Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random Thoughts Blogging

Re: NewsMax calling for the Violent Overthrow of the American Government:

Look, people are nutty, particularly these days.  There are nuts on the left and nuts on the right.  So, please take this statement the right way: if this was a columnist on a left-wing website that received money from the DNC, and he was talking about Bush, there would be an absolute shitstorm over this column.  That website would have been forced to shut its doors, and the Republicans would use the name of that website as a smear.  I know this because they did the same thing when someone uploaded a video to their site comparing Bush to Hitler. 

But, because it was a columnist writing on a right-wing website (that's supported by the RNC), we hear nothing about it.  Why?  I could argue that the media has a conservative bias, which it does, but in this case, I put the blame solely on the Democrats.  Why isn't Robert Gibbs out there demanding an apology from the RNC?  Where is the outrage?  Oh, and as far as I'm aware, advocating for the violent overthrow of the United States Government is still a crime.  So long as Democrats aren't willing to stand up for themselves, no one else will either.

Roman Polanski Getting Picked up in Switzerland: First rule of the criminal justice system is don't piss off the judge.  The second rule of the criminal justice system is don't piss off the DA.  Polanski did that, while running from the law because he raped a 13 year old girl.  Sorry, people, but this wasn't a seduction, it was a full-on rape.  Its not as if he gave her the opportunity to say yes (though her capacity to consent was iffy at best); he drugged and raped a 13 year old girl.

That said, I can understand why people want to give the guy some slack.  After all, he's one hell of a filmmaker.  His movies aren't just good, they're classics.  Plus, the guy is a Holocaust survivor and had his pregnant wife and unborn son brutally murdered by the Manson family.  If I had a friend who went through any of that, I'd be willing to overlook the fact that the guy was a total douche for 10-20 years.  The one thing about life is, black and white don't exist.  Polanski is many things - a rapist and child molester, a brilliant artist, a tragic figure, a survivor.   Oh, and he definitely should go to prison.

Finance Committee's Failure on the Public Option: I can understand the need for some Democrats to be more conservative than others.  People have the right to vote for the person who represents their interests, and by virtue of geography, some areas are more conservative than others.  That said, being a Democrat is supposed to mean something.  There has to be an underlying set of ideals that drive the party forward, that every Democrat should support.  Health care reform has been part of the Democratic Party's agenda since Truman.  Health care isn't a new-fangled invention or a new social issue, but a bedrock Democratic position.  So, if these Democrats aren't with us on economic issues, and aren't with us on social issues, when will they be with us?  More importantly, why should I support them?

Obama and the Olympics: Look, I like Obama and all, but even I think this is stupid.  The President has better things to do with his time, like whipping the Senate Finance Committee to do its fucking job.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More Top Chef Blogging

I'm a political junkie, but I have to admit, I'm getting pretty tired of the health care debate.  Yes, I know, most of you were there 6-8 months ago.  Anyway, rather than another blog about health care, here's more Top Chef blogging.

One of the things that struck me about this season is the intensity of the competition.  One of the favorites, Kevin, said in last night's show that he was happy to be remaking a mole because the judges didn't like his last mole.  He also said that he needed to cook his food, and be more focused. 

Now, these are the sort of things I hear a lot from competitors, particularly those who rise from the bottom to the top (in this case, Ashley, the lesbian who desperately needs to wash her hair, fits the bill).  But Kevin wasn't on the bottom at all.  He was consistently one of the top performers in this competition, and the judges have consistently liked his dishes.  Its just that in the past episode, the judges liked some of the other dishes more.  In other words, Kevin appears to equate not being in the top 3-4 to losing.

And that's a level of competitiveness that hasn't been part of Top Chef in past seasons.  Usually, there are more than a few chefs who skate - trying to do enough to keep them in the competition rather then trying to win every Elimination Challenge - and at some point, the Head Judge berates them for it (particularly last season).  This season, everyone is pushing themselves very, very hard.  I think there's a couple of reasons for this:

1) Sibling Rivaly: Two of the top competitors, Bryan and Mike, are brothers.  Both men are highly regarded chefs, and run excellent restaurants (Mike has a Michelin star).  Its also clear that they are keeping score as to who wins what, with each man pushing the other.  Together, the brothers Voltaggio have been in the top of every Elimination Challenge from the get-go.  That level of competition has pushed everyone else to step up their game, and fast.  One of the increasingly stronger competitor, the aforementioned Ashley, was almost kicked out early because it took her a couple of challenges to get her sealegs.

2) Better Equipment: In season 2, I believe, Marcel complained about not being able to use a specialized cooking apparatus, and thus overcooked his turkey roulade.  In season 6, the chefs are regularly using liquid nitrogen, the circulator-thingee that Marcel complained of not having, and other high tech gadgets.  As a result, the creative chefs are able to be more creative. 

Lastly, as far as who was forced out - Ron reminds me of Mikey from Season 2 (but without the dickish attitude).  He was clearly outmatched by this competition, but didn't necessarily embarrass himself (unlike Eve and Jennifer). 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quick Thoughts Blogging. . .

Top Chef - I'm a big fan of this show, but like any fan, the whole thing annoys me as well.  Last week the chefs had to cook French food, and this week they had to cook in the desert.  I can understand how a restauranteur would have a love of France because the French perfected how to run a restaurant, including how a restaurant should be run.  But it should also be noted that, as any good foodie knows, most of the mother French sauces actually come from Italy, not France.  And French cuisine isn't necessarily better than any other country's cuisine.  In fact, the best chef in the world, Adria, is Spanish, not French.

The Western focus really does hurt chefs from other cuisines.  The Season 3 winner, Hung Huyuh, was criticized all season long for not cooking from the heart (not cooking Asian cuisine), but was given a Western kitchen and only had access to Western ingredients.  It was only in the final, when he could use ingredients of his own choosing that his "heart" showed through.  Duh.

The desert thing was interesting - but where was the refrigeration?  Do the producers want their judges to die?  I am impressed by the high level of competition this year, and it is clear that chefs at the bottom probably would've been mid-level contestants in previous years.  There are at least chefs who regularly produce high quality food (the Voltaggios, Kevin, Jen) and a couple others capable of doing the same (Mike I., Eli, Ashley, Ash) when motivated.  The brother thing is probably driving this show a lot further than in past seasons because the Voltaggios are really pushing each other (to the point where both are keeping track of who wins what), and that, in turn, pushes the other chefs to step up their game.

Baucus Health Care Plan - The Finance Chairman released his proposal for health care reform - which he had been working on with the more conservative members of the Democratic Party and with the Republicans for the past several months - and it stinks.  If anything, its going to make health care more expensive for middle-class families.  This happened, in large part, because he was more interested in Republican support than writing a good bill.  Anyway, with luck, this plan will get redone in committee.

My Health Care Reform Plan - So you know, my plan would essentially be a catastrophic insurance plan.  Everyone pays in via an increase in the income tax, and then would be covered for any expenses over 1/3 of their income.  So, if you make $60k a year, you pay the first $20k of expenses, and the Govt. pays the rest.  If you can't afford $20k, get insurance - which will be cheaper because the insurance company knows its only on the hook for $20k, max.  Oh, and the cost of said insurance would count as part of the first 1/3. 

Beck and 9/12ers - In response to Joe Wilson's claim that Obama lied about illegal immigrants not getting benefits under health care reform (which is, itself, a lie), the fearful Baucus put in stringent proof of citizenship requirements into his crappy bill.  Way to stand up for your President, Max.  In the past few months, the Democrats have shown a willingness to be overly courteous to Republicans.  As a result, we can't get anything done.  So, here's an idea - tell the GOP to go Cheney themselves.  Or rather, stop trying to make the opposition happy - they're trying to prevent the Democrats from doing anything.   This is their stated goal.  Educate the public, but don't be afraid to steamroll the opposition.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obama and Racism

So it appears that 60,000 to 70,000 people protested yesterday in a somewhat impressive showing of frustration with Obama's policies from conservatives.  Now, the reason this is somewhat impressive is because conservatives aren't generally the protesting type.  So, its kinda like seeing San Diego State play okay against UCLA - sure, they didn't win, but they didn't lose as badly as you thought they would.  Or, in this case, sure 60,000 isn't huge, but its a lot higher than you'd intially expect.   On the other hand, lying about the number of people there is pretty pathetic.  You had a decent turnout teabaggers, but you didn't match the Inauguration.

Anyway, in the various blogs today (Andrew Sullivan, TPM, etc) a discussion is ongoing about how much of the protests against Obama are race inspired.  And if that wasn't enough, "Mad Men" had a scene in which some executives chose not to advertise in Black media because they didn't want to be associated with African Americans.  Couple those two things with my past experience as a civil rights attorney, and you got yourself a blog post in waiting.

First off, I loved the whole storyline in "Mad Men" regarding the African American market.  The awkwardness of the ad exec when he's questioning the only African American he knows, followed by the executives openly deriding the idea of advertising in African American media (despite being told that it was both cheaper and would increase sales more effectively) was a great example of the dichotomy of racism in the U.S.  Pete's questioning of the elevator operator about why the guy bought an RCA television was classic and awkward and there's no doubt that the operator will now think that Pete is a racist.  But, Pete isn't a racist, he's just awkward in general, and his pitch to the Admiral TV guys shows that where there's an opportunity, he'll take it.  Money trumps race.

The Admiral TV guys, meanwhile, are out and out racists.  Even told that they could both increase their sales and lower their advertising costs by reaching out to the African American market, they not only pass at the opportunity, but they look disgusted by the very idea of it.  In their eyes, race trumps profit.

And therein lies the dichotomy.  Racism can be perceived when actors are, in fact, completely awkward around people of a different race because they don't know anyone outside their race.  In that instance, integration can help alleviate the problem.  As people get to know one another, the awkwardness ends.   I would say that most Americans fall into this area - they're not racist, but racially awkward.  Race for these individuals is easily trumped by other considerations.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the true racists.  A study undertaken in 2000 indicated that approximately 20% of the time, minority groups (African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and Native Americans) received negative treatment when attempting to buy or rent a home.  The study was based upon testing - where two people (one white person and one person of a minority group) apply for the same housing around the same time.  The person in the minority group has slightly better qualifications than the white person.  Yet, in 20% of the housing opportunities tested, the housing provider gave the white person better treatment, and race trumped profit.  For individuals such as the Admiral TV guys, there's nothing that can be done to change their minds.

So back to the original issue, are the teabaggers racist?  Mostly no.  For instance, the socialism charge is dumb, but its the same charge made against every Democratic President since FDR.  If anything, I think most of the protesters are racially awkward, abet moreso then most.  But I think that people like Glenn Beck are purposely stoking racial fears.  The whole thing about Obama seizing guns comes right out of the "Turner Diaries," the racist tome that inspired Timothy McVeigh.  Birtherism is a direct result of the fears that Obama is a secret Muslim who wants to destroy America.  This fear is stoked by the fact that Obama is African American and has a Muslim sounding name. 

One poll done on the birthers, shows that of Republicans, 42% believe that Obama is a U.S. Citizen, 30% are unsure, and 28% believe that he isn't.  I would state to you that the 28% are racist, the 30% are uninformed, and the 42% are normal people.  Anyway, here's my point to the whole blog post - you can work with the racially awkward and people who have honest disagreements about policy.  That's 72% of Republican voters.  But that 28% will never, ever, relent or compromise.  Race trumps all other considerations in their eyes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Doing Something Old School to "Protect Marriage"

One of my favorite blogs is the Slog, the blog of the Stranger, Seattle's alternate weekly, and edited by the sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who writes Savage Love, and with the help of his readers gave relatively innocent words like "pegging," "saddlebacking," and "Santorum" alternative meanings, all of which have something to do with anal sex.  Google these words if you want to know what I'm referring to.  Anyway, Dan Savage is gay and so same-sex marriage is important to him. 

In one of his blog posts yesterday, he found a new initiative to "protect" marriage in California.  Check out this website:  Like most liberals, I opposed efforts to prohibit same-sex marriages, for a variety of reasons - consenting adults should be able to love who they want to love.  While most so-called "Christians" strongly oppose same-sex marriage, it should be noted that Jesus wiped away the old law (Leviticus), and the only part of the New Testament that refers to homosexuality comes from Paul.  And while Paul should be respected, his word isn't law.

On the other hand, Jesus arguably opposed all divorces.  In fact, that's why even today the Catholic Church does not sanction divorce.  Instead the Catholic Church annuls marriages, that is, it declares that the marriage never existed.  And to some degree, I have to agree with the Catholic approach.  Of course, I'm a lawyer, and so the legalistic approach speaks to me on very deep levels.

That said, I don't think that divorce should be illegal anywhere.  Keeping two people together who don't want to be is a recipe for very bad things.  We all know of people who are together and shouldn't be, and in those instances, divorce is a godsend (no pun intended).  But if we're going to use Christian law to govern our relationships, then let's be consistent.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tila Tequila v. Shawne Merriman

Getting outside of politics for one day, I wanted to write a little bit about the Shawne Merriman/Tila Tequila incident that occurred on Sunday evening.  I am, after all, a huge, huge Charger fan.  At the same time, I am currently a NBA fan without a team because of the Kobe Bryant incident in Colorado.  Still, there is a difference between the NBA and the NFL.  For one, San Diego doesn't have a NBA team.  Plus, the Chargers are in no way wedded to any player, not even LaDanian Tomlinson, so Merriman can go at any time.

This is a long way of saying that I'm completely conflicted about this.  Or rather, I have no idea what or who to believe.  Is it possible that Tila Tequila is telling the truth, and that Merriman struck her, choked her and tried to keep her in his home.  Yes, that's entirely possible.  Unfortunately, there are a fair number of NFL players, even the "good" guys who beaten the women close to them.  If the whole O.J. thing taught us, its that you don't know these guys at all.  Moreover, football is a violent sport and takes a certain kind of mentality to succeed.  Linebackers are known especially for their aggressiveness and ability to get angry fast, because they need that to run through a line, beat off the block of a man 50 lbs. heavier and put a hurting on a someone.  Then again, Merriman doesn't have a history of domestic violence.

At the same time, and not to attack the victim here, but Tila Tequila isn't exactly the most reliable witness.  She tweets that she's allergic to alcohol and so she never drinks, but also tweets about being drunk.  She cleverly used MySpace, and later MTV, to bolster her career by appearing to be promiscuous and bisexual.  Her whole image is based on being a party girl - the kind of girl who'd get drunk and crazy.

And ultimately, its that image that makes Merriman's claim that he was restraining Ms. Tequila to prevent her from driving drunk believable.  Can I believe that Tila Tequila got drunk at a nightclub?  Yes, yes, I think I can.  Can I believe an intoxicated Tila Tequila decided to drive home drunk?  Absolutely - particularly if she got into an argument with Merriman.  Can I see Merriman trying to prevent her from driving drunk?  Of course!  After all, the last he would want is the attention he'd get from having Tequila arrested driving drunk when coming home from his house (ironic, I know).

The other question I have is about the extent of Tequila's physical injuries.  Shawne Merriman weighs around 270 pounds, Tequila weighs around 95 pounds.  Merriman hurts people professionally, and does it well.  So, how could an enraged, and probably drunken, Merriman not have left a mark on her?  He leaves marks on men who weigh over 300 lbs, and are covered head to toe in body armor.  She claims he hit her, choked her and held her down - but there's nary a mark.

I guess what I saying is that I just don't know.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Fallacy of Tort Reform in the Health Care Debate

Last night, as a gesture to the Republicans, President Obama signaled that he would be willing to discuss medical malpractice tort reform as part of an overall health care package. In very short order, let me throw some cold water on this idea. Here are two reasons why tort reform is not going to work:

1) Federal Courts don't do Med/Malpractice Cases: Under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, Federal Courts only take cases where Congress says its okay for them to take cases. The types of cases that go to Federal Court are either cases involving a federal statute (Civil Rights Act), or involve "diversity" wherein two people from different states sue each other. Medical Malpractice cases, by and large, fit neither of these bases of jurisdiction. Med/Mal (as we lawyers call it), is a negligence tort - that is, the Doctor hasn't violated the law, per se, but rather, has failed to act competently. There's no statutory basis for Med/Mal, but its part of the area of law called the "common law" - the stuff that we got from England. So, no statute, no jurisdiction. Additionally, Med/Mal typically involves people who live within the same state. So, there's almost never diversity jurisdiction. Oh, and Federal judges know this, and HATE to take cases they don't have to take. At any point in any federal litigation, even before the Supreme Court, someone can throw a monkey wrench into a lawsuit by questioning federal jurisdiction.

This point is important because Congress and the President only have the authority to change Federal law. You know that 10th Amendment that Conservatives talk about, well, here's where it comes into play. The Feds can create a law that supercedes State law, but that doesn't mean state law goes away. Hence, the California law on medical marijuana, wherein State authorities (the police) will let someone go for possession if they have the medical marijuana card (or whatever it is), but the Feds can, and have readily, arrested people for possession. So even if the Feds were to outlaw all Med/Mal cases, or limit the damages, it would only apply to those cases brought before a Federal judge (which is a ridiculously small amount).

2) Tort Reform Won't Help Much: Since 1975, California has had limits on Med/Mal cases of the kind the Republicans talk about. These limits are found in MICRA, and the details of the law can be found here. Basically, MICRA limits the amount that someone can recover from a Med/Mal case, requires arbitration, etc. Look, read the description. Anyway, since its enactment, MICRA has been the darling of the California Medical Association. The mere mention of changing even a comma is practically a call to jihad. If you ask the CMA, MICRA is the foundation upon which doctors can practice medicine in California.

Strangely enough, though, medical costs continue to go up in California, more or less at the same rate as everywhere else in the country. And one of the worst instances of insurer neglect came from California. Read the sad story here. Even though California has MICRA, the medical malpractice reform that the GOP wants, Californians have the same problems with health care as everyone else - its too expensive to go without insurance, and the insurance they get is bad.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts on Torture

Over the past year, I've written about torture at a few of my other blogs (and those reading this post probably know what I'm referring to), but mostly I've narrowed in on the issue of efficacy, and not some of the other issues in the discussion.

For those of you who haven't benefited from my prior postings, allow me to sum up the efficacy argument thusly - torture is highly effective in getting someone to talk, but what is said is likely to be false because the motivation is to stop the torture, not to tell the truth. So, in the ticking time bomb scenario, an Al Qaeda operative is probably more likely to lie and give false information to his interrogators, so that he can a) stop the torture; and, b) still manage to complete the mission. And if torture doesn't work in the ticking timebomb scenario, it sure as hell doesn't work in any other scenario.

Of course, there is more to the torture debate then efficacy, and that's what I'm blogging about today. First, of all, there is a moral question - should the U.S. torture suspects? As someone who believes that America can be a shining city on the hill, and that America should aspire to such heights, I absolutely think that America should not torture. As even a nominal Christian, the idea of torturing someone when I am supposed to turn the other cheek is abhorrent.

But imposing my moral qualms is hardly democratic, so let me try to appeal to your reason. Torture, even if effective, hurts us in the War on Terror. One of the things I've heard over and over since 9-11 is that Al Qaeda is different from any enemy we've faced before. While that's somewhat true, Al Qaeda operatives are more willing to die for their cause, the truth is we've faced enemies like Al Qaeda before. The difference is that where Al Qaeda kills for the sake of killing, these other enemies killed for the sake of profit.

I am referring to the Mafia, the KKK and Jesse James. While they weren't necessarily enemies of the State or terrorists, both the Mob and the James Gang depended on local support to protect them. Missouri, post-Civil War was a wasteland, and as was the rest of the South. The James Gang was able to use this deep-seated anger towards the North to their advantage and hide from the authorities. The Klan was able (and still able in some circumstances) to do the same. The Mob, similarly, was protected by the Italian populace in part out of frustration with life in a new country.

In all three examples, the power and/or influence of these groups waned as their supporting populations declined. The James Gang was beaten by a town in Minnesota; prosecutions against the Klan increased as people became more accepting of African-Americans, and the Mafia has seen similar declines as the Italian American population has moved to the suburbs. Now, that's not to say that there are no Mafioso or Klansmen anymore, every population has its nutjobs, but without the support of the community, these guys are quickly rooted out.

Al Qaeda works in the same way. It depends on the populace of Islamic countries to allow it to hide in plain sight. In this, Iraq is a good example. Prior to Iraq War, Al Qaeda had little to no presence in Iraq (except for a base in the Kurdish area), because its target audience - Sunnis - were, for the most part, big supporters of the Hussein regime. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Sunnis lost power, and then turned to Al Qaeda for support in their fight against the Shi'a, and the U.S., and Al Qaeda in Iraq had some pull. From the local population, they got material support, recruits and a place to hide - all resources used to kill American soldiers. But when the Sunni leadership in Iraq cut a deal with the U.S., all of Al Qaeda's Iraqi support dried up, and they became completely ineffective.

Here's where torture comes into play: if we need the support of local populations to eliminate Al Qaeda (and we do), then doing anything to antagonize these populations is self-defeating. Torturing suspects to gather information is absolutely antagonizing, and only serves to create more Jihadists and provide Al Qaeda more support. In fact, Al Qaeda's strategy is to get the U.S. to torture and do other similarly self-defeating things to fire up the Islamic world.