which offers no residuals whatsoever for any new media profits: they claim there are none, and that such things amount to advertising and promotion, not sales.

Writers want two main things. First, they want to effectively double their residuals payments for DVDs (from about 4 cents to 8 cents per DVD sale). They argue that the original formula negotiated in 1988 is a low rate which they accepted because no one could anticipate how profitable DVD sales would be at that time. The second thing writers want is to hammer out an agreement for new media. Most analysts suspect that there will eventually be some way to "monetize" the internet, and writers want their share.

Here's my question. Doesn't the reasoning behind their two demands seem somewhat contradictory? Since the future of DVD sales was highly uncertain, WGA locked in a lesser rate in exchange for more tangible concessions. Isn't WGA about to repeat that same mistake with new media?


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Shame on Chrysler!

Less than one week after the UAW agreed to brave, historic concessions to help Chrysler emerge from bankruptcy, Chrysler has announced they are firing 12,000 employees. This comes in addition to the 13,000 layoffs announced back in February. This is a slap in the face to American workers, and a promising rapprochement between labor and management may be dead.

The workers who voted to ratify the new four-year contract--which includes a two-tier wage structure, has fewer production guarantees for U.S. plants, and shifts health care costs to workers--did so because they believed it was the only way to save their jobs in the long run. They took on faith promises that their sacrifices would be meaningful. Turns out that at least 12,000 of the 45,000 workers who participated in the vote might as well have gone on strike instead.

It is almost certain the UAW leadership knew these cuts were coming but accepted the contract anyway in order to save the jobs of the other 75% of their membership--and they allowed Chrysler to conceal this news until after ratification. If the layoffs had been announced last week, the contract surely would have been rejected: the contract was only narrowly approved as it was, and the votes of the 12,000 sold down the river would almost surely have tipped the balance.

Despite the devastating effect this will have on morale, there may well be a more insidious reason why Chrysler decided to announce the layoffs so soon after winning these concessions. UAW still has to negotiate a new contract with Ford, the last of the big three, and those negotiations now will surely be complicated by this move. UAW members are likely to be far less willing to accept the good faith of Ford executives and the UAW leadership will feel under great pressure not to give Ford the concessions given to Chrysler and GM.

I am sure the UAW negotiators felt the layoffs were inevitable and did their best to salvage the jobs for those workers who would remain. But the thing about Faustian bargains is that they never pay off like you think they will. I doubt we have heard the last of the "restructuring" plans at Chrysler, now in the cold hands of Cerberus Capital Management... I just hope the remaining workers will keep their jobs through Christmas.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Lessons from the Smiling Buddha

Smiling Buddha was the code name for India's 1974 test explosion of its first nuclear "device." India was the sixth nation to develop nuclear weapons, the first five being the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. In response to the Smiling Buddha test, an editorial in the June 1974 edition of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) observed:

[India's] acquisition of nuclear weapons... is an ominous portent. Israel has probably acquired such weapons, Egypt may do it, and Pakistan probably will try... America, Britain, Russia, China and, not least of all, France have shown the weaker countries the way: national pride requires muscle, which means nuclear muscle... The arms race has its own mad logic and India has done little more than follow it.

Going backward, we can see the same mad logic at work when China became the fifth nuclear nation. Shortly after the Chinese test, Dr. Bernard T. Feld (who worked on the Manhattan project) wrote in the December 1964 BAS,
The fundamental problem is that the nuclear supoerpowers continue to rely on nuclear weapons as a major ingredient of their military forces... With each addition to the nuclear club, it will become more difficult to hold the line. Thus, today, it may still be possible to convince India, for example, that Chinese nuclear weapons need not be matched by an Indian nuclear force. But will it be possible to convince Israel not to match Egypt, or vice versa...?

Going further back, to the year before France would become the fourth nuclear power, David Inglis warned of the dangers of the forthcoming test in his January 1959 BAS article titled, "The Fourth-Country Problem: Let's Stop at Three." Wrote Dr. Inglis,
If France does carry through and become number four, as widely anticipated, there will probably be no stopping Communist China, perhaps as the fifth country.

We should take away three lessons from the Smiling Buddha and all the tests that have come before and since. First, nuclear weapons are so obviously vital to the national security of a state that feels threatened that even a Gandhi will build them. Second, deterrence apparently can be made to work in a multilateral context across the developed and developing worlds: apocalyptic pronouncements are unwarranted. Third, we can learn to cooperate with our nuclear neighbors. Bush's 2006 nuclear agreement with India shows how far we have come in the past thirty-three years.

It is time our leaders acknowledge the simple truth that the mad logic driving Iran's nuclear program is the same logic that has driven nuclear proliferation for sixty years. Iran will follow the path blazed by Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea (and probably also Israel) and no threats or hand-wringing over the "Nth Country" will stop them. By declaring a nuclear Iran to be "unacceptable" and hinting at military action we merely compound the mad logic with urgency. We should instead begin preparing a new world order that includes a place at the table for a nuclear Iran.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

FEMA Does It Again

After being pounded by the media for their dismal performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has found a novel way to ensure a press conference goes smoothly: fake it.

On Tuesday, FEMA called a press conference regarding the California wildfires with only 15 minutes warning--too little notice for any real reporters to show up. Instead, agency employees posed as reporters to ask softball questions of Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr., FEMA's deputy administrator. FEMA provided video feed of the "event" to cable news networks--which aired portions of it live--and provided an 800 number for reporters to hear the answers (but not to ask questions).

"We made an error in judgment," Johnson said in a written statement. (Note the lack of first person singular.) Naturally, the apology (such as it was) was issued only after the Washington Post blew the whistle on them today.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, facing irate reporters, was more blunt in her reaction. "We didn't know about it beforehand... [They] will not do it again."

Of course, the Bush administration is well known for staging events where only their supporters are permitted to attend--but at least they always seem to find enough loyal Bushies to fill the seats. How low must FEMA's reputation be that they cannot even count on Fox reporters to be their yes-men and sycophants?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Now in Charge of More Than Just the Kwik-E-Mart

This week, Louisiana voted for Piyush "Bobby" Jindal (Republican) to be their new governor. He is the first American of (East) Indian descent to be elected to such a high office. There are about 2.5 million Asian Indians in the US, less than 1%, and prejudice against these smaller minorities can sometimes go unremarked. Despite some of Jindal's highly conservative views (e.g. he wants to ban all abortions without exception) on balance I see his election as evidence of continuing progress toward civil rights for all.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Ultimate Pander and the Collapse of Western Civilization

Okay, so maybe that's a bit harsh. But Giuliani today announced that he is rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series this year. Are you f$*!king kidding me!? Just because NH is full of Sox fans? I think the Yankees are Evil in a preternatural sense, but to be a Yankees fan (as Giuliani is) then support the Red Sox is the worst sort of pander and flip-flop of all. FYI, I am a Dodgers fan rooting for the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, but that's okay. They're in my division, but are not our archenemies. In the 2002 series, I dutifully cheered for Anaheim over SF Giants (our legitimate archenemies) with no problem. As the LA Times proclaimed, "Dodgers Fans Root for Angels? Unbelievable. But Dodgers fans Cheering for Giants? UNTHINKABLE."

It's also just politically stupid for a Republican. The Rockies have a thing about being "Christians." I'm okay with them for other reasons.


Southern California Fires

OK, most of the Citizens and many of our friends have lived or live now in Southern California.

I have a cousin who is waiting on edge with her family with a car packed up and ready to go as soon as the evacuation order comes and a friend who has already evacuated. Two other friends have told me that their parents have evacuated and have houses in the most threatened region of San Diego County. A third friend is sheltering her evacuated boyfriend and most of his valuable belongings.

This morning I saw reports on this State of California Website that seems to indicate that Malibu is getting many times the resources committed to a much smaller fire than are committed to the Witch Fire in San Diego County. Now the resource allocation is favoring the Witch Fire somewhat. But the damage is not even close between the two fires. Malibu has lost about 6 or so houses while the Witch Fire has claimed over 500 houses so far. Neither fire is close to being contained. See link here.

So what news do you have? What comments do you have about federal, state and local responses? What do you think of the media coverage? What about Mexico? Are the fires really stopping at the Mexican border as CNN suggests or are they just not reporting fires south of the border? If the fires aren't crossing into Mexico, why not?


A convenient slip of the tongue

Mitt Romney made the most egregious Obama/Osama "error" yet in the Presidential campaign. At a news conference today, Romney actually mis-corrected himself into saying Barack Obama when he should have said Osama bin Laden. Explaining why the Democrats were wrong to separate the "War on Terror" from the war in Iraq, Romney said:

I think that is a position which is not consistent with the fact. Actually, just look at what Osama--uh--Barack Obama, said just yesterday. Barack Obama calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq. That is the battlefield. That is the central place, he said. Come join us under one banner.

Of course, the quotes Romney mis-attributed to Barack Obama were actually from Osama bin Laden's most recently released audio tape. Romney's spokesman says it was just a simple mistake. Maybe so. (Although one wonders: if Obama "accidentally" were to refer to Romney as a member of the "Moron" Church, would Romney be as forgiving?)

But I like how Representative Barney Frank replied when former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey "accidentally" referred to the openly gay congressman as "Barney Fag." Mr. Frank refused to accept that it was an accident, observing,
"My mother says that in 59 years since being married to my father, no one had ever called her Elsie Fag."


Sunday, October 21, 2007

You always forget Poland

During the 2004 elections, Kerry omitted Poland from the list of US coalition partners in Iraq, and Bush jumped on him for it. Why Poland? Well, aside from trying to pull on the hearstrings of Polish-American voters, the Kaczynski brothers who have led Poland for the past few years have been pro-American, and the "New Europe" that Rummy gabbled on about. Today, the Polish people tossed them out of office in favor of a pro-EU-oriented government who has promised to withdraw from Iraq altogether. Perhaps a German pope factors in as well. Or maybe pragmatic centrists like Sarkozy, Brown and Merkel seem more like partners in a new Europe in a way that testy Chirac, mercurial pro-US Blair, and the ineffectual lefty Schroeder did not. I'm curious what RBR thinks of the changes taking place in Europe at the moment. Continuing Polish economic progress must be a key to aligning more with "Old" Europe. Seven years ago, the Polish-German frontier was a place of economic contest, like the US-Mexican border. Today, that contest and wage/income disparities are not as sharp. The border of Europe is shifting east, to the Belarusian frontier.

I also wonder if the Poles are more sanguine about Russia. Putin is going to step down (sort of) and Russia has made no serious move to contest the extension of NATO or the EU to Eastern Europe. Russia is hardly a perfect neighbor, but if I were Poland I would trade a "special relationship" with the US for a better relationship with Russia and Germany any day of the week. The alliance with similarly-distant Britain worked out poorly in the 1930s, I seem to recall.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oh boy. Here come the wand jokes...

J. K. Rowling said yesterday that a crucial character in her Harry Potter novels, wizard and longtime Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was gay. This explained, she said, the stormy relationship between Dumbledore and another wizard (Grindelwald), and Dumbledore's complete lack of female companionship.

Her announcement was met with "gasps and applause" from the audience in New York City, to which she replied jokingly, "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy." She noted that many fans had suspected this, to the point were they had written quite a number of explicit scenes written Dumbledore. Rowling laughed and said, "Oh, my god, the fan fiction...!" (No doubt a lot more such fan fiction revolves around Harry and Ron, but let's move on...)

While it is true that she never wrote anything explicit about Dumbledore's sexuality in the series, the series did not deal with much in the way of anyone's sexuality, straight or otherwise. And while it is also certainly true that Rowing waited until all seven novels were complete (and she became the first billionaire author) before making her announcement, it was still completely voluntary and the announcement may still negatively affect her.

Leaving aside philosophical questions of the extent to which traits not explicit in the text can be ascribed to a character, even by the author, this is a remarkable statement on Rowling's part. Putting at least a little money where her mouth is, she has said in no uncertain terms that she strongly supports gay rights. And I suppose all those muggles who always thought the Harry Potter series was kind of "gay" can feel vindicated too ;-)