Monday, October 27, 2008

Go, Animal, Go!!!

According to this, someone with a British car has decided to screw with the tiny electronic minds in German speed-cam land:
An Audi TT with British registration plates has been repeatedly caught speeding on roads in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth. But because continental speed cameras are set up for left-hand drive vehicles, the cameras keep missing the driver’s face.

Instead, they keep capturing clear views of a manic Muppet-like toy which the cheeky Brit has propped up on his passenger seat. . . .

"The driver has been caught on camera on several occasions and the puppet is on the passenger seat every time. We suspect he positions the toy deliberately before accelerating past the camera."

Note: the original picture is on this German page, and in clicking over, I see they're apparently under the impression that this is "Ernie" aus der Sesamstra├če. Nope, that's definitely Animal from the Muppet's Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, though he may have gotten a haircut to make himself harder to identify. . . .

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And am I ever glad to have crossed that off my list. Flipping through talk radio and the websites, everyone's talking about:
  1. How the polls should be interpreted - Beware the Democrat/Republican landslide!
  2. Palin's clothes
  3. Who's calling who a terrorist
  4. How the other side is the real terrorist

Not an issue in sight, and there hasn't been in weeks. In the rare moments when an actual position on the issues seeps in through the cracks in the ranting, it's invariably one from the "other side" being tangentially mentioned before being dismissed as impossible or dangerous as the rhetoric slides back into rant mode.

Seriously - take a poll of your own. Turn on your favorite pundit tomorrow and try to count the number of times an actual detail of your favorite candidate's plan for improving America is presented. I can almost guarantee it won't happen. There might be a mention of a key word or two, like "free market" for McCain, or "lower taxes" for Obama, before the host goes on to talk about the other side as being clueless, dangerous, or a terrorist. But that's not exactly analysis, is it?

Note to pundits: This particular independent wants to know the issues, not who paid for who's clothes, who ordered lobster (though that one was false), who says who is a terrorist or Unamerican, and by the way - who the fuck cares what Joe the Plumber thinks?! It's like the media have been taken over by the freaking National Enquirer, left and right. Glad I'm done.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Own Personal Never Again

There should be a rule, like that for doctors, prohibiting attorneys for practicing for family members. I'm convinced of it.

I'm involved in an family thingy that's been dragging on for nearly a year, and it's not getting better and I'm not getting paid. Instant replies are demanded, hours of research wasted to prove the most simple things, because they won't simply take my legal advice without my proving it to be right. And if I charge them for it, I'm an a-hole.

Thing is, I know what needs to be done, and while it's not easy, it's not all that complex either. But convincing the "clients" is nigh near impossible, and I'm getting sick of it. Faced with a client, whose answer to an opinion letter citing code sections and carefully trying to explain the situation is: "You are not the only one who can cite law. Newsflash: People smarter than yourself do exist." (follow with a quote from a totally irrelevant case in which the quote sounds good, if it weren't totally off-point). . . . wouldn't it be the logical thing to just quit? Yep, it would. And I should. But when they screw it up and land themselves in a whole ocean of hot water it would suddenly become my fault again and again for all foreseeable Christmases to come.

So I've consulted with other attorneys I know. Then I went out and hired one I didn't know for a very expensive independent opinion. Surprise, surprise, they all say the same thing. 'Cause it's a settled area of law, dammit, the only thing I didn't know to begin with was which forms to file with who and whether certain formal procedures were necessary. But now I'm getting more emails and calls, reiterating the same damn topics and claiming I'm a) stupid, or b) lying. *Sigh*

Okay, you other lawyers, how do you handle this? Should I just toss it right back at them? What if they screw it up so badly it looks like fraud, and I could get dragged back in, this time as a defendant, in the aftermath? I'm tempted to write a huge-ass CYA letter, certified and with email copies, telling them exactly what to do and what could happen if they don't, and then say have fun with it.

I think when this is over I'm going to tell everyone I've been disbarred.

(Important side note for comments - if any - I've carefully left out all names and details due to client confidentiality even though I've not been formally retained, 'cause I'm certain it'd still count under the ethical rules and sharing details is a huge no-no. If you know enough to know the situation, please refrain from sharing details.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fresh Law

The Iowa Supreme Court has new decisions up, and one of them - HEIDI ANN ANFINSON vs. STATE OF IOWA (.pdf) is going to make news. This is the case a while back in which a woman claimed her child accidentally drowned in the bathtub, and she freaked when she saw the dead body and went and submerged it in Saylorville lake. The jury didn't buy it and convicted her of second-degree murder.

Well, turns out her trial lawyer was an idiot ineffective, under the facts as presented in the opinion. Read it for yourself, but the jist is that at the time of the death, she was suffering from post-partum depression badly enough that she was self-mutilating and acting bizarrely. She had a known history of post-partum depression. But trial counsel not only didn't bring this up at trial, he went out of his way to say that post-partum depression had nothing to do with the case in the press. He claimed this was because it conflicted with his theory of the case, which was pure accidental death. But, as the Supreme Court pointed out:
If the defense was to have any chance of success, it had to supply for the fact finder a plausible explanation of (1) why Anfinson was so distracted and inattentive on September 20, 1998 that she left her two-week-old baby unattended in bath water; (2) why she behaved irrationally in subsequently taking Jacob’s body to the lake, burying it under rocks, returning to her home, and going to sleep; and (3) why her affect was flat and emotionless later that same day when she was questioned by investigators about the child’s disappearance. There was ample evidence of Anfinson’s postpartum depression available to trial counsel if he had chosen to undertake the most rudimentary inquiry. He chose instead to rebuff all attempts made by Anfinson’s family members and her grief counselor to educate him. He closed not only his ears, but also his eyes as he neglected to obtain medical records evidencing Anfinson’s mental state.

The defense of “accidents happen” chosen and presented by trial counsel was highly unlikely to result in an acquittal if the three most troublesome aspects of Anfinson’s conduct suggesting criminal culpability were left unexplained.
Yeah, I think I'd want some explanation if I were a jury member. Well, she's going to get her second bite at the apple, the conviction has been reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Memo to the Press:

Leave the plumber guy alone already. He is a conservative who asked Obama a question. He didn't ask McCain to be poster child for the Republican campaign. Yes, he's pro-McCain. No, the Q&A with Obama wasn't going to get him to change his mind. Yes, some of his ideas are really bad ones; he isn't a foreign policy or tax expert, he's just a guy. But he has the right to ask legitimate policy questions and debate his viewpoints with the candidate.

I'm now seeing that this is getting blamed on Obama. I guess the theory is that he's been secretly voted King of the Paparazzi and they are all under his direct command? Oooookay.

So, just to be clear, here's my position: Obama can answer Joe's hypothetical and refute his argument, some of which is clearly uninformed. Obama can also point out that Joe would be better off under his own tax plan. The Press, however, have gone much farther, digging up his past tax payments, his relationship with his kid, his business status as an assistant, because that's The Story - those juicy bits of gossip that sell papers. They're out of bounds, way out of bounds. But you know what? We're in charge of them. We're the ones that buy the papers, who pick it up on the blog buzz (you notice I didn't link the stories), and otherwise drive them to seek out more until the story is wrung dry. Anyone who feels as though this is totally unwarranted and shameful, should also be ashamed of ourselves for perpetuating it.

I feel the same about the horribly sexist jokes out there I've seen about Sarah Palin, and the absolutely repulsive post that featured Obama's face beside a noose and the caption "Asphyxiation: The Fucking Solution." Holy crap, what have we sunk to?

On a level, I realize it's completely naive to deny the fact that humanity has a dark side; a side that used to bring our kids to watch public executions. Before the 'net, we still had gossip rags like the Enquirer, and we've always looked on salaciously as The Press symbolically eviscerates the subject du jour about their divorce/drug scandal/prison sentence. This election is bad for mudslinging, but there have been many others just as bad, going back to the beginning with Jefferson and Adams.

I just hate to see it, and wish we could be better. So I like to call the press out on it. But I should also call myself out on it for watching it, as one of the bloggers who perpetuate it by echoing the story across the 'net.

I've noticed old Joe is now trotting himself out on the talk show circuit, showing up at all the rallies, and hiring a publicist. That now makes him a public figure. Snark away.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Here's My Vote

Next time, let's make one of the debates this format:

I liked them both better after that than after any of the debates or campaign speeches.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

'Cause I Needed a Giggle


Go. Read.


I've finally gotten around to cleaning my side bar. Ya know all those linky things on the that lead to blogs that have their last post date on 2005? I'm cleaning them out and putting them into Now Defunct. That way if, say, Danny or Brian ever want to blog again, I've got the link. I've also finally added Vicki's blog, and a new one called Creative Dubuque, thanks to a very nice comment left by Zoe. I'm going to zip through my Bloglines subscription and see if I can find other Iowa blogs I need to add, but if anyone can think of one I really should be linking but am missing, please leave a comment so I can make sure to add them.

Monday, October 13, 2008


An interesting discussion going on at the Volokh Conspiracy:
You've probably noticed that with the election around the corner, a lot of people are saying some very extreme things about politicians. Politicians they don't support are not just weak, or poor choices for office. Instead, those politicians are dangerous, illegitimate, and maybe even criminal. Anyone who supports them must be disingenuous or in denial. We've seen a lot of that kind of talk all around the blogosphere, in more modest forms even at this blog.

Why? It's a complicated question, I think, but I wanted to offer some preliminary thoughts.

If you can get around the few kooks whose only comment was to say "but the other side really is a (insert ephitet here) because (insert diatribe here)" you'll find discussion of historical context (are we viewing past elections with rose-colored classes?), whether the percieved seriousness of the situation is exacerbating the problem, the recent experiments indicating that challenging a closely-held belief actually entrenches it more; etc.

They haven't really touched on my theory yet: 1) We're pack animals that need a team to root for, we "otherize" those outside the pack, and 2) We're damn lazy so we don't want to research all this stuff, we just want to tune into our favorite blogs/pundits and have them tell us what it says and what it means. They're paid to get an audience, which they get by being controversial. Thus, we're all about the controversial and have little knowledge of the intricacies - hence my utterly unconstitutional wish for an essay test requiring basic knowledge of both the workings of government and your candidate's actual position (along with at least one other candidate's position) in order to be able to vote.

Think about it - we'd all have to study the issues, or not pass our vote test. Candidates would have to focus on the issues to make sure their supporters could repeat them, or they'd lose all their votes. . . .

Yeah, it'll never happen. Not only is it unconstitutional, but it'd be impossible to get it graded without some kind of voter fraud happening (No vote for you!).

Anyway, if you want to read some good meta-discussion, that's one. Oh, and the post below it links to an awesome essay I'd highly recommend downloading if you need a little comic relief:
Based on a true story, this piece starts with a proclamation by Mother, the Supreme Lawmaker, that "no food may be eaten outside the kitchen." What follows is a series of rulings by Judges--father, babysitter, grandma (a liberal jurist, of course), etc.--who, using traditional tools of interpretation, eventually declare it to mean that all food may be eaten outside of the kitchen. Ultimately, the supreme lawmaker reacts and clarifies.

The piece is meant to demonstrate the following:

* We all regularly use the basic tools and modes of statutory interpretation;
* When we interpret pronouncements in real life, we resort to a mix of textualist, literalist, purposivist, legal process, precedent, and other techniques and sources;
* Although the various tools seem perfectly reasonable individually, in the aggregate, they can lead to ridiculous results;
* Even when we agree that the ultimate results are ridiculous, it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly where the error occurred;
* The legislature can sometimes clean up after bad judicial opinions, but it often takes a long time.
Freaking hilarious, and only six pages long.


I saw a lot of articles this weekend about "what McCain needs to do" this weekend. (I'll add links later, I'm firing this off quickly before getting to work. ) Unfortunately, I disagree with many of them, which involve the "Hit Ayers and Wright harder" angle. Reason? I'm still somewhat optimistic, despite all evidence to the contrary, that while we have a lunatic fringe who simply won't vote for anyone with the name Hussein anywhere in his name, the majority of voters are choosing based on issues that they care about and have at least a fleeting impression of where the candidates stand on them. And I think McCain is simply missing the mark for these people. I have some authority, as I'm leaning Obama at this point and voted Bush in 2000, so they're probably trying to hit me as a target voter. So I thought I'd post on some of the things I think he should consider:

1) Economy.
If you really want to be a Maverick, forget the traditional "blame everything on the other side" approach, and start talking about the failings during both Clinton and Bush's years. Face it, Bush is a lame duck and an easy target, so it's okay to criticize. But don't do it just to criticize, do it in terms of "We did this. It didn't work." Keep the bit about tightening loan requirements, I think anyone with half a brain on either side will agree that 110% financing with zero down is a stupid idea. However, don't stop there. People made these loans, and they didn't have a gun to their heads. In some cases (AIG), companies that were supposed to be conservative investors were branching out and placing more resources than were prudent into the corporate equivalent of "get rich quick" schemes. And as it's been pointed out by many economists, the problem with this approach is that we've essentially created private profits but socialized losses, as we've come to realize these companies are "too big to fail." You've made a few mentions of fat cats on Wall Street. But we haven't heard you indicate what regulations - yep, I know that's a dirty word for some of your base - to fix the private profit/socialized loss problem. Go there. And for God's sake, don't talk about a total freeze, Obama's got a good thing going when he uses the hatchet vs. scalpel analogy. Why? Because a lot of us believe that the government's huge response to 9/11 enlarged Bush's powers a tad too much, curtailing liberties beyond what was necessary. We fear the economic response to this crisis has done the same with this bailout. Start talking about something besides housing - discuss the abusive practices of credit card companies that have proliferated within the past eight years and led to some of the credit crisis. It's not hard to argue that raising interest on a customer who's never made a late payment to your company is abusive. You haven't broken the terms of the original credit contract with that company, yet you're being punished. Talk about some of the unfairness of the credit scoring business, how people who are stretched to their limit are paying more for insurance because of the greedy insurance companies, even with totally clean driving records. That should get some attention. Come up with a plan to limit that. Finally, tweak your tax proposal. Given the current climate, very few "Joe Six-Packs" think businesses need any more breaks. You keep attacking Obama's plan for relieving taxes on the middle class as too expensive, but then the plan you're offering talks all about investment tax cuts and business tax breaks, and I can almost guarantee that a bunch of ordinary people are thinking "Didn't we just give those people 700 billion dollars? And you want to give them more?" Pare down the tax breaks for the companies, and bury them in the speech. Throw a bone to the working and middle class. I won't get specific on how much and why, but it's necessary to do it right now. We're all pretty damn mad at Wall Street, and I don't think we're in the mood to give them more money, no matter what conservative economists say.

2) Healthcare. Tweak your plan, dude. Figure out a way to make it front-end rather than rear-end paid. Basically, people without insurance are looking at your tax break and going: "Well, I'd have to find a way to pay for it up front before I could get the tax break. If I could pay for it up front, I'd already have insurance. So, that won't work." You need to let people know how they're going to afford it up front. Then, for us policy wonks, make it a bit more sensible. It costs nearly as much as Obama's and it covers an anticipated 34 million less people. Doesn't take a genius to decide between them, at this point. Eventually, you're going to also have to face the mood shift in the country that is quite frankly toward health care as an entitlement that you pay for, not a risk-based business. They no longer want to hear "pre-existing condition" and "denied." They don't necessarily think it should be free, they just think that while it may cost more for some people, everyone should be able to buy it. That will take some socialization. You keep harping about the socialized medicine aspect of the Obama plan, as if people are going to tie it into the big, bad Hillary idea of the '90s. That won't work. People see it as Obama's giving them a choice: keep the plan they've got or buy the one you've got. That doesn't sound like socialized medicine, it sounds like opening up a new market. Yes, I know technically it's putting the government in charge of a lot more people's insurance. But they start to go "Why not? What've they got that they don't want to let me in on?" So just criticizing Obama's isn't getting you anywhere. I know your base would argue that socialization is bad, and we shouldn't go anywhere near it. They'd advise trying to keep at it, to educate the people. I don't think that's going to work. You may have to accept this one, just like social conservatives are going to have to accept that it's becoming harder and harder to scare people away from accepting homosexuality altogether. They've had to give up that fight and concentrate on the marriage thing, 'cause the country has simply said no.

3) The war. Again, you need to really break out the maverick label here. In your rhetoric on the war, you keep talking about how the surge worked and we're in the final stretch. The big problem with this: you've tied yourself in with Bush, who most people feel has taken us on the "war to nowhere." And in continuing to defend the "Bomb Bomb Iran" joke, you've sealed that image. You've said it was a joke. Now apologize and admit it was a stupid joke, and a stupid thing to say. Take the wind out of that particular sail. Because otherwise, when you say you're the serious, "steady hand on the tiller" most people are hearing "blah, blah Ginger." You don't need to back off on the idea of having gone in, indicate it was what we thought was the best decision at the time, and reiterate the reasons. Then say that in retrospect, it has taken longer than it should have, and apologize for the "we will be here 100 years if that's what it takes" remark. We don't want to be running someone else's country for 100 years. Yes, you may have been talking a Berlin-style base, but most people don't know that we still have a base in Berlin that was war-related. Instead, they think you're talking 100 more years of the same. Give a timeline. I'm serious. A qualified timeline, you don't have to say "Well, everything's changed, but we have to follow this timeline." It's a set of goals to be met and dates to have them met by. Then, if you were elected, be on top of those goals, and hold press conferences to update the public on what has been met and what hasn't. Finally, stop this nonsense about splitting hairs on preconditions versus preparations before you'll talk with foreign leaders. Many people have an image of you requiring a bunch of petty diplomacy shit before you'll talk to leaders that are willing to negotiate with you. I think what you're trying to say is that they have to be willing to negotiate before you'll talk to them. So freaking say it already.

4) Miscellaneous: Stop spinning. You've got an abysmal rate, and most of the fact-checkers are showing it. That makes people not trust what you have to say (at least those of us who bother to check). Stop the negative campaigning, or at least stop making it front and center of the speech. It's not working, according to the polls.

Those, I think, are the big three. If you did those, it still wouldn't make you an ideal candidate for me. I'm socially liberal and don't like alot of those policies. But it would make me have to think hard about the choice, which I think should be your ultimate goal. And I'd really like to put "Dump Sarah Palin for Elizabeth Dole" as #5, as I think Palin's a huge liability and Dole would have been ideal for the "get the Hillary voters" ploy you were trying, but I think it's too late for that and it would tank any credibility the other four would enhance.

Basically, you're losing because you're trying to sell an empty "Maverick" label, while not losing the support of anyone who still likes Bush. So you're calling yourself a maverick, yet I haven't heard you criticize Bush's handling of . . . . well, anything, really. Other than the housing buy-back idea, I haven't heard anything out of you that Bush wouldn't agree with, and I'm paying attention. So Obama's point of McSame is ringing loudly, and Bush's popularity is pretty well down the toilet, so you do the math. Also, you keep harping on how Obama is an empty suit, but your suit doesn't look any more full, despite your years of experience, 'cause you're not offering concrete alternatives to the rather shitty status quo. Yes, I know that a lot of more conservative people would say, "but if he does that, he'd lose me." Really?! Ya think they're voting Obama? Please.

So that's my two cents, for what it's worth. Not that anyone listens to me these days anyway.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I've Got a Better Idea

Royce recently commented:

Modest proposal:

At the voting booth a voter has to answer 5 questions from the Citizenship Test. Don't get 'em all right, and voter's vote doesn't count.

And the voter would not be given their quiz results, so the ignorant will be blisfully unaware that they are not actually casting a vote.

Would also be fun to compile results for those who did not pass the quiz!

Next up - eating Irish babies!!!
Royce | 10.10.08 - 11:54 am | #

I like it, but I'm going one better. Under my voter competency test (which would be completely unconstitutional) the voter in question must anonymously answer the following:

1) Explain the three branches of government, the theory of Separation of Powers, and at least one major function of each branch using explicit examples of how it is used and how it differs from the other branches.

2) For each candidate for whom you wish to vote, explain in detail at least two of the economic, social, or foreign policy plans espoused by that candidate, using actual figures (cost, dollars saved, troops employed, number of people affected, etc.), including at least one drawback to the idea. Then contrast it to the plan of at least one other candidate, indicating how and why you think it is a better idea in light of the drawbacks.

If they get #1 wrong, they're not allowed to vote at all (or we allow the vote just to laugh at them, Royce has an entertaining idea). For each race in which they are unable to answer #2, they are not allowed to vote.

I can guarantee we'd have the lowest voting percentage, and the most intelligent choice, ever.

This is Totally Partisan

And it doesn't contribute an iota to the issues, so I wasn't going to post it. But I had to watch it twice, because it's so damn funny. I then decided, what the hell, it's my blog. She cracks me up. I wish she had been my grandma, whether I agreed with her or not family reunions would have been so much more palatable.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Troopergate Report

The full .pdf of the investigation is here. Having read the first 100 pages, it basically says:

1) The Palin family had filed a complaint against Wooten simultaneously with the divorce. An investigation was undertaken and he was sanctioned. However, the Palins were not able to be kept informed of the status of the investigation due to an Alaskan rule forbidding it.

2) So the Palins kept bugging everybody about why Wooten wasn't fired. They hired a PI to investigate him, and submitted the PI's reports, wanting to know if the people investigating had the full information. They were told that there was no new info in the reports.

3) The Palins kept on it, reporting Wooten for things like dropping his kids off on company time (he'd had permission) and when he was injured at work, taking pictures of him snowmobiling to disprove his work comp claim. They kept bringing up the moose kill, despite being told that if they filed criminal charges against Wooten for pulling the trigger, they would also in fairness have to file charges against Palin's sister for falsely claiming she'd killed it (it was on her tag) and Palin's father for dressing the moose. The Palins didn't want those charges filed, but kept trying to get criminal charges against Wooten.

4) All this was making Monegan nervous, he was getting the impression if he didn't find reason to fire Wooten he wouldn't last too long.

5) Although the Palins did indicate that Wooten had threatened Sarah's father, they didn't ask for increased security, nor did they indicate during these multiple conversations about needing him to be fired that the reason was they felt he was a security risk to them. Instead, they kept talking about him being bad for recruiting and a bad trooper.

6) When the Palins heard he had applied for a new job as a police officer, they contacted those people as well and said they shouldn't hire him.

7) When it then came time for Molly (Sarah's sister) to argue for a larger child support award, the judge specifically denied it, based on the fact that a) she was capable of earning more herself; and b) the Palin family had done everything they could to "kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" by trying their hardest to get Wooten fired.

8) The Palin administration did have other beefs with Monegan, that were unrelated to the Wooten thing, specific instances of not following rules.

9) It appears that the straw that broke the camel's back came on a holiday commemorating police officers. There was an official picture taken of an officer in uniform to publicize the event, which was sent to Sarah Palin by Monegan for her official signature. Apparently the doofus didn't realize it was a picture of Wooten. That really pissed her off, and probably for good reason.

10) Within days, Monegan was gone.

Upshot: The report finds no ethics violation against Todd Palin, because he really wasn't a government employee. The report does find an ethics violation against Sarah Palin because she knowingly either actively used (for her part in the conversation) or failed to prevent from being used (for Todd's part - he had used her office, which he apparently was in, like, every day) her office to influence a employment decisions on Wooten based on her personal relationship with him. However, the report also finds that she was well within the scope of her duties in dismissing Monegan because even though the Wooten thing was a substantial part of it, she had the power to hire and fire him at will for any reason. Incidentally, the report notes that some of this could have been obviated if there had been an official mechanism for the Palins to gain information on the investigation. Because there was none, some of the improper contacts were simply motivated by trying to find out what happened. It recommends that rule be changed.

My personal opinion: Holy crap what a messed up family. Yep, I think Wooten did a bunch of weird-ass crap that I would certainly bring up. But their going after him like that (spying, private investigators, contacting people he'd applied for jobs with - and how did they know he'd applied?) smacks of the Godfather, Alaskan-style. They won't be able to do much to her, because she was within her rights to fire Monegan. Wooten probably has grounds for a harassment suit - one of the big things Monegan kept saying to them was "remember, this is subpoena-able official conversations, you don't want to give him grounds to win a lawsuit, do you?" Though I'm pretty sure if we looked we'd find he'd done as much to them as they'd done to him, knowing divorce cases. The judge was totally right in the whole "tried to kill the goose" thing. It's a pretty funny part of the report, it also uses "in like Flynn" and "until the cows come home" - go to pages 53 and 54 of the .pdf. Basically, I'm glad I'm not related to them. My family is messed up, too, but not that badly.

The spin:
The Branchflower Report is a series of guess and insupportable conclusions drawn by exactly one guy, and it hasn't been approved or adopted or endorsed by so much as a single sub-committee of the Alaska Legislature, much less any kind of commission, court, jury, or other proper adjudicatory body.

Here's a note to Mr. Branchflower, who clearly is verbose, but obviously none too keen a scholar of logic: Gov. Palin's so-called "firing" of Monegan (it wasn't a firing, it was a re-assignment to other government duties that he resigned rather than accept) can't simultaneously be a violation of the Ethics Act and "a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority." This, gentle readers, is a 263-page piece of political circus that actually explicitly refutes itself on its single most key page!

To distill the arguments:
1) The Palins never "fired" Monegan, they just "reassigned" him.

2) The Palins never said they wanted Wooten fired either.

3) You can't both be in violation of the Ethics act and acting within discretionatory powers.

4) It was all about safety: Well, here's another memo to Mr. Branchflower: When the family is question is the family of the Governor of Alaska, and when her security detail is charged with protecting her from threats, and in the process of that, the security detail actively seeks out information as to who may have previously made death threats against the family, that's no longer solely a "personal family related reason." and that "[e]very prior reported Ethics Act violation involved financial motives and financial 'potential gain, or the avoidance of a potential loss.' ... Here, there is no accusation, no finding and no facts that money or financial gain to the governor was involved in the decision to replace Monegan."

I find the arguments flawed, based on the statutes involved.
1) Anyone who's ever been involuntarily "reassigned" from a job to a lesser job realizes point #1 is disingenuous. Certainly Monegan feels he was fired from the job, though given a replacement job. The reassignment is splitting hairs.

2) Wooten had been disciplined - suspended, etc. - and the Palins felt he got a "slap on the wrist" - their words, not mine. They kept asking, according to multiple witnesses, why is this guy still carrying a badge, and saying he shouldn't be a trooper. To say that wasn't agitation to have him fired because they never used the word "fired" is a flat lie, of the sort Clinton used when denying Monica. Okay, you can't use the tactic after you've bitched about Dems using it, unless you've decided to withdraw you're original bitching. That's just slimy.

3) Actually, as I read it, you can be in violation of the Ethics statute and still be within your rights as Governor. The statute - AS 39.52.110 broadly states: The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust. (Page 49 of the .pdf) The term "benefit" means anything that is to a person's advantage or self-interest, or from which a person profits, regardless of financial gain, and [t]he term "personal interest" means an interest held or involvement by a public officer, or the officer's immediate family or parent, (the statutory term family member is laid out, which includes siblings and parents). Finally "official action" is defined under AS 39.52.960(14) as advice, participation, or assistance, including, for example, a recommendation, decision, approval, disapproval, vote or similar action, including inaction, by a public officer. So basically, they've worded their ethics statute so broadly as to encompass any action - or inaction! - by public officers that benefits you or a family member personally. Quite frankly, it's too broad. I can't see a scenario where an action or inaction on any major issue which could be entirely divorced from any "benefit" to self or family. Taxes? That's bound to affect you. Hunting? Yep, that too. So they're attacking it wrongly. If they want to argue this correctly, not just issue a blind spin, point out that the ethics statute is just too damn broad. Admit you're in violation, and defy anyone not to be.

4) I don't agree that their sole motivation was safety. First, they never mentioned him as a specific threat to their security chief when requesting security in the first place. They did mention it later on, but the testimony of the officer assigned to coordinate their security (Wheeler) said on page 208 of the .pdf that "I never felt that they were in fear of Mr. Wooten doing anything to them, because they never required the protection detail to provide protection to them. And in fact, about two or three weeks into the - the Palin administration, the governor actually asked us not to drive her to and from her residence and the events, and normal day-to-day duties that the protection detail normally does were greatly curtailed." Finally, as the report points out, none of the complaints against Wooten were couched in terms of the first family's safety, but rather focused on the idea that it was inappropriate that he was still a trooper and got a "slap on the wrist." Certainly, the judge in the divorce case strongly felt they embarked on a vendetta to get him fired, and I'm sure he heard pages more testimony than we've been provided. Res judicata anyone?

Given all that, I don't think anyone who still likes Palin is really going to care, and of course if they don't like her it's not exactly changing their minds. I decided a few weeks ago that I don't think she's a fit candidate. This has been entertaining, but probably changes little in the terms of actual votes.

Woo Hoo

Vicki's on her way back.

Bad Idea

Rekha Basu has an article up indicating that Iowa needs a counterpart mechanism to the Nebraska law allowing parents to abandon kids of any age without consequences, pointing to the 14-year-old that was left in Omaha.

She states:
Of course, parents are responsible for taking care of their children. But sometimes the most responsible thing they can do is place them where they'll be safe. It shouldn't require a report of child abuse to get a child out of an unstable home.

Extreme and traumatic, the safe-haven provision should be available as a last resort. Caregivers should know they'll lose control once their kids are in foster care, maybe forever. And the Iowa Department of Human Services should offer caregivers other alternatives when they are stressed but not necessarily on the verge of harming them. Respite care or "crisis families" could step in while parents get help with child care, jobs, housing or emotional support. The DHS says it funds some community services, but they are not uniform or comprehensive.

Finally, this again points to the need for more aggressive pregnancy-prevention measures, so people are prepared to care for kids when they have them. While the Statons may not have anticipated their change in circumstances, one wonders about their judgment in having 10 children.

But the bottom line is this: People are being stretched to the breaking point, sometimes by situations outside their control. While we're bailing out Wall Street, surely we can also lend a hand to desperate families with children.

So we need a drop-off point for abandoning kids, current CINA laws aren't enough? I beg to differ:

Iowa Code Section 232.2

6. "Child in need of assistance" means an unmarried child:

a. Whose parent, guardian or other custodian has abandoned or deserted the child.

. . .

j. Who is without a parent, guardian or other custodian.

k. Whose parent, guardian, or other custodian for good cause desires to be relieved of the child's care and custody.

l. Who for good cause desires to have the child's parents relieved of the child's care and custody.

I've had cases where we're using K and L - parent and kid simply can't get along and the family has turned to DHS rather than imploding. No charges are being filed or anything, the kid is simply put into fostercare and services put into place for therapy and such. It could also mean assistance in finding stable housing, employment, etc. Bottom line: we've already got that. Yep, it does mean contacting DHS and getting removal orders and such. But do we really want or need the immediate drop off? Our way, they don't make a snap decision they might regret later. They can work with DHS to come up with a voluntary plan, or simply have the kid taken. The family will have to follow a case plan imposed by the court in order to get the kid back, and if they don't follow it, they can lose rights to the kid. So it's serious, and not to be done on a whim. But it's my understanding that the Nebraska law is simply an abandonment which can be done on the spur of the moment and you don't get the kid back ever.

I don't think we need that.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm wrong on the "don't get the kid back" part - the statute in question merely says you won't face criminal charges for leaving the kid, it doesn't state whether abandonment terminates parental rights. I presume the details on that part's in their version of the CINA law.

Okay, so I can concede that this isn't a totally bad idea - why criminalize this behavior? Is the fine or jail time going to be productive in solving the problem? But I still think our mechanism's better. It just needs to be publicized.

I guess people aren't aware they can call DHS and "for good cause" have their kids hauled off and put into foster care. Well, now you know. So if you're one of the people who find no home complete without it's own meth lab, or your children ideal subjects for child porn, or that the word "toddler" is somehow synonymous with "punching bag," please take advantage of this. Likewise, if things really do head the way of the great Depression and you can't feed, clothe, shelter, or care for your kids, there is an alternative besides dropping them off at the side of the road or something.

Can You Trust Your Candidate?

Did you know there's a candidate who has close ties to domestic radicals supported by terrorist countries, who will impose their wingnut views on the rest of us if we let them get into power?

Yep, that's a link to the "GAME-CHANGER!!!!" . . . . only this time, for Sarah Palin. From Salon. For the ones about Obama, go to any MSM article on "Ayers" and keep clicking. (I can almost guarantee that at least one comment will have the GAME-CHANGER!!!! quote.)

I figured this one was coming as soon as I saw that Republicans had designated Sarah to do the hinting that Obama is a terrorist, though in fairness I'd predicted it would be more focused on Pentacostal weirdness to counteract the Obama/Wright charge, and had totally spaced the Todd Palin/secessionist tie, which is much more juicy. Cosmic justice, I'm sure, but still far-fetched.

Yep, it's mud-slinging time. Yesterday I saw a Rolling Stone in-depth article on McCain that pretty much made him out to be a drunken frat boy riding his family's coat-tails to power, a la Bush.

(Side note: Again, poor Joe Biden is left out. What, nobody has mud left for him?)

Let me summarize it for you: That candidate you think you're voting for? You don't really know them, do you? I mean, they tell you that they're going to do this and that, but how do you know they're not lying? How do you know you're not really electing the next Hitler/Stalin/Bin Laden and they'll take that power to Change Our Country into some Nazi/Communist/Terrorist regime in which your children will be forced to carry a gun to school/wear little red kerchiefs while serving the state/recite the Koran three times before breakfast? We're a heartbeat away from total anarchy! And of course, the media is totally in the tank for the (insert party of candidate being smeared here), so they'll never tell you this stuff. (Which is, of course, why it's all over the MSM.)

This stuff is like the enhance-your-penis spam, spreading annoyingly throughout the 'net because someone, somewhere, is convinced that if they just smack it in front of you enough times you might just start to believe that there really is something to it. Good Lord, what is it about politics that has normally rational, sane people listening to conspiracy theorists - and major publications printing these rumors like they're hard news? And while most people ignore them when it comes to their own candidate, why is it so seemingly seductive to agree with the conspiracy theories that taint the other side? Admit it, you probably had a moment of "But that one's true!" when you flit past the allegations against the 'bad guys,' whoever your own personal bad guys are. You noted the kernel of truth (there's always one) that the whole theory is based on and said "see - how do we really know?)


McCain does have a temper. He doesn't always make the best choices. But he kept his temper during the debates, and I believe he wouldn't go running around crashing airforce one and screaming at other national leaders. Please. Obama was on the board with Ayers and did some educational projects with him. But he's not secretly planning to overthrow society in a domestic terrorist plot. Sarah Palin does attend a rather whacked-out church and her husband was one of those secede-from-the-union types in the past. But she's not going to force us all to speak in tongues or carve the US up into 50 separate states. I still think she's pretty clueless, but she's not the top of the ticket, is she?

The lying thing? Well, let's just say, they're all less than truthful. Check out Politifact for the current score.

Bottom line: McCain's and Obama's ideas are fairly well set out, though you sometimes have to hunt for them. Figure out which you like, and presume that you'll get agitation from them in favor of the ideas - please recall that Presidents can't actually pass legislation, just sign it. You may get some other surprises along the way: I'm pretty sure that before 9/11 there was more concern about Bush's economic policies than military ones. Just remember the rules:
  1. Obama is not the most experienced candidate the democrats could have fielded.
  2. Palin has even less experience than he does.
  3. Experience is not the issue. Competence is.
  4. McCain's POW status is irrelevant to his performance as president.
  5. Incidentally, so is Palin's ability to shoot a moose and Obama's ability to make a three-point shot.
  6. All the candidates have kids. Get over it. PS - nobody really gives a shit.
  7. Anyone who votes for or against a candidate based solely on that candidate's race or gender is an idiot.
  8. Likewise anyone who votes against the issues/solutions they believe in to send some sort of message. Cut nose, spite face.
  9. The President cannot pass laws, only Congress can. They can, however, veto them. The president also cannot create a communist system of government, or outlaw abortion, or fill the congress with their high-school classmates. They can, however, appoint cabinet members and nominate people to the Supreme Court.
  10. The candidates have actual policies. Though they do split along party lines, they are nuanced and they don't necessarily say what you think they say. Do not assume Candidate X is for something just because you think of it as a conservative/liberal issue. Read the damn reports.

Okay, and this is not cool:
With recent polls showing Sen. Barack Obama's lead increasing nationwide and in several GOP-leaning states, some Republicans attending McCain-Palin campaign rallies have taken on a new emotion: Rage. . . .

One member of the Palin audience in Jacksonville, Florida, Tuesday shouted out "treason." And at another rally in the state Monday, Palin's mention of the Obama-Ayers tie caused one member to yell out: "kill him" -- though it was unclear if it was targeted at Obama or Ayers. . . .

Some audience members are openly hostile to members of the traveling press covering Palin; one crowd member hurled a racial epithet at an African-American member of the press in Clearwater, Florida, on Monday.

Ya know what? I recall all the rage directed at Bush supporters back when he "stole the election." I remember the bloggers, including myself, being all pissy about the left-wing moonbats that were talking secession. We told them to grow up, as I recall. We told them that the people had spoken, the Supreme Court had ruled, and it was time for adults to grasp the idea that rational people could disagree with them. We called them fringe, out of touch, insane, and basically dangerous, and felt that it was about time the "moonbats" realized a thinking, reasonable person could feel that free markets were the answer, and that enough middle of the road people could feel Bush was the better choice.

Well, now the shoe's on the other foot. It appears from all polls that Obama is going to win. Thinking, reasonable people can also be Democrats. Enough middle of the road people are apparently feeling Obama is the better choice. At this point, I call on all Republican bloggers to practice what they preach, and come out against any suggestion that Obama should be killed. If McCain loses the election, and if there is any (God forbid a repeat) Supreme Court case to be decided and it goes the other way . . . . Grow up. People disagree. You can think they're crazy, you can be frustrated that they don't understand. But be adult.

I'm not blaming the candidates on this one: though I obviously am annoyed at the negative campaigning and fear-mongering, I've come to expect it. And, as I pointed out above, although the MSM is focusing on the Obama/Terrorist angle, I expect the Palin/Secessionist story will likely gain traction here, and possibly the McCain/PTSD angle, so all sides are doing the fear tactic. But how the public responds is up to them. All you bloggers who were so self-righteous about the antics of the left-wing moonbats better be equally so about the right-wing ones. Because if you encourage moonbats, you are a moonbat. Pure and simple. And speaking as one of those middle-of-the-road people, who swung Republican in 2000 and is likely to swing Democrat in 2008, I simply do not appreciate the fact that it is becoming more and more common for the vocal minority moonbats to run the national conversation.

Personally, I think McCain would have run a better campaign and might even be ahead at the moment if he wasn't so concerned about keeping the extremes of his party happy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Random Musings on Health Insurance

In reading articles and comments on the candidate's health plans, there seems to be some things that aren't being said. Everyone knows the problem: costs are skyrocketing. Some blame can be attached to big drug companies, etc., for recouping costs of drugs in such a short time - drugs they most likely got government grants to develop in the first place. Some can be attached to medicare and medical insurance allowing prices to skyrocket out of the reach of the typical consumer (you can't win bidding against a consortium). Regardless, it's insane. Take for example a recent bout I had with companies about some back problems D has. First they want to call it a pre-existing condition. Then they argue about referrals. Finally they pay their share of the MRI and a few physical therapy appointments, and we're down to the copay. Over a grand of copay. As for myself, thank God I got onto his plan. Costing more than my house payments, COBRA was totally unaffordable.

But from what I'm seeing, we're not really wanting health insurance. Recall how insurance works normally. We know that disasters happen. We know that they aren't common, but they inevitably will occur. We know that an individual faced with disaster can be wiped out. So we decide to pool resources - we all pay in a little, with the money from the pool going to cover any one of the pool members who faces a disaster. In the interim, the company is supposed to keep the money safe (Listening, AIG?) and pay it out when needed. Pretty easy to understand when we're dealing with homeowner's and so forth. The thing is, the pool won't want to allow a guy who, say, builds his home next to a river that floods every year. Then they keep paying out to that one guy more than they ever get in from him, so they eventually go bankrupt. If they do let him in, they want to charge more from him to cover those losses.

Health insurance works much the same way. Pool the money, pay out if there's an unexpected disaster. Problem is, they don't want people in the pool who are facing expected disasters. Particularly at these rates. See, if you've got that guy who is living in a body that is flooded every year with health problems, you can't possibly charge him enough to cover the amount you'll pay out (unless he's Bill Gates, and then what the hell does he want to pay you for anyway other than the collective bargaining power over prices). They want that guy out. And if that guy is you, or your father, or your kid, thay don't care. Letting you in screws up their actuarial tables.

Last night, McCain indicated that healthcare was a responsibility, and Obama said it was a right. Neither works under this model. Seriously. It doesn't matter how responsible you are, you're not gonna get in the pool if they can find a way to keep you out. And guess who writes the contracts? You got it. I was in-house in insurance a while back when it became fashionable to declare that black mold was responsible for a gagillion different medical conditions, from the logical (respiratory issues) to the illogical (everything including hangnails). The first thing the homeowner's companies did was to write an exclusion to keep out mold claims, either by limiting them to cleanup costs, or excluding them altogether (that latter being huge overkill IMHO). Risk managed. And, really, you can't blame them. Letting you in would mess up the pool. So it really can't be a right, either, or it's simply not insurance.

But nobody wants to be the guy who isn't in the pool. Nobody wants to be told: there's this simple procedure that will save your life and your health, but it costs $5,000 and you're going to die because you can't afford it. Nobody wants their parent to be the guy ouside the pool, and especially nobody wants their kid to be that guy.

IMHO, it's time to talk about the elephant in the corner. We talk about "fixing" health insurance, when really what we're talking about isn't insurance at all. But nobody wants to be the one who says it, because then we conjure up words like "socialism" and images of rationed medicine. Nobody wants to be the guy who has to wait eight months to get a procedure, either. We want to be able to walk in, get fixed, and walk out. There's kind of a mob mentality hovering in the background - we would like to think we're pro-healthcare for other people, but if it means that me and mine might not be able to get it right away, well, screw them. We're afraid that if we try to open up the pool to everyone, it's not going to be convenient, it's not going to be as nice, and hell, people could die anyway if we do end up having to ration things, so why not keep things how they are?

It seems we're screwed either way, so many people are saying "what the hell, let's do it" and many are saying "don't mess with it, in case what we get is worse." Here's a suggestion: Call out the elephant in the room. Call it what it is - healthcare entitlement. Don't be afraid of it, it's just an idea. We're thinking about it anyway, let's just be brave and name it. Now, let's take a look at the thing. What have other countries done? What's worked? What hasn't? Is there a way we can hybridize the thing, to capture both the benefits of the free market system and the entitlement system? Are there ways of making it less dangerous - like attacking medical costs, not just how we pay for it? For example, many people have mentioned tort reform. I'm not a big proponent of "loser pays," but I would like to see the rules for throwing out frivilous suits enhanced. I would also like to see the rules for mass torts changed so that it doesn't end up that a law firm makes $4 million out of the deal and anyone who was harmed gets a $5 coupon for their next purchase. Are there ways of lessening the costs of a medical education? How about prices for procedures - any way to make bidding more competetive or price fixing? I happen to know that in tort settlements, the medical bills are routinely slashed in half as the last move, which makes them roughly on par with what medicare/medicaid pays for the same stuff.

With regards to the plans actually on the table, I think Obama's is better, for a few reasons. First, tax credits don't mean a damn thing until after you pay the premiums. Unless you can afford it up front, you won't get the credit. Second, it seems more cost-effective. According to this Wall Street Journal article: 1) McCain's plan will be slightly less expensive than Obamas, at 1.3 trillion as opposed to 1.6 trillion over the next 10 years. 2) The extra .3 trillion in Obama's plan will eventually (no clue what that means) cover 34 million more people. Third, I think that if we really want to make sure everyone has "access" to health care, we're eventually going to have to go with this model anyway.

The insurance industry is a business, it is not an entitlement program. It cannot, and will not, allow everyone in the pool. You just can't do it, based on risk/loss calculations and actuarial tables. If we want entitlements, we'd best (sigh) give it to the government. Obama's plan is nice because it allows for both - private if we can get it, public if we can't.

We need to understand what it is we're talking here, and stop misnaming it "insurance" as if that will magically make it so. We need to break out the evil word "entitlement' and make a rational decision, calling this puppy what it is. If we decide to go there, we do have to be informed and prepared for adjustments to be made as we shift systems - waiting longer for care, possible shortages, etc. If we decide that we don't want to change, then we can certainly stay with the insurance pooling model. But we really should look the damn thing in the eye as well and make that decision, that we don't care if anyone's left out of the pool, in fact we agree and accept that people will be left out of the pool, and we promise not to bitch if and when we're that guy standing at the edge of the water and fighting for our lives, watching everyone who is in the pool ignoring us while we die.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Totally puzzled

Weird thoughts:

Okay, when we started this shindig, I thought - fine, McCain's a moderate Republican and I'm a centrist. That's not too bad. Then he swung right, and although I disagreed (you zigged when you should have zagged) I understood he was trying for his conservative base. I just thought he went a tad too far - didya have to say we could be there for 100 years? You couldn't have just kept to the "until the job is done" line? Still, he was hitting his war record hard, and zinging Obama on not wearing flag pins, and I pretty much understood the game plan.

Then he brought Palin in, and I still thought I knew where he was going. Risky, I thought, trying to one-up the Dems at their own game, but she is female and demonstrably more conservative. So long as she's competent . . . . oookaaay. Perhaps not so much. Did anyone do their homework?

Then he started flying off the board, and not in his celebrated, mavericky kind of way, more in a WTF are you doing way. The whole swinging back and forth between the fundamentals of the economy are sound and we're in the Worst. Crisis. Ever. Between we all have to stop campaigning now and fix this, and "eh, I'm available by phone." That really got me wondering. Then in that first debate. He made a few points, but did that creepy "I'm not going to look at you" thing. And didn't wear a flag pin. Stupid point, I know, but I thought "Could no one have slapped one on him, given the big hoopla he made of it earlier? He just looks senile." Now we have a second debate, and we again have the minor weird stuff like no flag pin, and WTF was up with his refusal to shake Obama's hand afterward, palming him off on Cindy? But the big thing that has me going "huh?!" is his bit about buying up all the bad mortgages. I mean, empirically, whether you agree with it or not, the Republican line has been that: 1) Dems created rules in Freddie and Fannie that forced lenders to open up markets to un-credit-worthy buyers in the name of affirmative action for the poor. 2) Un-credit-worthy people bought more and bigger houses than they could afford. 3) It's a matter of fixing the Dem's stupid socialist housing ideas which should never have allowed these people to get these loans in the first place. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, McCain is doing a 180 on this and saying we all have to buy up all these bad loans and re-write them so that the people can stay in these houses, which the Republicans have been maintaining that they shouldn't have in the first place. Huh?

I'm not bitching about the point, actually I think it's remarkably pragmatic of him. If banks foreclose on these houses, the most they're going to get is what they can sell them for. Why not rewrite it down to that amount and save the expense of switching hands and the decline in the neighborhood you get when you have an abandoned property? But it's, like, the polar opposite of what he's been saying. I'm curious as to what free market advocates think of this one. Royce? Good idea to appeal to the public or very stupid move?

I'm thinking the latter, myself, unless all his conservative base have changed their minds without my looking. I think that he will alienate his base, who will think he's proposing a bailout on top of a bailout, and not pick up the slack from Obama's base because, frankly, they'll view it as an anomaly. The idiot dials that they had on MSNBC showed Republican voters' approval of McCain tanking down below Democrat's approval of him on that one, so I'm pretty sure I'm calling this one right. And the talking heads seem to think it's to grab media attention. I know any coverage is good, but having people speculate whether you're flip-flopping (which isn't a bad thing if you've been wrong but everyone else seems to think it is) or senile isn't probably the best press.

Regardless, I like the point - as I said, I'm a pragmatist. I just wish we could've included it in the original bailout (or did we? I'm hearing two stories) rather than that tax cut for practice arrows.

But I'm totally puzzled. No pin, no handshake - those who look for "body language" won't like it. Decent points in debating, if you're in agreement with him you should generally like his stuff, but then throw in this weird twist. Huh.

In Honor of the Debate and This Election

Posters from Demotivators. Idea co-opted from Coptalk.

Side Note

Oh, and BTW - I had marked this Salon article earlier for blogging, just 'cause I was amazed at the comments. Upshot: it was an "expose" by a woman who had ghost written letters to the editor for the McCain campaign. If you look at the author's notes, she's worked for both Obama and McCain this election cycle. She describes how letters are drafted by the campaign and then sent around to areas of the country, where they're circulated to volunteers who fit the facts (in this case, a woman with a son in the war) and will put them in the paper with their name on them. Commenters were appalled. Note to the naive: well, duh.

Most, if not all, parties do this. It's a little sleazy, granted, but: 1) How many people do you know that really get off their ass and write letters to the editor? 2) How many of those people are actually that good at writing? Parties don't want incoherent rants, they don't want original thought, they want spin that meshes with the party line. So they farm it out. Actual, original, coherent letters are looked on as a bonus; and the incoherent ones that don't mesh are outnumbered.

News Distilled.

Republicans and Democrats have given up talking about their respective plans and decided to refocus the campaigns on calling each other names. Just what we need to make an informed decision.

Financial observers are shocked that American consumers have stopped spending after they hit us with an 800 trillion bill. (But it will hurt the economy!) World Astonished That Stock Index Falls During Historic Financial Crisis.

Upshot: idiocy as usual. Have a nice day.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Pro: Won my hearing, which I expected to because it was a frivolous charge. Con: had to play it meaner than usual to try to reduce the possibility of further frivolity. Upshot: The forced adreneline rush has dissipated into a crash and I'm rather exhausted. But I believe I did scare the other side badly enough that they won't be wanting to face me again soon unless they have solid grounds. They were probably somewhat taken aback, as I'm so nice . . . until it's time not to be.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Keeping Score

I checked in on candidates on Politifact, now we've been through the first round of debates for both President and VP. I divided it into two categories: Halfway true or better vs. Barely true to Pants on Fire. Here's the scores:

McCain - Halfway true or better: 70. Barely true to Pants on Fire: 58.
(45% of claims reviewed were "barely true" or worse).
Number of "pants on fire" - 6.

Obama - Halfway true or better: 98. Barely true to Pants on Fire: 37.
(27% of claims reviewed were "barely true" or worse).
Number of "pants on fire" - 1.

Palin - Halfway true or better: 12. Barely true to Pants on Fire: 5.
(29% of claims reviewed were "barely true" or worse).
Number of "pants on fire" - 0.

Biden - Halfway true or better: 18. Barely true to Pants on Fire: 12.
(40% of claims reviewed were "barely true" or worse).
Number of "pants on fire" - 2.

So as I see it, out of the claims checked, McCain has the worst problem with lying, with Biden coming in second. Palin is third, and Obama a close fourth.

I've perused their factchecking and I generally agree with the calls.

As I need to not only decide who has the best policy, but who is likely telling me the truth about their policy, I'm following these statistics closely.

Have I mentioned candidates who lie piss me off?


From this week's theater email:
There is going to be a Memorial/Wake for Ron Prosser on Sunday, Oct.5 from 1:00 to 4:00 at the Elks Lodge off Foster Road. There will be wine, beer, soft drinks and food. Ron specified that every one was invited. A grand time will be had by all.

From the Little Village:

If you were in the Iowa City Public Library any time before a few months ago, you know who I’m talking about. There’s a good chance he checked out some materials for you, or you at least saw him sitting behind the new library card desk, helping a patron acquire their magic passport to a world of wonderful books and other media marvels. He was the tall guy. No, not really “guy”—gentleman. The tall gentleman who looked kind of like a college professor, with slightly unkempt graying hair, big glasses, a big smile, a sonorous yet gentle voice, and, if you talked to him at all, you knew a big brain and a big heart. That was Ron Prosser, perhaps the greatest circulation clerk who ever lived.

. . . .

Ron was totally, and wonderfully, what Iowa City was all about. He showed us that finding your bliss was more important than fame, ambition, wealth, or an enviable address. Ron could have gone so many places and done so many things, but he found the place, the work, and the people he loved, and he stayed with them—and lived a very rich life, and a life that enriched ours. Ron didn’t build any skyscrapers or have thousands and millions to give to admittedly worthy causes. He didn’t engineer a rise in the political landscape. He didn’t open a bunch of popular restaurants. But, as Library Director Susan Craig says, “He was so ‘Iowa City.’” He was smart and inquisitive, and he shared generously what he knew and loved learning from others. He was immersed in the cultural life of our community. He knew and created beauty. He was hilarious. He was odd. He was boisterously loving of his friends, family, people he served, animals, and strangers. He knew what a good thing his life in Iowa City was and stuck with it for a long, long time.

Farewell, Henry Higgins, Mr. Pumpkin, Jade Master, Father of Orchids, That Friendly Big Guy, The Greatest Circulation Clerk in the World. We have missed you, and we will continue to miss you, dearly.

Read the rest of the article. And if you've been in theater, some have a drink in his memory.

Theater Blogging

Went to see The Pillowman last night. Omigod it was an excellent show. Go if you get the chance. Seriously.

The Pillowman
by Martin McDonagh
directed by Josh sazon
assistant directed by Rich Riggleman
September 27, October 3, 4, 11
7:30 pm
Unitarian Universalist Society, 10 S. Gilbert St. Iowa City
A seriously disturbing tale laced with dark comedy about a writer in an unnamed totalitarian state who is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories and their similarities to a number of child-murders occurring in his town.
Recommended for mature audiences for violence and language. Order tickets today!

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Ariel - Gary Barth
Tupolski - Chuck Dufano
Father - Jeff Emrich
Mother - Robin McCright
Michal - Alex Moore
Katurian - Kevin Moore

Miss the Debate? Here Ya Go.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Back to Basics

From the NY Times, a great link to send to people who are struggling with learning computers: Tech Tips for the Basic Computer User. BTW, if you're self-taught (as I am) you might want to skim through it, in case there's any little things you missed. I'm totally familiar with word and email and such, but didn't know "The number of megapixels does not determine a camera’s picture quality; that’s a marketing myth. The sensor size is far more important. (Use Google to find it. For example, search for “sensor size Nikon D90.”)". Nor was I aware that the space bar functions as a "page down" key online. I've just always hit page down *shrug*. Interesting how you can be totally versed with some rather complex stuff in one area and yet miss silly tricks like that, it's all a matter of need-to-know.

Friday, October 03, 2008


The Volokh Conspiracy proves that it is possible to have a reasoned, philosophical conversation about abortion, including both pro-life and pro-choice factions. Read the post, then just keep scrolling the comments. I haven't seen something like this since law school, and I've missed it. Kudos.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The VP Debate Drinking Game

I'm heading to the Irish Democrat to watch the debate tonight, and found the best Palin/Biden drinking game from The Tech online edition:

Blue Team Rules

  1. For every mention of Scranton, Pennsylvania: Take a sip.
  2. When Biden begins the “I take the train home everyday story” being drinking. Don’t stop ’till he finishes.
  3. When Biden questions Palin’s inexperience: Drink something you’ve never had before
  4. When Biden makes an obvious gaffe: Spill your neighbor’s drink
  5. When Biden uses X words when Y will do: Drink X-Y seconds
  6. When Biden patronizes or self identifies with the working class: Down some brew (Bonus points if you use Miller Highlife)
  7. When Biden lambastes Washington Insiders: Make a toast to his 35 years of experience in the United States Senate
  8. The Joe Biden checklist. If he mentions all of the following, finish your drinks: Blue Collar, Golden Parachute, Little Guy, Washington Insider, Working Class, Clean

Red Team Rules

  1. Every time Palin cites Alaska’s proximity to Russia as “foreign policy experience”: Take a shot of vodka
  2. When Palin claims she said “Thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere: Demand a new drink from your hosts, say “thanks but no thanks,” and then when no one’s looking, take it anyway, then claim you never wanted it.
  3. When Palin recounts putting the governor’s jet on eBay: Auction off a beer to your friends
  4. When Palin insists that governing a small town in Alaska is in fact experience: Give your friend a shot glass of beer when he/she asks for a pint and insist it’s the same thing.
  5. When Palin points out that Biden thought Obama was too inexperienced for the job: Finish your drink and say, “Oh Snap!” If you’re a democrat, follow this by crying.
  6. When Palin claims that Washington’s problems can be solved by small town know how and common sense: Drink a Labatt Blue as you read up on how to become a Canadian citizen.
  7. When Palin talks about being the most popular governor in the country: Go to a room by yourself, realize you’re the most popular person in the room, then finish your drink.
  8. The Sarah Palin checklist. If she mentions all of the following, finish your drinks: Bush Doctrine, Snow Machine, Moose, Lipstick, Hockey Mom, Family Values

Some additions of my own:
  1. When Biden says "literally" when he means "figuratively," don't drink but pretend you did.
  2. When Palin spouts off another 'sentence to nowhere' and manages to include any three of these: healthcare, job creation, terrorism, state's rights, Russia's proximity to Alaska, earmarks, taxes, and John McCain's prisoner of war experience, buy your buddy an O'Douls and tell 'em it's beer.
  3. And to make up for the non-alcoholic nature of the last two: Take a shot whenever anyone in the joint blurts out "What the fuck is she talking about?" And finish your drink if she says she'll get back to us on that.

UPDATE: Wanna make it even more fun? Download your own Palin and Biden fingerpuppets and really make the night bizarre.

By the Way

In case you were wondering, the religion class went fine. The clip went well - movies are always good - but apparently it's been longer than I thought as only about four of them had even heard of the Da Vinci Code (*sigh*). They were annoyed I hadn't downloaded the whole movie.

I lost them a bit in discussing early (pre Nicene) church writings on the trinity, but brought them back with a description of Constantine's role in the council, from the admission that the theology in question is both difficult and not interesting to him ("these questions are the idle cobwebs of contention, spun by curious wits") to the strong encouragement to cut it out and agree on a policy already ("I entreat you, therefore, beloved ministers of God, to remove the causes of dissension among you and to establish peace") to the armed guards outside, just to make sure that they don't leave until they get something ironed out. They really laughed when I suggested that we do the same with Congress . . .


Fair warning - this is probably going to piss people off.

This morning's news surf led me to an interesting "Open Letter to Sarah Palin" from The American Conservative. Some excerpts:
Conservatives have faith in you. Don’t fail them as George W. Bush has.

You see what happened: the president’s entire domestic agenda collapsed under the weight of his failed foreign policy. Social Security reform stalled. Pro-lifers became political orphans. And whatever gains Bush’s tax cuts secured were wiped out by record spending. Everything was subordinated to the war on terror.

. . .

Here’s a hint: don’t believe everything you read in the papers, especially if the byline is Kristol or Krauthammer. Russia is not an expansionist, ideological empire. It’s a traditional, semi-authoritarian great power intent on preserving its influence in its own backyard and its prestige on the world stage. That’s why Russia intercedes in the domestic disputes of unruly states on its periphery. Putin balks at Poland hosting our antimissile systems for the same reason we would bristle at Cuba or Mexico receiving Chinese antitank missiles.

. . . .

Then there’s the Middle East, where only American arms (and lives) can prevent little Israel from being swept into the sea by Muslim hordes. Surely that’s what AIPAC told you that night you left Phyllis cooling her heels. But again, it isn’t true. Israel has nuclear weapons, for one thing, and can outfight her neighbors even without resort to atom bombs. Israel’s problem isn’t external threat so much as internal security and demographics. When the Jewish state was founded, tens of thousands of Palestinians—Christians as well as Muslims—lost their homes. Palestine was no wide-open Alaskan frontier: when the newcomers moved in, Arabs were moved out, often by force. . . .

While your minders probably don’t put much stock in his work, University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has shown that suicide terrorism develops almost always among occupied peoples. The task before the Israelis is not to defend themselves against aggressive neighbors but to give justice to the Palestinians already in their midst—to suppress terrorism without suppressing civil liberties and human rights, which only leads to more bloodshed.

. . .

Despite all the briefing books being thrown at you, you know your own mind—and you realize that the neoconservative agenda doesn’t square with your worldview. You prize localism, their vision is grandiose. You value fiscal discipline, neocons will ruin the country to finance endless war. You honor life, and they think nothing of killing hundreds of thousands in the service of ideology. But they’ll tell you this alien vision—imported from the Left—is coherent and conservative.

It is neither, but your supporters are both. They’ve turned against this war and definitely don’t want another. Yet your running mate does. Perhaps you’ve noticed that his interest in domestic policy pales alongside his foreign-policy ambitions. Or maybe you caught his virtuoso performance of “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

I find it interesting because of my own political evolution. See, I'm primarily fiscally conservative, and socially liberal, with a few caveats: 1) Fiscal conservativism does not mean fiscal Darwinism where the individual is concerned - I'm not willing to watch people die for the lack of the basics. Sometimes it's also more cost effective to have programs step in before it gets that far - assisting a family to stay in the middle class rather than degenerating into poverty. However, I'm not willing to subsidize where there's no effort to get out of the system. 2) Socially liberal does not mean anarchy - people should be able to do as they like, but not force it on others. Let 'em watch whatever porn and crap they like on TV, but allow those who don't want access an easy, instant, foolproof way to block all of it from coming into their home. Let homosexuals marry and adopt kids, but no one to sexually harass or abuse a child in any way. These are just a few examples.

So I float between parties, not picking and choosing agendas so much as issues. For a while, I was more Republican. They were all about instituting some controls on the social programs to rein in abuse. I hated the social conservativism, but dealt with it. I figured we put some Democrats in to balance it, and they can't do much harm.

Then Bush came along, and it went to hell in a handbasket. First, the war. I did agree we had sufficient grounds to go into Iraq, equating Hussein's noncompliance with inspections to a probation violation. But I wanted to see us use the UN and allies. Not so much. Okay, it might be too important to wait . . . then I find we've been fed a bunch of exaggerations and made our decisions off that. Well, maybe it was simply human error.

Then I find us in the position of rubberstamping searches without any probable cause whatsoever, not even retroactively. Searches that require no level of connection at all - not even "reasonable suspicion" which can basically be equated to "I had a hunch." WTF? Okay, I'm not liking this. And I saw Bush start to claim "executive privilege" in a scope that eclipsed even Nixon's wildest claims. Power to the executive seemed to become a mantra. Concerns were brushed aside, reasonable (read: legal) compromises were pooh-poohed. - it's in your own best interest, do you want the terrorists to come back? I watched as the deficit spending swelled to epic proportions, beyond what it was when the social programs I'd hoped would be tweaked were in full force. But it's for national security, so hey. And are we seriously having conversations about torture being for the greater good? What is this, the Spanish inquisition? And why the hell are we not paying more attention to Afghanistan?

Then I noticed that all that talk about reining in abuses of the system - well, that didn't really happen much. Think back - have you heard any big measures passed on that since the Welfare Reform of . . . holy crap, was that 1995?! I just googled it, and it looks like this was a Clinton law. Moment of surreality here. Moving on. No, what I saw in the past eight years were business regulations being relaxed and bankruptcy being tightened, and credit penalties being enhanced. Not much about fixing abuses, more about loosening business restrictions. Hm. There were some tax cuts, which was cool. But now the businesses appear to be in a tad bit of trouble. Perhaps the tightening of the noose on the consumer correlating with the loosening of restrictions on business wasn't such a good idea after all. And the tax cuts in light of the huge-ass spending increases seem a bit irresponsible. And as for the earmarks everyone's talking about - what, eight years wasn't long enough to fix them? I think back to all the stuff I saw on the Republican side eight years ago (recall I was too busy with a whole boatload of relatives dying in 2004 to give a crap about the elections), and I see most of it has been jettisoned due to the war.

Now it's election time again, and both parties are vying for the vote. Only this time, the Republican promises to rein in big government seem a tad disingenuous. Call me jaded, but I'm not seeing it. National security? I don't feel safe so much as bullied.

Which is why I find this conservative article so interesting. I can agree with about 60% of it. Not the pro-life stuff, I believe that's something we shouldn't make illegal as make unnecessary. Except for any of those late-term "I changed my mind" scenarios which one side says are common and the other says never happen - so why not allow them to be banned? The fiscal conservative stuff - I'm not sure what brand of "fiscal conservatism" they're talking, so I don't know. But most of the rest, that's spot on.

So I guess I'm interested in seeing more from these guys. We'll never agree on the social stuff, and I'm sorry, but I think your letter is wasted on Palin. But it's refreshing to hear Republicans calling out the elephant in the corner. It gives me hope that one day I'll again have a choice between two parties whose policies I find rational and I can pick and choose based on who has better plan, not just advocate against positions I find untenable.

Curious side note: I found the link to the article on Talk Left, rather than any of the Republican-leaning sites I peruse.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Okay, Now I'm Sure

I was skeptical of Sarah Palin back when she had her deer in the headlights look on the Bush Doctrine, and didn't like her response on the Georgia crisis. Now, I'm out and out calling her a liability for McCain. Why? Here's a transcript:
Couric: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

The National Review article I pulled it from spins it like this:
As soon as I saw it on CBS earlier (I trust most of you have better things to do with your time!), I knew the new conventional wisdom would be something like "she bans books and doesn't read." And sure enough. The e-mails are coming in. Obviously the governor of Alaska reads. And what it looked liked to me is the governor of Alaska decided she wasn't going to play along with Couric. Whatever she answered would be scrutinized for the next 24 hours for what she included and left off. So instead she let Katie badger her a little. (I half expected Palin to say, Katie, I even have a Blackberry in Alaska!)

And now the ticket is in yet a better position to run against the media.

Who knew a McCain ticket would ever be in a position to do such a thing?

I'm afraid I disagree. Crying "Gotcha journalism," seems to be becoming a mantra whenever she runs up against a question she doesn't know how to answer. And I can see the point on the Bush Doctrine question because chances are most non-politically astute people couldn't answer that question. (My counterpoint to that being I like people in charge of the country to be politically astute). But this . . . this was a softball. Name a newspaper, or a web source, any of them, and run with the question. Claiming it's a stupid question doesn't work. She's been caught out in gaffes like the Bush doctrine one earlier, so it's a valid point to ask where and how she gets her information. It's also a good question for her to answer, an opportunity to put the critiques of her knowledgeability to rest. She totally flubbed it. "Well, of course she reads," seems a pretty lame response.

Oh, and this doesn't help:

Um, yeah. The transcript:
COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the--it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.

This doesn't help either:

It makes no sense. The transcript:
COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?
PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land-- boundary that we have with-- Canada. It-- it's funny that a comment like that was-- kind of made to-- cari-- I don't know, you know? Reporters--


PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia--

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where-- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is-- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to-- to our state.

Now, I do think that people should draw a line between Palin being competent and McCain being competent. You may not like McCain's policies, particularly as he is moving more towards the right, and he is seriously puzzling me by his political strategy these days. But he has basic knowledge, and he's not exactly in his deathbed. But Palin? Whoever suggested her as a running-mate should be quietly dismissed from his campaign. I still think he should've chosen Huckabee.

I've heard a rumor on the 'net that the McCain campaign has gotten the questions for Thursday's debate, but it's only on anti-Palin sources, so I'm not convinced that's the case. For her sake, I hope so. Unfortunately, from what I'm seeing this debate may be quite widely watched, but only because Biden's notorious for his gaffes as well and I'm seeing a whole lot of side betting on who will crash and burn first. It's like the Roman coliseum, only nobody gets killed.

I'm definitely watching, and for that very reason. Yep, I'm tapping my inner Roman and waiting to see which one screws up first and worst. Are you kidding? It's the only chance for a laugh in this whole debacle. Although I do hope for their sakes they've been well prepped and it won't be so bad, and for our country's sake I'm hoping they can be roughly competent 'cause one of them is about to get a very important job, for my own sense of humor I'm secretly hoping to see a train wreck.