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."

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.