Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Question: Travel?

According to the Simpsons, "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man." But travel embiggens the mind. What was your favorite country to visit, and why, and what country do you still want to visit to have your mind further embiggened? Bonus points if you can tell us something they have, that we don't, that you think we should have here. [+] Read More...

There Will Be Anarchy

When last we discussed the swine flu. . . er, H1N1, you may recall the World Health Organization’s marketing-driven declaration that we were all going to die. Well, they’re back. Apparently, the nebulous death threat wasn’t working, so now they’re warning that the H1N1 not only brings death, it brings anarchy -- the two swine of the hampocalypse -- and they’ve included a ransom demand. I’d tell you all about this, but I’m still feeling too lazy, so I’m just going to reprint this article too. . .
“UN Report Says Hamdemic May Result In Anarchy”
“Demands £900m In Small Unmarked Bills”
The swine flu hamdemic could kill millions and cause anarchy around the world unless rich nations pay the United Nations £900m, says a UN report leaked to the UK Observer. The report notes that while only 28 people have died in India, 36 in Britain and 80 in Australia so far, the World Health Organization is confident that the swine flu will improve its potency.

Said, Gregory Hartl of the WHO, “[the swine flu]’s been underperforming, but we think it will step up its game soon and present us with a real shakedown opportunity.”

When asked if he thought rich world health ministers would fall for the obviously false report and pay the money, Hartl noted, “Those guys are some of the dumbest ministers in government, rock stupid. They wouldn’t know the difference between a flu and a flute. They’ll fall for anything.” He then added that most health ministers spent their time getting drunk and trying to count their toes.

“What we need to tell them,” Hartl continued even after being told he was on tape, “is that this hamdemic will cause anarchy. We made a mistake earlier telling everyone that they were going to die. If no one survives, then no one can blame the minister. So we adjusted our data.”

When asked how they came up with the £900m figure, Hartl said that it sounded like a nice round number, and he thought he'd really like to have that much money.

To ensure that health ministers are good and scared, the report paints a disastrous picture of the hampocalypse:
“Countries where health services are overburdened by diseases, such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, malaria, megalomania, and type II aggressive jock itch, as well as every other country, will have difficulty managing the surge of cases. This will force workers to stay home, where they will die without health care. As they die, the electricity and water sectors will not be able to maintain services. Zombism is only a hop skip and a jump away at that moment.”
The report continues, “IF suppliers of fuel, food, telecommunications, finance and transportation stop working, the effect could be disastrous. Could? And IF everyone caught swine flu and died, then this could certainly be a scenario one could envision. Naturally, the blame would fall squarely on health ministers, who could have stopped all of this if they’d only sent £900m in small unmarked bills to the office of Gregory Hartl at the WHO. A small price to pay indeed to prevent anarchy.”

But would anyone buy this? Unfortunately for the WHO, no. When the report was first released, Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer of Britain’s Health Protection Agency misread one of the footnotes in the report, causing him to believe that the most likely carriers of the swine flu would be children.

“They’re really insidious, leaving snot everywhere. . . very unsanitary creatures.” Thus rather than pay their share of the £900m, Sir Liam and the National Health Services have instead embarked on a campaign to eradicate children, which they view as a root cause of the disease. “We need to stamp out children.” He then demonstrated how to protect yourself from the swine flu should you come in contact with a child by covering your face.

Sir Liam also warned, “Don’t let one of the diseased little creatures touch you.”

Part of the funding Sir Liam has requested will go toward an education campaign to teach adults about the dangers posed by children. The rest will go toward the cost of traps. “We will be putting traps anywhere these creatures congregate. . . schools, arcades, theme parks. If you see an I-Pod lying in the middle of a large metal trap, do not attempt to reach the I-Pod.”

Sir Liam claims that if the government can successfully eradicate this childhood menace, government estimates of swine fly casualties could be lowered from “everyone” to “most everyone.” Said Sir Liam, “It’s them or us, and I vote for them.”

In the United States, HHS Secretary Sebelius was not so quick to blame children. She tried instead to blame former President George Bush. “If he had taken action against this menace and rounded up the children, no one would need to die now. I hate him. I really hate him. My shrink says I shouldn’t talk about this, but how can you not. I just hate him so much. He caused my irritable bowel syndrome.”

She then demonstrated how to cover your face should you encounter the former President.

When asked if this was really good advice, Sebelius flew into a rage and ended the press conference by fleeing the room, screaming. This forced President Obama to issue a statement promising to eradicate the swine flu personally, “I, uh, plan to sit down with the flu in a genuine discussion of all issues. After that, I think, uh, that it, uh, won’t infect anyone else.” President Obama said that he would next meet with the regular flu, which kills an estimated 30,000 Americans a year.

Vice Messiah Biden could not be reached for comment, as he was out distributing flutes to turkeys.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Captioning: "Sweet, um, Nothings"

Rumor has it there is a little hanky and some panky going in the old White House. Seen below, Obama and Hillary during a recent "working dinner" at The Love Club in Manhattan. It looks like Obama just told a joke: "What do you, um, do with an, uh, elephant with three balls?" Or he might be talking shop: "How about them, uh, Hondurans." But I'm not good at lip reading, so you tell me what they're talking about.

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Through The Legal Looking Glass--The Nine Gray Eminences

Chief Justice John Glover Roberts was born on January 27, 1955 in Buffalo, New York. He is the son of John Glover Roberts and Rosemary Podrasky, an American-born woman of Czech extraction. His father was a plant manager with Bethlehem Steel. The family moved to Long Beach, Indiana when young John was in second grade. He attended Notre Dame Elementary, and the La Lumiere School, which is a Roman Catholic boarding school in LaPorte, Indiana. He has three sisters--Kathy, Peggy and Barbara.

He completed a five-year Latin studies program in four years, his first notable academic achievement among many to come. He was both the captain of his football team, and an accomplished wrestler, becoming a regional champion. He also took part in choir and drama, edited the school newspaper, and served on the regional athletic council and his school council.

From high school, he went on to Harvard. Again, he ran ahead of the pack, completing the four year history major in three years, and obtaining his baccalaureate degree summa cum laude. His studies in American Constitutional History led him to Harvard Law School. He received his JD magna cum laude. Unlike a certain alleged constitutional scholar with whom we are all familiar, Roberts was made the managing editor of the Harvard Law Review, writing many well-regarded articles himself. Many of his fellow law students distinctly remember him actually accomplishing things while he was editor, unlike the other person I mentioned.

The Chief is married to Jane Sullivan, whom he married in Washington DC in 1996. She is also an attorney and a trustee, along with Roberts's fellow Justice Thomas at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Robertses have adopted two children, John and Josephine. The Chief and his wife are both devout Roman Catholics.

Immediately after graduating from Harvard Law, he went on to clerk for a year for Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Second District Court of Appeals. From 1980 to 1981, he was the chief clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. From 1981 to 1982,he was appointed by President Reagan as Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney William French Smith. From 1982 to 1986, he went on to serve as Associate Counsel to the President, serving under White House Counsel Fred Fielding.

Roberts entered private practice in 1986 as an associate with the firm of Hogan & Hartson, a prominent Washington DC litigation firm. In 1989 he was tapped by the first President Bush to be Principal Deputy Solicitor General. In 1992, Bush nominated Roberts to the U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but the Senate vote never took place, and with Bush's defeat by Bill Clinton, Roberts's nomination expired.

He then returned to private practice with Hogan & Hartson, quickly becoming the head of their appellate department, developing a nationwide reputation for brilliant constitutional advocacy. At the same time, he became an adjunct professor of constitutional law at Georgetown Law School (unlike the other person I mentioned, who with no appellate experience and an invisible academic record at Harvard Law, became a full professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago). During his tenure with Hogan & Hartson, he argued thirty-nine cases before the Supreme Court, winning twenty-five of them. The most famous case he argued during this time was the United States v. Microsoft. His firm represented eighteen individual states in the litigation.

Roberts also served as a member of the steering committee of my favorite lawyers and constitutional scholars organization--The Federalist Society. He ultimately earned some undying enemies in the Democratic Party when he flew to Florida to advise Governor Jed Bush and the Florida Secretary of State regarding the 2000 presidential election recount. Although he did not argue the case himself later, his advice was utilized by the George W. Bush team successfully before the United States Supreme Court.

In 2001, the second President Bush nominated Roberts for a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit. Typical of their political vendettas, the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), refused to give Roberts a hearing. In 2003, the Republicans regained the Senate majority, and Bush resubmitted Roberts's nomination the same day. Roberts spent two years on the Circuit Court, authoring forty-nine opinions, getting dissents in only two of them, and authored three dissents of his own.

In 2005, Roberts became the first new Supreme Court nominee since Stephen Breyer in 1994. Bush was so proud of his choice that he made it in a nationally-televised broadcast from the East Room of the White House. He was slated to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was retiring. And then Bush withdrew Roberts's nomination upon the September death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Bush and his advisers were strong advocates for Rehnquist's leadership style and jurisprudence, and felt that Roberts, as a former Rehnquist clerk and intimate, was the perfect candidate to replace him. Bush then went so far as to request that the Senate conduct expedited hearings on his nominee so that he would be in place for the opening session of the Court beginning in October.

The hearing was a rough one, not as vicious as the previous Bork hearing or the subsequent Alito hearing, but the Democrats launched vitriolic attacks on Roberts. One of them was so vicious that Roberts's wife, who was in the audience, broke into tears at the unwarranted venom being spewed at her husband. Ultimately the Committee voted the confirmation out to the full Senate by a vote of thirteen to five, with the predictable "no" votes from Ted Kennedy (D-Chappaquiddick), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Joe Biden (D-Hair Club for Men) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In the Senate vote, Roberts was confirmed by seventy-eight to twenty-two, with all Republicans, one Independent, and twenty-two Democrats voting in favor. All twenty-two negative votes were Democrats.

Roberts is a conservative, "strict constructionist" justice. His Fourth Amendment decisions have held that search and seizure activities must only be reasonable, not perfect. Thus, when the Court in Georgia v. Randolph held a search to be unconstitutional because of the two residents present during the search, only one had consented to the search, he dissented. He dissented both because the decision was a clear departure from precedent with no explanation of why or how it could be distinguished from previous case law, and the majority based its reasoning on "the perception of social custom."

On abortion, Roberts has decided on only one case since joining the Court. He took a stand which was entirely expected, but many may have missed his concurring opinion. The Court held in Gonzalez v. Carhart that the federal prohibition on partial-birth abortion was valid, but on narrow procedural grounds. Roberts indicated in his concurrence that he felt the decision was decided too narrowly and unnecessarily left future abortion cases to review on a case-by-case basis rather than announcing a broad court policy. In his hearings at the time of his nomination he refused to say how he would vote in a case which directly challenged Roe v. Wade. This caused the Democrats to tag him as an abortion opponent when his only legal work on the issue was in carrying out the orders of his bosses at Justice while he was a US Attorney. Accurately, he said he was "a staff lawyer, charged with writing a legal memorandum supporting the [Reagan] administration's point of view."

When asked about stare decisis at the same hearing, Roberts made it clear he supports the stabilizing influence of the principle. Then Senator Kennedy, thinking he was setting a trap, asked how Roberts could support the principle announced in Brown v. Board of Education and support stare decisis as well. Roberts lost no time or composure by explaining what Kennedy should already have known. Stare decisis exists to assist in uniformity of decision-making. When it comes to the decision itself, the Supreme Court is perfectly free to overturn precedent which is clearly constitutionally unsound. Bye-bye, silly question, and bye-bye Plessy v. Ferguson. As Roberts said, "that's not activism, that's applying the law correctly."

Back to his Court opinions, Roberts has been critical of the long line of cases granting power to the federal government under the Commerce Clause. He believes in the intent and wording of the Clause, but says that it has simply become too easy and pro forma for the courts to find a nebulous connection between the federal statute involved and some legitimate reason why the federal government is intruding in the area in the first place. His words: "I think it remains to be seen, in subsequent decisions, how rigorous a showing is needed, and in many cases, it is just a showing. It's not a question of an abstract fact, does this affect interstate commerce or not, but has this body, the Congress, demonstrated the impact on interstate commerce that drove them to legislate? That's a very important factor. It wasn't present in [case citation] at all. I think the members of Congress had heard the same thing in law school, and they hadn't gone through the process of establishing a record in that case...which would support federal intervention in the matter."

And that leads to his overview of federalism in general. "Simply because you have a problem that needs addressing, it's not necessarily the case the Federal legislation is the best way to address it . . . . The constitutional limitation doesn't turn on whether it's a good idea. There is not a 'good idea' Clause in the Constitution. It can be a bad idea, but certainly satisfy the constitutional requirements. And it can be a very good idea, but fall short of what is necessary to establish federal preemption."

As a firm believer in the original meaning of "due process," Roberts has consistently stood for notice and opportunity to be heard for criminal defendants. Thus, despite his conservative views, he found it necessary to vote against his ideological partners on the court in the case of Jones v. Flowers. The liberal majority, along with Roberts, held that before a home is seized and sold in a tax-forfeiture sale, due diligence must be demonstrated and proper notification needs to be sent to the owners.

Roberts has also made his views clear on deference to the acts of Congress. He believes it is the duty of the Court to uphold acts of Congress so long as they do not violate constitutional provisions. Thus he takes considerable pains to point out that it is not up to the Court to rule based on its belief in the potential efficacy of the act, or based on some abstract concept of law which is not contained in the Constitution (such as those pesky umbras, penumbras and emanations, foreign law, or belief in mankind's place in the universe). "The determination of when deference to legislative policy judgments goes too far and becomes abdication of the judicial responsibility, and when scrutiny of those judgments goes too far on the part of the judge and becomes what I think is properly called judicial activism, that is certainly the central dilemma of having an unelected, as you describe it correctly, undemocratic judiciary in a democratic republic."

He is a free speech purist, but also supports tradition and precedent. Therefore he voted in Morse v. Frederick that a student in public school-related activities does not have the right to advocate recreational drug use on the ground that the right to free speech does not invariably prevent the exercise of school discipline. Therefore, he joined Justice Thomas in adding that it would be an inordinate diminution of free speech to forbid students to have a full discussion of the pros and cons of recreational drug use. He might rule differently if the case became an issue at a public university or college.

Roberts is a reasoned and forthright foe of affirmative action. He opposes the use of race in assigning students to particular schools, including for purposes of maintaining integrated schools in the face of shifting populations. He has carefully crafted his opinions to remain in line with the law in Brown v. Board of Education. He makes it clear that the Warren Court was addressing de jure, "unnatural" segregation for the purpose of favoring or diminishing a particular racial group. He does not accept that a nearly all-white school in a nearly all-white geographical location (and vice versa for a black school in a black location) is in any way a violation of the Constitution. He was very sarcastic about the concept of affirmative action announced by Sandra Day O'Connor when she said she was not sure whether affirmative action was constitutional, but that in another twenty-five years it would be unnecessary (which is what they said twenty-five years ago).

He has not had an opportunity as Chief Justice to address the broad issue directly. But in a more limited case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, he got to take a preliminary shot. Writing for the majority, he said that Brown v. Board of Education was about racial discrimination, not about the de facto racial makeup of a particular neighborhood. His zinger was priceless: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

I normally do an assessment of each Justice and his or her judicial philosophy when concluding a chapter in this series. However, in this case, I will defer to Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Sykes. She described Roberts and his judicial outlook as follows: "His jurisprudence appears to be strongly rooted in the discipline of traditional legal method, evincing a fidelity to test, structure, history, and the constitutional hierarchy. He exhibits the restraint that flows from the careful application of established decisional rules and the practice of reasoning from the case law. He appears to place great stock in the process-oriented tools and doctrinal rules that guard against the aggregation of judicial power and keep judicial discretion in check: jurisdictional limits, structural federalism, textualism, and the procedural rules that govern the scope of judicial review."

Note: This concludes my series on the sitting Supreme Court. I have purposely not discussed Sonia Sotomayor. Although she has been sworn in, she will not take part in any decision-making until the beginning of the fall term in October. It would be unfair to review her when she has not participated in any Court decisions. For articles that Andrew Price and I have done about her in her capacity on the lower courts, check the link to her, either below or under "index" to the right.
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What’s Old Is New Again

By Writer X

When I’m not writing, I’m reading. And when I’m not reading, you’ll usually find me at a bookstore. And it’s not just because one of my favorite local bookstores serves the absolute best snickerdoodle cookies and iced coffees, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s just that I consider reading and visiting bookstores as much a part of my “day job” as writing books.

I make it a point to get to know the people who work at my local bookstores (chains and independents) as well as the books they like to sell. Although I’m not a bookstore stalker or anything, I do kind of like to watch which books customers pull off the shelves. And which ones they take to the cash register. I call it “market research.” It sounds less certifiable.

You might be surprised to learn that most of what’s displayed on the shelves of your local bookstore are the books that were popular 18 months to two years ago. In a way, when you peruse the shelves, it’s like going back in time. The books that are selling today are the books that editors thought were so hot almost two years ago. That might as well be eons in a book’s life cycle, kind of like how we calculate dog years. And sometimes much can happen in two years, depending on the genre; although sometimes nothing seems to change at all. Example: Vampires and forensic scientists. Those two plotlines show no real signs of taking a bow anytime soon.

Indeed, what the editors are buying today (for publication in approximately two years) might have nothing to do with what’s gracing your bookstore shelves now. In that sense, editors have to predict what readers will want to buy two years hence and fill their lists accordingly. Will readers want to buy happy stories? Sad ones? Futuristic? Apocalyptic? Doom and gloom? Gore?

While the same genres remain (e.g. Non-fiction, Thrillers, Mysteries, Romance, Literary Fiction, Young Adult), some of the plotlines have changed and/or expanded. The following are simply my personal opinions and observations about what’s selling in the various genres TODAY (or, really, two years ago). Are you following me, Camera Guy?

1. Thrillers. There are fewer thrillers with Russia and China in the plotlines and more centered in Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, and Israel. No big surprise here. Throw in a despot dictator, an angry former CIA or FBI agent, a technology gizmo, and you’ve got yourself the making of today’s thriller. A subset of the Thriller genre has to be anything involving forensic science, sometimes called True Crime. Any story with a forensic scientist is red-hot and doesn’t show any signs of slowing, as I stated earlier. It’s no coincidence that those CSI shows continue to mass-produce exponentially. I believe the television executives have every major city covered and why not? It sells. People can’t seem to get enough of all things forensic.

2. Mysteries. Where thrillers tend to be more action-oriented, the mysteries that sell today tend to be more suspense-oriented. That formula really hasn’t changed. The time period doesn’t matter either—past, present, or future. Currently, any mystery with a zombie flies off the shelves. Throw in a zombie love story and you’ve probably got yourself a bestseller.

3. Horror. Stephen King continues to dominate this genre, although I’m admittedly not a huge fan. Can’t stand the gore. And there always seems to be a poor, pathetic character that gets picked on or tortured mercilessly. Yuck. One change I’ve noticed with horror is the addition of many plotlines with a technical component—e.g. cell phones that take over the world, creepy robots, or laptops that become smarter than people. It’s almost become a prerequisite. In order for horror to be successful, in my opinion, it has to be action-oriented as well as suspense-oriented. Most of the protagonists continue to be men. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a love interest for it to sell either.

4. Romance. Romance books never seem to lose steam, regardless of the economic climate. They’re selling like hotcakes, probably because people want to escape more than ever and they’re usually priced cheaper than most hard cover books. If anything, there are more subsets to Romance than any other genre—paranormal, fantasy, historical, Amish, NASCAR. If a romance book can be turned into a series, all the better. Vampires are still hot, although I’ve read that in two years time angels will become the go-to plotline. And that means that the books involving angels as main characters are being purchased by editors today. Additionally, not to sound like a walking pun, but erotica is another subset of romance and it too is extremely hot. Gay and Lesbian romance has also become increasingly popular.

5. Literary Fiction. Stories involving baby-boomer characters undergoing major life changes (cancer, divorce, death) and World War II story lines are popular plots found in today’s literary fiction. Literary fiction, however, is the one genre that can be the most unpredictable. That’s because, I think, great writing and storytelling will always find a home in literary fiction, regardless of the trend du jour. That’s part of what makes literary fiction a little more exciting, in my opinion.

6. Young Adult. Stories for teenagers overwhelmingly remain dark and bleak. Apparently children’s editors don’t hold much hope for today’s youth. If your story doesn’t contain a messed up teenager from a broken home (bonus points if there is a drug addiction) with a body covered in tattoos and piercings, you might have a difficult time getting it published. Or at least have to try harder than usual.

7. Non-fiction. Speaking of red-hot, conservative political books are being scooped up like free cotton candy at the fair, thanks to Levin, Coulter, Malkin, and Beck. Dare I say that it’s cool to be conservative? Conservatism is one of the hottest trends that I see right now. Who knew two years ago that it would become this hot? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that these writers already have mega-huge audiences. Without their audiences, I doubt the books would have been put under contract in the first place. Still, they pave the road for others itching to break into this genre. As an aside, on my last visit to the bookstore, I noticed stacks of John Kerry and John Edwards biographies on the bargain shelves for $3.99 and less. And there didn’t seem to be too many takers, even at the smoking sales price.

So, since I can’t stalk you in your own hometown bookstores (unless you live in Phoenix), what do you see in your bookstores? What would you prefer to see? What are you tired of seeing? Inquiring minds just gotta know.

If you’d like to see something particular in the Commentarama Writing Series, don’t hesitate to email Commentarama or leave a comment in this post. If you’re afraid that LawHawk or Andrew will publicly ridicule your suggestion, then don’t hesitate to email me at

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Problem With "Megan’s Law"

Several weeks ago, I read an article in the Economist that criticized the way sexual offenders are registered in the United States. With the arrest of Roman Polanski yesterday in Switzerland on an American warrant, I figured this might be a good time to talk about this.

First, some background: in 1994, in response to popular outrage over the kidnapping, rape and murder of seven year old Megan Kanka by repeat sexual offender Jesse Timmendequas, the Federal Government passed the Sexual Offender Act of 1994 (informally known as “Megan’s Law”). This law requires that all sexual offenders register with the police and that this information be made publicly available. As a result of this law, anyone can now find out where all of the sexual offenders live in their town.

And that’s where the Economist article comes in. The Economist took the position that this law unfairly stigmatizes lesser offenders by lumping them in with more serious offenders. According to the Economist, this is unfair to these criminals, thus, the government should amend the law to remove lesser offenders from the list of offenders who are reported.

Now I’m not sympathetic to that position. Even lesser sexual crimes are a reason to be concerned. And I certainly don’t like the idea of the government deciding for us what constitutes a dangerous sexual offense and what doesn’t. But there is something to the article, and that something was revealed to me during this past month as I watched a friend of mine shop for a house.

Every single house she found seemed to have a sexual offender somewhere nearby. Indeed, in a town of around half a million people, every single neighborhood had at least one sexual offender in it.**

Now as a decent sized, single male, this doesn’t bother me. But for your average female or a family with kids, this has to be a terrifying prospect. After all, who wants to live near someone who might be looking to rape them or their children? Indeed, my suspicions were confirmed when my friend reported that anyone who she told about a sexual offender living near any house would instantly say: “I wouldn’t buy that house. That’s not safe, and you’ll never be able to sell it.”

And this is, in fact, very rational. If there is one thing I’ve learned working as an attorney, it’s that most criminals are repeat offenders and sexual criminals all the more.

So what does the Economist have right? They’re right that you can’t tell what exactly the individual offenders did. Why does this matter? Because there are many types of sexual offenses. Some of them clearly are more dangerous than others: are you living across the street from a serial rapist or child molester or was this guy convicted of having sex with a sixteen year old when he was nineteen? Was the crime fifty years ago or last week? Was there more than one crime? In some states, doctors (particularly psychologists) or attorneys who are caught having sex with their clients can be charged with sexual offenses. Are such offenders dangerous to their neighbors?

Unfortunately, all the police reports will disclose is name, address and title/felony class of the conviction. And while this may sound sufficient to sort out who is dangerous and who isn’t, the truth is that most sexual crimes are lumped together into one or two felony classes, and thus are completely indistinguishable without details. For example, in one state in which I’ve practiced, a violent rapist who got out of prison last week for crimes he committed five years ago would appear as John Doe, 123 Main Street, Convicted of Sexual Assault Class 1. But a man who was convicted of sleeping with a sixteen year old when he was nineteen in 1902, would be described the same way. One is clearly a danger, the other is not. Yet, you can’t tell, so you need to assume the worst to be safe.

In another state in which I’ve practiced, a psychologist who sleeps with a patient might be described as Sexual Assault Violation of Position of Trust, the same description that would be given to a teacher who raped a seven year old student. Again, one is a clear danger, another is not, and you would have no way to know which is which.

By failing to provide this information, not only does it become extremely difficult to buy homes (and to sell certain homes), but it becomes impossible for people to make rational use of the information provided. Rather than knowing if your neighbor is a true danger, you currently need to assume the worst and act accordingly. And with sexual offenders living everywhere, that can become quite expensive and quite destructive for society at large -- and forget selling your house if you live next door.

The only way to solve this problem is to either remove the lesser offenders from the list, as the Economist urges, or to add the details needed to make rational judgments and let people evaluate the danger for themselves.

** In response to a question from Jed, here are some statistics to consider. According to DOJ numbers, in 2008, there were about 700,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. That works out to about 425 per 100,000 people. That means in a town of 500,000 people, you're talking about 2,100 spread around town. The town I'm in right now is officially 194 square miles. That means there are just over one sexual offender per square mile if you average it out.

The problem is that only a small number of these people are dangerous, but you have no way to know which ones that would be because the disclosures do not give enough information to decide. That's why I'm saying they need to give people more details.

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Not All Moonbats Are At The United Nations

At least one international moonbat is holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Who's the man behind the ten-gallon hat, you ask? Why it's none other than Manuel Zelaya, former president of Honduras and hopeful future president-for-life of the same beleaguered Central American republic.

You see, Zelaya is a friend of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Lula da Silva of Brazil, Ahmadenijad of Iran, and Obama of the United States. That makes his political shenanigans perfectly acceptable to anyone outside of Honduras's constitutional republic. Earlier in the year, Zelaya proposed a change to the Honduran constitution which would have allowed him to succeed himself as often as he deemed necessary. Hugo Chavez liked that, and put considerable pressure on Honduras to enact the proposed changes. There's only one problem with that. Under Honduras's constitution, to avoid a Chavez-like presidency for life, it is an impeachable offense for a sitting president to propose a change in presidential elections while he is serving in office.

Since Americans have been shown by the Democrats that the Constitution is an impediment to good politics, the Obama administration has managed to paint Zelaya's exile as a military coup. After all, who cares what any constitution says about anything? When Zelaya refused to back down on his proposal, he was removed from office and sent packing. And the military was involved only because, well, who else is going to toss a potential dictator out of office? But the military took no action until the Honduran Supreme Court had declared Zelaya outlaw, and the Honduran legislature had voted to export him to some place other than Honduras.

So what is it about tin-pot, banana republic dictators and wannabe dictators that requires, among other things, that they be absolutely baying-at-the-moon nuts? We've been treated very recently to Moammar Qaddafi, King of Kings of Africa, running off at the mouth incomprehensibly at the United Nations. We've heard President-for-Life Hugo Chavez declare that the satanic smell of sulphur from the Bush appearance has been removed from the Assembly chamber by the gentle breezes of hope wafting in the wake of Obama. We've heard Iranian loon Mahmoud Imadinnerjacket inform the world that the Holocaust was a Jewish lie that requires that Israel be wiped off the map.

But poor Zelaya didn't make it up to New York for the crazy festival. He was stuck hiding out in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras's capital city. Here's how that happened. After several attempts to return to Honduras as a grand liberator, and being rebuffed by just about everybody who had ever read the Honduran constitution, the Brazilian government ignominiously gave him a diplomatic passport and sneaked him back into Honduras. Obama, who has not read the Honduran constitution (or the American Constitution, for that matter) supports Zelaya's return to power, but as always doesn't have the guts to do anything about it. So for the time being, "Mel" (as he is known to his friends--all six of them) presently presides over his apartments at the Brazilian embassy.

Zelaya granted an audience (oops, I mean interview) to the Miami Herald last week. Expecting to hear the disgraced politician praise Obama, or Chavez, or his host, Lula, the reporter was taken aback by Zelaya going off in an entirely different direction. It isn't the plotters in Central or South America who are oppressing him. It's the damned Jews. Now we know why Imadinnerjacket likes him. He told the story of how Israeli secret agents were torturing him inside the embassy with high-frequency radiation. Not satisfied with that, the Israelis have given him a sore throat from the toxic gas they are piping into the embassy's air-conditioning ducts. His well-known penchant for Village People cowboy outfits and narcoterrorist funding of Latin American governments is starting to look downright normal.

Further declaring that he "knows" that there are at least two Israeli secret agent sharpshooters hiding in plain sight in the embassy to bump him off if the radiation and the gas fail, Zelaya describes how his life now hangs by a thread. He also "knows" that if the sharpshooters fail as well, there is a very close nearby camp of Israeli mercenaries who are ready at any time to storm the embassy, murder him, then disappear into thin air.

And this is the man Barack Obama supports with the diplomatic strength of the people of the United States. Not only does Obama remain neutral on world terrorists, but he apparently dislikes constitutional republics which exercise their sovereign power to enforce their own law. And this has led him to misstate the law in Honduras (as he often does at home) in order to support an attempted coup by a man who is clearly mad as a March hare. I feel bad for Honduras, but I'm even more concerned with whether America can survive another three and a half years of a weak-kneed, sob-sister, crooked south side of Chicago politician with strong red tendencies who actively supports anti-democratic governments in the western hemisphere.
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rebuilding The Republican Party: Minority Outreach

Today we return to our Rebuilding the Republican Party series. One of the issues that has befuddled the Republican Party is minority outreach. There is no inherent reason that half of all minorities should not be Republicans -- most racism occurs on the left (as it has historically), Republican policies are not anti-minority, and Republicans can hardly be called unwelcoming to minorities. Yet, Republican outreach doesn’t work. Here’s why and how to fix it.

Why Republicans Fail At Minority Outreach

The Republicans make three critical mistakes when it comes to minority outreach. First, they do it rarely and cynically. Secondly, and more importantly, they stupidly buy into the idea of identity politics and they play right into Democratic hands -- this is critical. Third, they are cowards when it comes to issues of race.
Rare And Cynical Effort Cannot Win You Friends
Every election cycle, the Republicans wring their hands about minority outreach. They talk about it. They appoint committees. They look for black people they can do photo-ops with. Sometimes they even find a candidate who can speak pigeon Spanish. Then the election comes and the outreach ends. Oooh, those minorities must be lining up to vote for us now! See the problem?

People aren’t stupid, even if they speak another language. They know when you’re pandering to them and when you’re genuinely interested. Showing up in a minority neighborhood once every couple of years for a photo-op not only does not convey the message that we are interested in you, it probably offends because it comes across as cynical.

For any effort to be worthwhile, it must be genuine, it must be constant, and it must be sustained. Otherwise, it is counter-productive even to try. So what do the Republicans need to do?
Stop Buying Into Identity Politics
The primary reason Republican outreach fails is that the Republicans have bought into the Democratic idea of identity politics and they are playing on Democratic terrain.

The Democrats want everyone to see minorities as monolithic communities. They want blacks to see themselves as black first and everything else second, and to associate themselves with the “black community.” They want Hispanics to associate themselves with the Hispanic community. And so on. In this way, they can influence the people within these communities, through peer pressure applied by community leaders, by getting these people to see the world through the filter of those communities and the community grievances -- again defined by the community leaders.

The Republicans buy into this hook, line and sinker. When they think about minority outreach, their first thought is “how do we attract members of the ____ community.” They then look for ways to satisfy the grievances laid out by the community leaders. And in so doing, they not only miss the mark -- because they are being misled by the leaders, but they confirm the view that individual minorities are nothing more than members of their collective and that their leaders have accurately defined the desires of the community.

This is horribly destructive thinking by the Republicans. They need to stop seeing minorities as clones. They aren’t. Take Hispanics, for example. Republicans see Hispanics as “Hispanics.” They don’t realize that these people come from two dozen countries. They have a variety of religions, or flavors of religions. They speak in different languages and different dialects, and they came here for different reasons. And most importantly, they have different goals.

Think about it this way. If I asked you to come up with an outreach plan to reach Europeans, could you come up with one plan? And even if you broke it down to different plans for the English and the Germans and the French, could one plan really reach out to an entire country full of people? Could a “white outreach” reach white America? No, it can’t, because we are all different with different beliefs, backgrounds, stations in life, and goals. Yet somehow, when the issue switches to Asians or Hispanics, those differences vanish and people start seeing them as monolithic. That’s the result of falling for the identity politics propaganda of the left, and it needs to stop.

So what do the Republicans need to do? Start looking at the people as individuals. If you want to reach Hispanics, don’t aim for “Hispanics,” aim for individuals who might be receptive to what you have to offer. For example, Republicans should make a push for minority small business people, because our policies are vastly superior for small businesses. We should reach out to their churches, to their middle class workers, to their property owners, their farmers, their home owners, and show them why the Republican Party suits them. Only by winning over the real community leaders, by showing them respect as individual human beings -- not by buying into the idea that they are clones -- can we make significant inroads into these communities.

Again, I’m not saying race can or should be ignored, but it should be a secondary concern, incidental to the reasons the Party is using to reach out to these people.

Further, this effort needs to be undertaken by Republicans everywhere, not just by some committee run by the party. Every Republican officer holder should do the exact same outreach they already do in their white communities in their minority communities as well. This means helping minorities get small business loans and resolving problems with social security and passport issues and other deeds that elected representatives normally do as “constituent services.” It may also mean getting bilingual or trilingual or tailoring specific services. But that’s no different than representatives do right now for other ethnic communities, like German-Americans or Polish-Americans.

That is what Republicans need to do. Stop playing the game created by the left to force these people into these communities. Start treating these people like friends, neighbors and partners, and not as just statistics or “communities.”
Stop Being Cowards On Race: Fight Back On Racism Charges
Finally, Republicans need to stop being cowards on race. The Democrats yell racism and every Republican in the room ducks for cover. It is time for Republicans to call this bluff. Republicans are not the racist ones, the Democrats are. Consider:
• The Democratic Party gave the country slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, violent opposition to the Civil Rights movement and opposition to civil rights legislation.

• Liberal labor unions worked for years to keep minorities out.

• Liberals dominate the biggest cities, which happen to be the most segregated parts of the country. Despite all their talk, liberal whites simply will not live in minority neighborhoods and they will not send their children to schools with large numbers of minority kids.

• Liberal policies related to race are premised on the racist idea that minorities are inferior to whites. Consider affirmative action. Take away all the flowery language and affirmative action is based on the idea that equality of opportunity is not enough, the law must enforce equality of result. Said differently, affirmative action is premised on the idea that minorities need government help to compete with whites even if they get the same opportunity. That’s racist thinking.
And let me add two other thoughts to this. First, having lived in liberal and conservative locations, I can say without hesitation that liberals are far more likely to use racists words, make racists statements, and tell racists jokes. But when this is pointed out to them, to a one, they respond that their racism isn’t racism because they (liberals) aren’t racists. That's delusional and hypocritical, and is an argument they would never accept from a conservative.

Secondly, liberals claim to see racism everywhere around them. But as we’ve all seen, liberals clump together. They live in communities of other liberals (look at big cities for proof of this), they select liberal friends (maybe with a token conservative now and then), and they insulate themselves with liberal media, liberal entertainment, and liberal news sources. So where are they hearing all this racism? Either it’s in all their heads or they hear it from other liberals.

Republicans need to stop being afraid of the racist label. They need to learn to turn it back on the Democrats. They need to start using it themselves. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth about race. Until we begin speaking the truth, the Democrats will keep using their web of lies to keep minorities on the Democratic plantation.

The emperor has no clothes and it’s getting time that someone called him on it.


The party needs to get serious about attracting minorities. And that's not going to happen if our outreach continues to consist of token appointments and sending stiff, terrified white guys into minority communities for a yearly photo-op. It's time to break the lock of identity politics.

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Ted Reaches Out From The Grave

The People of the Commonwealth of Massachussets have spoken. Ted Kennedy has an immediate successor. Well, the people haven't exactly spoken. Ted Kennedy gave his Democrats marching orders before going to that great swimming hole in the sky. "Change state law and get a Mini Me into office in time to vote on socialized medicine!" And it came to pass that the legislature did that and the governor signed the bill.

The seat formerly held by Kennedy for forty-seven years has been bestowed upon Paul Kirk. The whole affair, from start to finish, stinks of partisan politics, thwarting the will of the people, and changing the nature of the Massachusetts election and succession process overnight (for the second time in a decade) solely to keep the entrenched Democrats in power.

In a mad rush, the Massachusetts legislature carried out Teddy's wishes. Previously, Massachusetts law provided that in the event of a vacancy in the office of Senator, the office was to remain vacant until the legislature authorized a special election and the governor set a date. Some states have that system, more have the system that went into place in Massachusetts last week. So what's the complaint? As we discussed on these pages last month as Teddy was fading into his final reward, the system just tossed out was a direct result of the Kennedy/Kerry machine's last change in Massachusetts law. And in both cases, the people of the Commonwealth were never heard from.

You see, the last time the Senator wanted a change, there was a Republican in the Massachusetts state house, and the Kennedys were sure as hell not going to allow him to put a Republican Senator into Congress. So they hastily threw together a new law in the legislature leaving the seat vacant until the Democrats could elect their own man three to six months down the road. Better to have only one Senator than to have a Republican incumbent to face at the special election. The people of Massachussets were not consulted.

And they weren't consulted this time either. The chances that Kennedy would have been replaced at a special election by another liberal Democrat approach 100%. But it would be too late for his replacement to get into Congress in time to vote on Obama socialized medicine. So in his barely living will, Kennedy ordered his entrenched minions to change the law, preferably before the flight of angels took him to his rest, but afterwards if necessary.

So the legislature once again hastily changed the law, giving the governor (left-wing Obama supporter Deval Patrick) the power to appoint a Senator and to set an election 90 days hence. But the legislature did not provide for immediate appointment, so the governor simply declared an emergency and did it anyway. And dead Ted gets his way. Of course the Democrats are certainly willing to let the people make a fair choice, since everybody knows it's going to be a Democrat who gets appointed, right?

Wrong. The politicians in the capital had several names in the hopper, and Democratic caucuses and statewide political activists also suggested viable nominees. And they settled on a widely-popular elder Massachussets statesman--George Dukakis. However foolish he may have looked with his pinhead sticking up out of an army tank during the Presidential election, he remained a much beloved figure in Massachusetts. He is known to support Obamacare, and had an extremely liberal record while in office.

But once again, the hand of Ted Kennedy reached out from the grave, with some help from his extended family. Adding political manipulation on top of political manipulation, the Kennedys decided that Dukakis just wouldn't do. It must be either a Kennedy, or a Kennedy intimate. And so it was. Paul Kirk was the choice of Kennedy's second wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Ted Kennedy Jr., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. He was one of Ted's closest confidantes and advisers. At age 71, it is unlikely that he will attempt to hold onto the seat at the election, giving the Kennedy machine plenty of time to come up with a younger candidate whom they can control.

So despite a pending lawsuit filed by Republican legislators to stop the appointment from going forward (a judge rejected the suit at close of business on Friday), the annointing has gone forward with undue haste. With the court case still under advisement on Friday, crazy Joe Biden showed up in the US Capitol to swear the new Senator in at 3:55 PM. A large contingent of the Kennedy family was there, along with a substantial number of Kennedy's staff, prominent Democrats, and a few Republicans Congress critters. Noticeably missing from the whole affair were the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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Question: Favorite Sport?

With football season, hockey season and curling season upon us, it’s time to find out what everybody’s favorite sport is and why? We need the info for our records. Do you follow your college basketball team? Your local pro-football team? Or that cool luge team that mows your lawn for beer money in the off season? Fill us in, help us complete your dossier. [+] Read More...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Leadership From Dummies: Eric Cantor

I want to be a Republican. I believe in much of what the Republican party stands for. But they make it so very hard. Our party seems to be cursed with a leadership that consists of weak-kneed hacks, incompetent bumblers, and fools. I wouldn’t hire a single one of them to represent me in my personal affairs, yet I am stuck with these idiots representing my views in politics. This does not make me happy. The latest example of their endless stupidity? Heir-to-the-throne Eric Cantor.

Many of you have never heard of Eric Cantor, which is an indictment in and of itself. Cantor, the House Minority Whip, is a youngish, five-term Republican from central Virginia. He is the only Jewish Republican in the House and, by all appearances, he is being groomed for bigger and better things by the party machinery. Whether that means Speaker of the House, leader of the party or President is not clear. But what is clear, Cantor does not understand politics.

Cantor first appeared on my radar screen in August 2008, when Cantor’s name was raised as a possible running make for joke-candidate John McCain -- though apparently McCain never actually considered Cantor (which does go in Cantor’s favor).

Since that time, the party seems to have made a special effort to put Cantor forward as the part-time face of the party (except when they found other obscure party members who were willing to deliver poor speeches). For example, Cantor took the point in the Republican opposition to the Stimulus Bill. And he seems to have had some sort of role in the health care debate, though it’s not clear that the Republicans actually took a position in that debate.

But Cantor really hasn’t distinguished himself. Indeed, despite many public appearances it is unlikely the public could pick him out of a one-person lineup. And this has to do with his incredibly underwhelming performances. His delivery is flat and indifferent, his knowledge suspect, his points are bland and meandering, and his commentary is about as biting as a stuffed Snoopy doll.

Consider, for example, his stirring opposition to Nancy Pelosi’s plan to appoint a car czar. Cantor called her plan. . . wait for it. . . “bureaucratic.” Whoooo hoooo! Who’s ready to grab a pitchfork and follow Eric into the gates of hell?! Nobody huh? Maybe Eric should have said:
“The use of czars upsets the constitutional balance of powers. It allows the Executive to make law and it eliminates judicial review. This is illegal under the Constitution, it violates our agreement with the government, and it leads to the types of abuses the Constitution was meant to prevent. Our government is a government of laws, not of men. The use of czars flips this on its head and makes our government totalitarian in nature.”
Or, if he doesn't like quoting me, he could have said:
The rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials.

As presidential assistants and advisors, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials and to virtually anyone but the president. They rarely testify before Congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.
That’s Robert Byrd (D-WV) schooling young Eric in how to be a Republican.

When the health care debate began, Eric waited and waited and waited and then he promised that the House Republicans would release an alternative health care plan. They didn’t. Instead, he went on a listening tour. . . a listening tour. Despite having months (if not years) to prepare a Republican counter proposal, Eric went on a listening tour. Listening tours are public relations distractions intended to make people think that you aren’t a clueless moron with no ideas.

And what did this listening tour lead to? Nada. Eventually, the Republicans released a four page list of bullet points instead of a plan. Consequently, Cantor continues to get his butt handed to him at town hall meetings because the Republicans don’t have a health care plan alternative. Strangely, he seems content with this.

But none of these failures precipitated this article. This article came about because of an interview Cantor gave the other day to the Politico. Cantor was asked about Nancy “da Freak” Pelosi’s ludicrously insane and disingenuous comments that “vitriol” injected into the health reform debate could end in violence akin to the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in the 1970s. No doubt, he’ll shoot down this stinking pile of Pelosi, right? Let’s look at his response:
“I think she’s living in another world -- I really do.”
Ok, sort of good. Except, why are you weakening your statement by including the words “I think” and then backing up this far-from-bold assertion with the pathetic “I really do”? Insecurity in a politician is a horrible thing Eric. And if you’re afraid to speak your mind without tossing in caveats and qualifiers, then perhaps you should consider another line of work, like becoming a librarian.
“I’m not condoning any of the things that, you know, the media may catch in terms of messages on the signs and what have you.”
W. . . T. . . F?! So right after accusing Pelosi of kind of sort of maybe living in another world, you turn around and *%$&# admit that Pelosi is right about the level of “vitriol”? And not only that, you imply that it’s hidden, and you make the media the arbiter of truth? My advice to you, shut the heck up now Eric. What’s that? You have more to say?
“But I have not run into any violence.”
That’s great Eric, anecdotal evidence is for fools. Besides, you just admitted that it’s out there and the media is finding it, so what’s your point?
“I have not run into crowds running over people. We should want spirited debate, although civil, and I’ve not been anywhere over the last several months where I would even think such a situation where violence is in the offing exists.”
More anecdotal evidence Eric, and no one cares because you already admitted that it’s going on, just like the media said it was. Maybe you should have said, "that's a cheap political tactic used by desperate politician, a failed Speaker of the House, to demonize the American public and I find it disgusting. . . I think. . . kind of. . . and stuff."

Cantor was then asked if he had personally heard any racist remarks. No doubt, this is the moment he shines and redeems himself. This will be the moment his backbone stiffens and his political instincts kick in and he will say:
“This charge of racism disgusts me. These are decent, average, hard working Americans expressing their point of view. And the media and the Democrats are slandering them. The Democrats have nothing to offer except socialism and the people have seen through it. They don’t want what the Democrats are offering and they are making their voices heard. And the Democrats, in a panic are using false charges of race to demonize the American people as a smokescreen for their own failures. You see it in New York, where Patterson is claiming racism to cover up his failures, you see it with Charlie Rangel who is trying to hide his problems behind false charges of racism, and you see it in the desperate attempts of people like Jimmy Carter and Nancy Pelosi to change the terms of the debate. It’s despicable. Even the President has rejected that charge.”
Let’s see. . .
“I’ve certainly seen it on the television screens — but I have not personally run into it.”
F. . . and the horse you rode in on Eric. You just threw several hundred thousand Americans under the bus. But it gets worse, doesn't it Eric, because you kept flapping your lips:
“Certainly, if I did [run into it], I would be as turned off as you would be — it’s abhorrent and it has no role in this discussion. That’s why when Jimmy Carter stepped out and said this about the president’s race, my comment was, ‘That’s abhorrent, that’s living in another world, another time.’”
Yes, what Jimmy Carter said was abhorrent, but then I know that’s not what you meant, is it Eric? Indeed, it’s not. You just sold out your side, Eric. You just helped demonize millions of Americans, Eric. And you did it on the basis of crazy, Jimmy Carter’s opinion. I am too angry to be snarky at this.

Eric, resign.

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Obama Drops A Bomb

President Barack Obama is congratulated by his fellow UN peacemakers for ending the nuclear arms race, bringing love and brotherhood to the world, and starting the final dismantling of the weapons which previously threatened to destroy the planet. Presiding over the UN Security Council, Obama single-handedly brought about non-proliferation and the destruction of all existing nuclear devices. And you thought he wasn't the Messiah!

Don't take my word for it. Here's what the AP had to say about it: "With Obama presiding, the Security Council endorsed a sweeping strategy aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminating them, to usher in a world with undiminished security for all." See? I told you. The Los Angeles Times jumped in with: "The vote gave Obama an early, first step toward his ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons after weeks and months of negotiations."

The resident news agency in the White House, ABC World News, said Obama returned to the United Nations today and spoke of his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, and the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that aims toward that goal." "Imagine," as John Lennon said. CBS and NBC hopped on the bandwagon to point out that even Russia and China signed onto the resolution that slashes the arsenals of nations that have them, and stopping the spread to those who don't. NBC added: "The President is carving out a sweeping new foreign policy vision." Well, NBC, it's not really new, it's just the first time a President presided over the Security Council and pushed such a ridiculous and dangerous idea in the belief that any dictator was actually going to abide by it. Russia and China signed on, and we all know how trustworthy they are.

Hark! I think I just heard a discouraging word! The Washington Post was a bit more forthright writing about the reactions of some of the other permanent members of the Security Council. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that "the whole exercise is a charade, and a forceful reminder to the president that for all his grand ideas and plans, a difficult and dangerous world stands in the way." If the president really wanted to do anything practical toward reducing the danger of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, why did Obama personally see to it that the words specifically referring to North Korea and Iran were removed from the final draft of the resolution? You're not going to get very far in arms reduction and non-proliferation by being afraid of offending rogue states.

Bloomberg News says: "The text doesn't cite Iran [or North Korea] by name, an omission reflecting the difficulty [Obama] will have in achieving a similar consensus on pressuring Iran [and North Korea] to avoid creating or using nuclear weapons." But that doesn't stop the deaf, dumb and blind New York Times from gushing that Obama "moved Thursday to tighten the noose around Iran, North Korea and other nations that have exploited gaping loopholes in the patchwork of global nuclear regulations." By purposefully removing the names of the two rogue nations from the resolution? Liberal wisdom is truly strange. And Obama said nary a word about "tightening up regulations," let alone any kind of serious enforcement. I guess his good intentions will have to do.

Once again, Sarkozy laid it out rather well: "How, before the eyes of the world, could we justify meeting without tackling them (Iran and North Korea). We live in the real world. And the real world expects us to make decisions and enforce them." For all our carping about France, Sarkozy not only makes a good point, but has good reason to say it. America at least has major armed forces. France has only token forces--and the bomb (and effective ways to deliver it). Allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons by inaction and cowardice while expecting France to give hers up offends even a Francophobe like me.

The tone-deaf and outrageously arrogant Obama had attempted to prove how important he was when he said: "I called this summit to make sure that we have a clear path to non-proliferation and the elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide." What a twit! He didn't call any "summit." It was the regular opening day session of the Security Council. And all he had done was take the chair, after removing Iran [and North Korea] from the agenda so that it would be an airy-fairy meaningless resolution instead of a real attempt to stop Iran from going nuclear.

Meanwhile, Russia has been a stumbling block in the way of imposing meaningful sanctions against Iran. After the Security Council resolution was passed, neither Putin nor UN Ambassador Sergey Lavrov indicated any change in Russia's opposition to sanctions against Iran (it is well-known that those two are the real policy-makers, while Prime Minister Medvedev is just a happy-face nonentity in Russian affairs). So if you thought that this was the "secret trade-off" Obama would get for dumping our nuclear defense shield in Eastern Europe, you were sadly mistaken, and foolishly optimistic (much like Obama).

The US-drafted resolution called for "further efforts in the sphere of nuclear disarmament to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and urged all countries that have not signed the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty to do so." Of course, the resolution failed to include mandatory provisions that would have rquired nuclear weapons states to take concrete disarmament steps.

China is one of the signers of the grand resolution. So I guess everything's OK with them, right? Well here's what Chinese President Hu Jintao said after the resolution passed: "We will continue to keep our nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for national security, and make efforts to advance the international disarmament process." And perhaps Obama never heard what Barry Goldwater had to say about China before it went nuclear: "The idea of a billion Chinese armed only with their bare fists scares the hell out of me." Which basically explains the problem with the whole disarmament resolution. Assuming that all the nations actually did comply, and nukes disappeared from the face of the earth, America now becomes a beautiful country, loaded with industry and natural resources, just ripe for the People's Army to march on in. No nuclear wasteland to have to deal with, just pristine new territory for the People's Republic to take over by good old-fashioned invasion.

Even Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom expressed his dismay at the removal of Iran and North Korea from the specifics of the resolution. "If the President intended for this to be meaningful action, why remove the two nations at which it was originally aimed and eliminate the immediate possibility that this resolution will be a work of serious diplomacy instead of a great exposition on a world we will probably never see." Gee, we were asking ourselves the same question way back when Obama's mouthpiece at the UN, Susan Rice, announced that the rogue states were being removed from the wording of the original resolution.

The Great Peacemaker said "the United States refrained from naming countries in the resolution to avoid disagreements with Russia and China." It's a really bad day when England and France both take stronger stands on rogue nations than the United States. And his statement was not entirely true anyway. The resolution, as originally written before Obama got hold of it, did not "refrain from mentioning." Obama purposely and dangerously removed both named terrorist states from the final resolution that he presented to the Security Council.

By the way, Mr. Obama, you love the idea of getting every nation which hasn't signed on to the non-proliferation treaty to do so now. Well then, what about the fact that North Korea did, and then simply announced that it was withdrawing in 2003 when its nuclear development had come to fruition while it was supposedly not doing anything of the kind? Should the United States start dismantling its nuclear weapons on faith? Only to find out that the rogue states were "just kidding?" It doesn't happen, and it's the reason that the original resolution specifically targeted both Iran and North Korea.

And finally, there's the newly-revitalized Russia. Even after the downfall of the Soviet Union, and the spinoff of former satellite states as Russia tried to come back from the brink of total physical and emotional exhaustion, Mr. Putin's nuclear arsenal remains nearly as formidable as ever. The chart to the left shows the growth and diminution of the American-Russian nuclear weapons caches from the beginning of the cold war to today. It's not a comforting picture.

So let's get down to the real nitty-gritty. What exactly did Obama intend to get out of his grandiose plan and successful unanimous resolution? As the Washington Post puts it: "Obama departed New York on Thursday afternoon for the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh with reassurances of his global popularity. His address to the General Assembly on Wednesday was greeted with frequent applause; even long-time antagonists of the United States, includding Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, had kind words for him." In other words, he got just what he wanted. Absolutely nothing concrete, but now his worshippers have spread from little backwards America out to the entire world.

Addendum: After this article was written, more news came to the public attention regarding the nuclear nonproliferation efforts of the Security Council. They obviously don't work. Late afternoon (west coast time), Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarcozy called a special press conference during the G-20 conference to announce (surprise, surprise) that Iran is much farther along in its nuclear enrichment program than previously thought. The tipoff was an entire previously unknown and very sophisticated nuclear lab. Brown said that the U.N. Security Council needed to take immediate and meaningful action against Iran. Sarkozy also added that Iranian assets should be frozen in all banks throughout the world. Obama said "Looky, that isn't really good news."

Reacting to their comments on the discovery and proposed action, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad said "Obama will regret it." Do you get it yet, Mr. President? Your weakness and vacillation and dangerous acceptance of the word of dictators is greeted with nothing but contempt. Brown and Sarkozy propose immediate and serious action against Iran, and who does Ahmadenijad threaten? You. Wake up before it's too late. He knows the other two leaders won't cave in to threats, but he also knows you will do anything to avoid a confrontation that might make you unpopular in the Muslim world.
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Friday, September 25, 2009

The United Nations Serves A Purpose After All

I'm going to take a small side road away from my conservative friends and suggest that the United Nations does indeed serve a purpose. Yesterday's performances demonstrated that fact, in spades. I'm not sure it's worth the billions of dollars we burn supporting it, but then how can you put a genuine value on great theater? Or maybe I should say comic opera. The greatest collection of comedy stars since they broke up the Hollywood Studio System was gathered yesterday in one grand forum that was seen by the entire world.

Sadly, one of the poorest performances of the day was put on by the American president. Obama droned, spouted platitudes, spoke of American unilateralism, and looked far too serious for the silly non-message he was conveying. "Lookey--where would Earth be without this great planet of ours?" And he let us all down by failing to do his well-known levitation routine while raising his arms to heaven to establish the connection. Since we see the president at least once a day, every day, his performance was at best mundane. It's impossible to forget what he looks like, what he sounds like, and how very sincere he is in his own beliefs. So his General Assembly speech didn't have any surprises, we've heard it from him approximately 250 times over the past nine months.

But the rest. Ah, the rest were absolutely sublime. Venezuelan President-for-Life Hugo Chavez told us that the smell of sulphur left behind by President Bush had finally dissipated and had been replaced by the gentle zephyrs of hope which trail behind President Obama. And then he told the United States that it's making a good start, but it has to move faster on socialism (and possibly the one-man, one-vote, one-time concept). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threw a few flowers at Obama, and then went into his holocaust-denying schtick. That produced a highlight of the day--the mass walkout of all the friends of Israel, including all the delegates from the Anglosphere. He went on about how the huge nation of the Zionists was oppressing and murdering the entire tiny Arab and Muslim world. So naturally, Israel has to be wiped off the map.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated "satisfaction" with Obama's speech. That is also known as "damning with faint praise." He then went on to channel lawyer Joseph Welch at the Army-McCarthy hearings by looking out disgustedly at the General Assembly, shaking his head, and saying: "Have you no shame? Have you no decency?" I didn't think Obama's speech was that bad. Oh, wait, he was referring to the body allowing the frothing-at-the-beard Ahmadinejad to speak at all. "To those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say . . . what a mistake. What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations." Beside being very moving, it was also a refreshing change from the usual speakers condemning the United Nations for allowing Israel and the United States to survive.

But no report on the opening session would be complete without a full and fair discussion of the featured speaker, Moammar Qaddafi (please don't correct my spelling, this guy has changed the spelling three times himself). At the end of his speech, it looked like he had just run out of gas on his mission to out-talk Fidel Castro (who set the record for yapping for four hours and twenty minutes). But he did manage to out-crazy Castro. Much of he said was rambling, incoherent, and garbled (even his Arabic translators were having trouble understanding him).

Unlike the others, Qaddafi was effusive in his praise for Obama. After pausing for a bit, he decided it wasn't enough. So he wished out loud that Obama could be America's president forever (all the rest of the guys had to settle for president-for-life). Maybe Qaddafi was buying into the divinity thing for Obama, but I don't think Mohammed or Allah would be too pleased.

After references to the "King of Kings of Africa," and referring to Obama as "our son," he went on to lecture on the JFK assassination, the Martin Luther King assassination, and the origins of swine flu (created in a military lab, or a private pharmaceutical lab, he couldn't decide which). Then he asked the very telling question: "What's next? Fish flu?" What a wit. And for a change of pace, he spent much of the speech excoriating the United Nations itself. Mostly he was ticked off at the Security Council which had declared him a terrorist and his nation a rogue nation a couple of decades back. So he called it "the terrorist council." And to punctuate the thought, he said "now, brothers, there is no respect for the United Nations, no regard for the General Assembly" while tearing off a corner of the U.N. Charter to wave around.

Onward and upward. Next target--Europe. He had gotten his accountants to make a careful calculation, and he had determined that Europe owed the Africans 7.7 trillion dollars for its former colonization of the dark continent. And if they don't pay, "the Africans will go get the money themselves." After 90 exhaustive minutes, Qaddafi probably just forgot to mention the Lockerbie plane bombing, 270 dead passengers, and the triumphal return home of the bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

So--why do I think the U.N. is still important? Every cuckoo who showed us what they really are, and what they really stand for is why I think it. We need to be reminded that these people are not simply pictures from Reuters and AP, exotically sitting in faraway lands, just trying to get along. Each of the vile dictators and oppressors who spoke put himself in our living rooms--up close, and personal. And that is an important thing. We need to see who the enemies are, not just of America, but of everything that is right and decent. We need, as Admiral Yamamoto is attributed with saying, to be an awakened sleeping giant, filled with a terrible resolve.

But I saved Qaddafi for last for a reason. He messed with the United States a few times too often when we still had real leaders. His adopted daughter got blown up by a bomb in 1986 after Qaddafi sponsored several terrorist attacks resulting in American retaliation. For most of the 90s, Qaddafi's country was under international sanctions for refusal to turn over two of the Lockerbie bombers to American or international courts. But in 2003, apparently after hints that the Bush administration might consider Libya to be the next American target for rooting out terrorist havens, he turned over the bombers and renounced his nation's nuclear ambitions.

Since 2003, Qaddafi has been flying under the radar, pretty much ignored by Americans and the American press. He convinced the liberal/left in America that his abandoning of Libya's nuclear plans was strictly humanitarian peace-making. And the New York Times gladly gave him editorial space to make the claim. His fellow dictators didn't believe the conversion, but they certainly believed the deception was working. He was elected head of the African Union and was touted as a great unifier. The Western press bought it hook, line and sinker. They saw a "road to Damascus" conversion in his 2003 actions, and were determined to promote it, but not too loudly. Qaddafi's public redemption continued unabated.

Now look at the effect it has had in Africa. Before 2003, democratic leaders in Africa were free to speak for their nations opposing Qaddafi and his murderous policies. After 2003, no so much. Very recently, Kenya's Prime Minister was interviewed by The New Republic. Raila Odinga offered a very strong critique of the African Union and the dictators involved in unrest on the continent. But when asked how he thought Qaddafi, as head of the AU, could possibly play a constructive role in promoting human rights, he responded that leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe deserve condemnation but don't get it because most of the other leaders don't want their own human rights violations exposed in the process. The New Republic writer pressed the issue by reminding Odinga that he had asked specifically about Qaddafi.

Odinga is the leader of a nearly-western style democracy, and seems genuinely disgusted with the African dictators. But when pressed on Qaddafi, he replied simply: "I don't want to comment on the head of a state which has got a diplomatic relationship with Kenya." It was OK to go after Mugabe and others, but Qaddafi's redemption had reached such a point that even a good man could not bring himself to criticize Qaddafi's ongoing brutal suppression of his own people and attempts to undermine neighboring countries, particularly Chad.

So the Qaddafi U.N. speech served a very useful purpose. There is buzz all over Africa about "the crazy man." And neutral Americans who either didn't know or had forgotten that Qaddafi is a dangerous lunatic were treated to Moammar at his best. All the conservative talk about Qaddafi wasn't worth one minute out of the 90 minutes that Qaddafi used to prove he is stark, staring, nuts and doesn't deserve to sit on an international body, let alone lead anything. Sadly, today (this was written on Thursday) he is sitting in the Security Council a mere five seats away from the American president who is still basking in the glow of his own brilliance and too distracted to know there's a loony in the room.

So I agree with the idea of keeping the United Nations functioning. But I also agree with Qaddafi who thinks it should be moved out of New York. His reasons are somewhat different from mine. He is just angry that it "felt like he was in Guantanamo Detention Center, cut off from the outside world." Mostly he was ticked off that nobody would give him space to set up his gigantic tents and camp out with his multiple female assistants. But the guy with the visage borrowed from Leatherface, and clothes borrowed from Scarlett O'Hara has a point.

My suggestion is Antarctica, where the dictators can go outside the building and strut around with the emperor penguins. The annual dues should be modified as well. Every country, including the United States, should pay $4.98 annually toward the advancement and improvement of the body. All enforcement powers and peace-keeping operations should be terminated immediately. The Security Council should be abolished, and the General Assembly should be renamed "The Generally Crazy Debating Society." Hell, I'd be willing to have the United States double its dues to $9.96 annually just to be able to watch that perpetual TV soap opera about an international lunatic asylum.
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Film Friday: The Game (1997)

The Game is an intelligent noir-style psychological thriller directed by David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) and staring a super talented cast led by Michael Douglas, Deborah Unger and Sean Penn. It is a fascinating character study hidden beneath the veneer of a twisty-puzzle movie. I recommend this movie highly, though for reason that I’ll explain, you might not “like” it.

Before I get into this review, let me give the usual warning that there will be spoilers. However, I will tread lightly on the spoilers because figuring out what is really going on is the point of the movie. In fact, one of the characters even tells you: “don’t ask what the object of the game is, figuring that out is the object of the game.” So please be considerate in the comments, and if you haven't seen it, you might want to avoid the comments (just in case).


The Game tells the story of Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a high powered, ultra-rich, cynical, cold-hearted bastard investment banker. As the story begins, Van Orton’s brother Conrad (Sean Penn) arrives to give Van Orton a birthday gift -- an application to participate in a game. Van Orton soon learns that this is a personally-tailored, “experiential” game, though he doesn’t know exactly what that means.

Van Orton decides to give the game a chance, but after an extensive application process, his application is rejected. Yet, no sooner does he receive this news than the game mysteriously begins. Suddenly, a series of strange events begin occurring in his life. At first these are merely annoying and inconvenient, but soon he discovers that this may be more than a game -- it may be some sort of criminal scheme. Beyond that, I cannot give you any details except to say that the twists and turns are pretty stunning and the ending is fairly spectacular.

So Why Does The Game Work?

The Game is an intelligent and ambitious movie. It is presented as a big puzzle involving a series of twists that occur to Van Orton as he participates in the game. And on that level, the movie is quite solid. But the movie is also a fascinating character study of Nicholas Van Orton, and you really need to understand both parts to get the most out of this movie.
The Game As A Puzzle
On the surface, The Game works well as a puzzle movie. The movie challenges the viewer to solve what is really happening to Van Orton as he moves from event to event. Is it just a game? Is it something more? What do they want with him? Who else is involved?

The movie is well shot and well written. The director creates a fascinating world in which the viewer is easily immersed. It is full of fascinating locations -- from wealthy mansions to rarely used streets of San Francisco. The characters are richly drawn, and the movie is packed with talented actors who are not stars, but should be quite familiar to you on sight, e.g. James Rebhorn (Independence Day, My Cousin Vinny), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Thirteenth Floor, West Wing), Tommy Flannigan (Smoking Aces, Gladiator), and dozens more.

The story is efficient and fast paced, and includes many interesting twists and turns. Twists have become all the rage in Hollywood. In fact, you’ll hear most movies advertised now as having a twist. The problem with twist movies, however, is that most twists are simply gimmicks, i.e. they aren’t organic to the story. In other words, there is little to no evidence in the story to support the twist until it happens, and there is no particular reason in the story that the twist must happen. The classic example of this comes from movies where we suddenly learn, right after the bad guy is defeated, that the hero’s boss or best friend is the real bad guy. There is nothing in the story to make this apparent during the movie and often you get the feeling that the director flipped a coin when he hit the point where he had to reveal who the real bad guy really was. . . heads, it’s the friend; tails, it’s the boss. This is just a gimmick designed to give an otherwise dull movie some depth.

But not all twists are cynically gimmicks. Indeed, some movies use twists to expertly add a second layer to the film -- like The Sixth Sense or The Matrix. The twists in these movies entirely change the motivations of the characters. Other excellent uses for twists include movies where the twist(s) is used to present the viewer with pieces to solve the puzzle presented by the movie. The Game is such a movie. Indeed, the twists here flow naturally from the actions of the characters as they move about their purposes. And this is one of those rare twist movies where you probably won’t see the twists coming, even though the evidence for them can be found as you go along.

However, based on the criticisms I’ve seen, there are two things the viewer needs to realize before the actions of the characters will make sense: (1) Nicholas Van Orton is not an average man, and (2) this is not a normal game:
• Van Orton is brilliant. He is highly capable. His mind makes connections easily. So when, for example, he recalls a particular character eating Chinese food, this is not a plot convenience, but is instead the type of investigation that a particularly observant person could and would undertake. He is also incapable of passing up a challenge. He will not admit defeat. Thus, whereas a typical person might have tried to quit the game once it started, as it starts unpleasantly, Van Orton would rather fight than quit, which he would see as surrendering.

And to help the viewer understand this, the director cleverly puts Van Orton through an application process for the game. In that five minute segment, the audience sees Van Orton insulted, tested, and challenged, and they get to see how his responses reveal his character. They see that he is precise, uptight and always in control, and that he will never admit defeat. They also see how the game people use their new-found knowledge of him against him to hook him firmly into the game by telling him that his application was rejected -- thus turning something he was only curious about into an obsession -- and to manipulate him.

• The viewer also must realize that this game is like no game any of us has ever played. Sure they employ dozens of helpers and spent a ton of money making the game work, but they are also charging Van Orton seven figures to play the game. And while some complain that Van Orton’s conduct is often too perfect for what the game controller need, the viewer should keep in mind that there is always someone nearby to guide Van Orton should he go astray -- as multiple characters will admit during the film. What some would call coincidental was in fact the product of well-planned manipulation.
If you understand this, then The Game presents an interesting and entertaining ride.
Why You Might Not Like The Game
However, many still complain that they did not like the feel of the movie. They complain that the movie was very dark and that they did not like Van Orton. Both criticism are indeed true, but also miss the other point to the movie -- the character study.

The film is indeed starkly shot. Everything is dark, and everywhere are the trappings of extreme wealth, from the high class restaurants, to living rooms that look like steak houses, to the expensive cars, but nothing in the movie appears particularly comfortable. But this was a conscious choice by the director to use the scenery to echo the coldness of Van Orton’s personality. Indeed, the happier characters around him do not occupy such stark settings, and even Van Orton’s settings change throughout the movie. If one is simply looking for a chase movie then this will be disconcerting, but this isn’t just a chase movie.

Similarly, complaints that Van Orton is unlikable miss the fact that this movie is intended, in part, as a character study. If Van Orton was not cold-hearted and cynical, there wouldn’t be much for him to overcome. Let’s look at the character study aspect.
The Game As A Character Study
As noted above, The Game tells the story of Nicholas Van Orton, a high powered, cynical, cold-hearted bastard investment banker. Van Orton lives alone in a mansion, divorced his wife, estranged himself from his drug addict, never-do-well brother Conrad, and is making life miserable for anyone who crosses his path. He is not sadistic, he just lacks even a trace of compassion and tolerance. His world is orderly and he is unchallenged.

However, his character is really quite nuanced. Beneath the surface, Van Orton is haunted by the suicide of his father, who killed himself on Van Orton’s birthday as a child. The movie begins on Van Orton’s birthday. He has turned the same age as his father, when his father killed himself. And everyone seems to want to compare him to his father and to mention the suicide. But rather that trouble Van Orton, this only seems to annoy him. Clearly, he wants to believe that he is over the suicide, but is he really? It is possible that his need to stay in control at all times is an outgrowth of this?

Also, if he is such a rotten man, then why are we given clues that others love him and care deeply about him. And if that’s true, then what happened to change him?

As the movie goes on, Van Orton finds his life starting to spin out of control. Annoying things happen to him at first, then dangerous things. Soon the game is interfering with his work and making him question reality. He starts coming apart at the seams. And then things really start to go wrong.

That is the moment that the real Van Orton must shine through. Is he a petty tyrant who makes everyone around him fear him to get what he wants, or is he really a skilled, intelligent, capable man who can overcome challenges that face him? Can he preserver or will he give up? These are all questions that he must answer. As he does, we see his character slowly revealed and begin to change. Slowly, but surely, we see if he can become a better man as he is pushed to the edge.

And Michael Douglas is the perfect actor to pull this off. Not only do we easily believe the cold-hearted bastard that he portrays at the beginning of the film (sort of a humorless Gordon Gekko), but Douglas has the acting ability to make us feel the character’s growth, and to really feel for him as he finally swallows his pride and does things that are surprising.


All told, The Game is not the most pleasant movie, but it is an intelligent, entertaining and surprising movie. It has a great story and great characters. It is interestingly shot and full of depth, and it creates a fascinating world in which one can easily get immersed. I highly recommend it.

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