Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Filibusters

Once again, I delve into the random processes of my brain. Consider yourself warned.

Senate Filibusters - One of my favorite websites back in the day was Rotten.com - not for the disgusting pictures, but rather for their very interesting take on various things. Sort of like a wikipedia for cynics. Anyway, I mention this because through this website I learned that the term "filibuster" comes from a group of guys who tookover random countries in Central America during the 19th Century. Seriously, there was an American who just decided one day to take over Nicaragua, got a bunch of his friends together, and actually did it.

In the legislative sense, the filibuster is a way of the minority to kill bills in the Senate. As of right now, it takes 60 votes to kill a filibuster (that is, cut off debate so that people can actually vote on the bill), which means that virtually nothing can pass the Senate. As a result, a lot of good legislation ends up getting killed because the party in charge doesn't have the votes. In the past year, we have been stuck with a too-small stimulus package and a health care reform bill that isn't all that. Its as if the Democrats weren't in charge.

So, on one hand, the filibuster sucks. On the other hand, if I was a Republican right now, I'd be all in favor of filibusters. And that's the basic problem. So, in terms of resolving this conundrum, allow me to suggest the following: no filibusters for legislation (or drop the cloture threshold to 55) but keep it with judicial nominations.

Here's why - people want legislatures to do stuff. They want legislation to flow and change with the times. But because of the arcane rules of the Senate (mostly) almost no legislation is passed. And that's a shame because a well-functioning legislature can be a good thing. Moreover, if the legislation is bad, removing the filibuster makes repealing bad legislation easier too.

At the same time, judges are a different story. A Federal Judge receiving confirmation gets a lifetime appointment, and has the power to nullify legislation and can even order the President of the United States to act - the power is enormous. So, in this instance, forcing a supermajority to confirm a judge is a good thing.

By the way, calling me a hypocrite for this position is perfectly fair - I am essentially changing my earlier position with regards to legislation. At the same time, something has to be done to fix Congress and make it more responsive to the people. Yes, I know that Madison wanted a Congress that was less inclined to follow the whims of the public, but we're in ridiculous territory here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hooray Beer!

Per the Men's Journal San Diego is the best beer town in the country. Suck it Portland! Anyway, in a belated post, being the week after Beer Week, I thought I'd write a tribute to beer in my hometown. Hooray Beer!

Contrary to the blandness that tends to befall San Diego (the result of waves of immigrants from the Midwest and elsewhere), the craft brews in San Diego have a distinctive local flare. In this case, we're talking about hops - the bitter herb used in the brewing process to preserve beer, and to give it aroma and spice. The classic San Diego style beer is the double IPA (which I could describe, but I much prefer that you all go and try it). The leader in this overhopped revolution is Stone Brewery, maker of such beers as Arrogant Bastard Ale (my favorite is Stone's IPA).

Interestingly, there is a second school of San Diego brews focusing on Belgian style ales. Of particular note is the Lost Abbey Brewery, which makes beers that have all the complexity of the best Belgian ales. My personal favorite is the Ten Commandments Ale.

But here's what I love about beer in San Diego - we have a lot of breweries to satisfy you. Check out this site for information on other breweries.

With all that said, for the life of me, I can't figure out how San Diego managed to pull this off. Los Angeles, which normally dominates everything in Southern California, has a pretty crappy beer scene. While there are Mexican breweries nearby (Tecate is made in Northern Baja, just south of the Border), none of them make the kinds of beer that San Diegans are drinking.

Moreover, the great cultural plague of my city is the constant flux of people moving in and out of San Diego. Most of the people I know in San Diego are from somewhere else. As a result, people tend to look outside of San Diego for culture. So we have Bronx Pizza (makes pizza "just like home"), and Lefty's Chicago Pizzeria, etc. For the longest time, it appeared that San Diego didn't have a culture of its own. The rise of craft brewing in San Diego shows that we do. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm getting thirsty. Hooray Beer!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Mammograms

As per the recent Slate.com article, the Feds are not suggesting that breast cancer screening begin in earnest at age 50, instead of 40, and that self-exams are a waste of time.  Now, as a straight man, I absolutely opposed to this notion, as it increases the risk to one of the things that makes life worth living: boobs.

That said, it appears that the Feds are basing their recommendation on sound statistical evidence.  If you ever, on a theological basis, wanted to know how God can know everything, but yet still allow free will, then study statistics, or more specifically, the law of big numbers.  The bigger the sampling data, the more you can predict virtually anything.  So, as someone who believes in statistics, the Feds are probably right on this one.

But here's the problem: a woman deciding to start mammograms at 40 or 50 isn't going to play the percentages the way that I might.  That's because, if the woman chooses wrongly, SHE DIES A HORRIFICALLY PAINFUL DEATH.  Or, at least, she becomes disfigured and suffers greatly.  Given that a HORRIFICALLY PAINFUL DEATH and/or DISFIGUREMENT is highly disfavored, women will, by and large, choose to continue to getting mammograms at 40, as well as do self-exams.

12-Year-Old Boy Scouts Volunteer To Give Women Breast Exams

All jokes aside, this represents a fundamental issue in health care - when faced with a risk of death, people will tend to overconsume health care.  And, let's face it, when choosing between extra expense and HORRIFICALLY PAINFUL DEATH, the odds go out the window.  That's why Doctors don't compete based on price, but rather, on the services they provide.  Medicine is the only market where competition raises costs. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Sarah Palin

I remember where I was when McCain picked Sarah Palin distinctly - I had just broken up with my fiancee, and for Labor Day, I went to stay with my friends Eric and Jessica, at their place in Santa Clara (speaking of which, St. Joe is a far better name for San Jose than San Jose: it fits the town better).  Anyway, I remember the announcement and thinking - wait, isn't she the one who fired her brother-in-law up in Alaska or something.   I thank Talkingpointsmemo.com for that.

Anyway, my thinking thereafter was primarily based on strategy - Sarah Palin had very little experience in politics, and that by picking Palin, McCain screwed up his best narrative against Obama - that he was simply not ready to become President.  That narrative was so strong that Obama picked Biden to cover his ass.  Not only did Palin kill that narrative, but she caused all kinds of headaches for the McCain campaign.  It got to the point where McCain wouldn't let Palin give a concession speech (which, as it turns out, is relatively common in Presidential elections).

As we move forward to 2012, Palin is now on everyone's minds.  Well, that and the fact that her putative son-in-law is posing for Playgirl, and Palin is putting out a book that she "cowrote" and was on Oprah and everything.  So, allow me a few thoughts on Palin, from best to worst:

1) She's got "It" - Most candidates and politicians are like everyone else - they are relatively uninspiring, and modestly charismatic.  Some politicians, though, ooze charisma from their pores.  Obama's got It, Clinton has It, and Bush, to some extent, had It.  And, Sarah Palin has It.  When Sarah speaks, people react with cheers or jeers, but no one yawns.  That's why, even as Palin created headache after headache, McCain thought, and probably still thinks, that Palin was the best thing for his campaign.  The McCain of 2008 didn't have the It factor that McCain had in 2000.  Moreover, Palin is the only Republican that has the It factor right now.

2) She's Ruthless - Palin refers to herself as the pitbull in heels, and she is definitely that.  Like any good politician, Palin has no qualms about throwing anyone under the bus.  That's a good thing.

3) She doesn't have much else - Herein lies the disaster for the GOP: Sarah Palin doesn't have the depth or convictions to run for President.  She's not just inexperienced, but she's anti-experience, anti-intellectual, anti-depth.  If, however, she buckles down, studies and gains some knowledge, she can be formidible.  As we saw in California with Ahnuld, a little bit of knowledge with a lot of charisma is a powerful combination.  But she has to be smart enough to pull it off.

And here's where Palin can be a real problem for the GOP - the base of the Party loves her, and is willing to cut her slack and that's the worst thing that can happen.  For independents to take Palin seriously, she's going to have to be very strong on at least a few issues.  The more popular Palin is, though, the less likely she's going to work hard enough to get strong enough.  I could very well see Palin taking the nomination and then getting absolutely crushed by Obama.

4) Drama, Drama, Drama - Obama is fascinating because his talents are otherworldly - he's the Superman of oration - but most politicians who are "fascinating" are trainwrecks who create drama.  Does Oprah and her viewers really care about Obama's puppy?  Not really, but the idea that Superman washes dishes and puts his pants on one leg at a time is interesting.  Palin, on the other hand (like Clinton), has a son-in-law posing naked (or mostly naked), an allegedly abusive brother-in-law, a teenage unwed mother daughter, a special needs child, odd personal expense reports, feuds with the McCain campaign, and the First Dude.  Going rogue, indeed.  At any point in time, Palin can, and will, go sideways on you.  That has to scare the hell out of anyone.

****Of Topic Re:Terror Trials**** - Goddamned right in my opinion.  Those bastards should face a New York jury for the crimes committed in New York.  This isn't about their rights, its about the right of the People to condemn murderers to death.  Yes, I get that terrorists are different, but the last thing we should do is elevate these assholes. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

About that Belicheck Call. . .

While I was returning from my parents' house last night for dinner, I turned on the radio to listen to the Sunday night game.  At the time, the Pats were leading the Colts 34-21.  Game over, I thought.  So, I switched to other stations.  Around the time I got home, I switched back to hear the game called - 35-34 Colts.  WTF?

Apparently, the game was decided on a 4th and 2, on the Patriots' 28 yard line, where the Pats' coach decided to go for the first down instead of punting.  For those of you who don't know, this means that rather than kick the ball downfield to the other team, the Patriots attempted to move the ball forward by two yards.  They failed, and the Pats lost.

Now, I have seen and heard from both sides of the debate - from those who thought this was a terrible idea, to those who don't - and all I can say is, it was an awful, mind-blowingly bad decision.   Don't get me wrong, coaches tend to punt the ball way too often.  Yesterday, Andy Reid, the Eagles coach, kicked field goals instead of trying to score touchdowns and his team lost because of it.  And punting when the team is at the 50 yard line is equally bad.

But this was different.  At 2:08, the Pats were up by six points - meaning that a touchdown and an extra point would win the game for the Colts with just two minutes left in the game.  The Colts weren't just trying to score, but had to do so in two minutes - possible, but difficult.  By going for it on fourth down, the Patriots cut down the number of yards the Colts needed to move the ball from seventy to thirty. 

Moreover, even if the Patriots had gotten the first down, there's no indication that they would have been able to kill the clock - the Pats, after all, can't run the football, and the Colts had both timeouts and the two minute warning coming up.  In other words, there was no guarantee that the Pats would've won the game had they gotten the first down.  At this point, all Belicheck needed to do was milk the clock.  Again, making the Colts go seventy yards (as opposed to thirty yards) was the right thing to do at that moment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My weekly random posting. . . .

So, I've come to realize that this blog will most likely be a weekly post - I'm too busy with work to really post as much as I'd like, and I'm too much of a loudmouth to do short postings.  That said, here's another random topics posting:

JFK and Mad Men - I grew up going to Catholic school, with Baby Boomer parents and with a fawning Boomer media, but it wasn't until I saw the JFK assasination episode of "Mad Men" that I really understood the psychic wound inflicted by his death.  But rather than being about the Boomer generation, this had more to do with the "Greatest Generation" - my grandfathers' generation who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in WWII.  Basically, after WWII, this group of people looked around, realized that the U.S. was the most powerful country on Earth (with the Soviet Union not too far behind) and felt pretty damn good about themselves.  JFK's election was about breaking from the past and this generation asserting themselves.  When he died, the reins of power fell to LBJ, an older and more traditional politician, and the Generation was denied its rightful place.

Carrie Prejean is now my favorite conservative trainwreck - Talk about local girl not going good.  Whether she got screwed or not during the Miss America pagent (I didn't watch, and I don't care), is one thing, but her behavior is downright odd.  From the nude pictures to the (no more alleged) sex tape to getting stripped of her title as Miss California to her recent odd behavior on Larry King, I am constantly amazed at what's going on, and I can't get enough.

I blame the "Tyson Zone."  The "Tyson Zone" was coined by Bill Simmons to describe when a celebrity has done so many crazy things that it ceases to become shocking.  Prime examples include Britney Spears, Mike Tyson, and Tara Reid.  But here's the thing - as these celebrities entered the Tyson Zone, everyone was utterly fascinated.  I feel the same way about Carrie Prejean - just when I think things have settled down, she gets crazier and crazier.  Seriously, the Larry King thing was bizarre - he asked not-too-difficult questions, she demurred, and as he tried to move on, she threatened to leave the set.  How bizarre is that? 

Does her political beliefs play a role in my fascination?  To some degree, yes.  Last week, I went to a cheese shop by my house and purchased a really good Gouda.  While watching the Chargers game, I paired said gouda with some apples and a Belgian style ale.  The pairing of the apple and beer to the Gouda was amazing, but that didn't detract from the fact that the Gouda was excellent.  In the same vein, the pairing of a celebrity who became famous for opposing gay marriage and espousing sexual purity with her utter self-destruction is an amazing pairing.  But the self-destruction is the thing of fascination, not the conservative beliefs.

Lou Dobbs' Future - In a OMG/WTF move Lou Dobbs suddenly quit CNN.  Not the, "I'm going to resign at the end of the month," thing, but the, "Fuck all y'all, I'm out of here."  Now normally, I'd think that Dobbs was going to move to Fox, but his resignation statement was interesting - he left because people were pushing him to make a positive contribution.  That makes my spidey sense tingling - someone is running for office.  So, what office?

If he is thinking about running in 2012, leaving CNN would be an awful idea - he's off of TV too soon, and going to Fox would pigeonhole him.  So, I think he's planning a run for office in 2010.  Now, there's no way in hell Dobbs is going to run for anything less than a statewide position.  He lives in Jersey, but Christie was just elected as Governor, and both Senators aren't up in 2010.  So Jersey is out.  But two neighboring states, New York and Connecticut, both have Senator and Governor positions up for grabs in 2010.

That said, Dobbs doesn't want to be a Governor - that's too much work, and it takes him too far from his core issues: trade and xenophobia-err-immigration.  So, here's my guess, Dobbs is going to run against Chris Dodd for U.S. Senate.  With Dodd's unpopularity, and Dobbs' name ID, Dobbs has more than a shot - and that's enough for Dobbs to quit CNN.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On Marriage Equality Campaigns

Well, it looks like California isn't alone.  Shortly after gay marriage was legalized in Maine, a ballot initiative de-legalized it, similar to what happened in California with Prop. 8.  Here though, the Maine campaign was, by all accounts, fantastic (unlike the California No on 8 campaign), but the turnout wasn't high enough.

The one common thread in both campaigns, though, is messaging.  In both instances, the message was "don't take away our rights." The anti-gay marriage crowd responded by proclaiming that if gay marriage continues, then gay marriage will be taught in schools.  And in both cases, the response by the gay rights groups was to dispute the notion - after all, the whole gay-marriage-will-be-taught-in-schools thing is nonsense.

And this is where I think the messaging is wrong.  Look, gay marriage is a BIG change for our culture (and even bigger if you live in Maine).  Homosexuality has only been legalized throughout the country in the past ten years.  So, rather than downplay the importance, play it up.  Humanize the issue by having old gay and/or lesbian couples talk about their relationship in ads.  Have survivors tell their stories about losing their partner and the aftermath.  In other words, run ads in FAVOR of gay marriage, instead of OPPOSING taking gay marriage away.

With regard to the schools thing, don't deny that gay marriage will be taught in schools - because its a BIG change, some teacher is certain to bring it up - instead, point out that the whole "its going to be taught in schools" thing is scary only if you don't want to accept gay people.  Tell them that even though its a BIG change, in ten years, it will seem like a trifle because nobody really cares about who marries who except those getting hitched.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Democrats Make Me Crazy. . .

One year ago today, a majority of voters of the United States of America voted for Barack Hussein Obama to become our next President of the United States of America.  As the comic strip "Tom Tomorrow" noted, if on September 12, 2001 someone told you this was going to happen, you'd think he was crazy.  I remember the night very well.  I spent much of the day working on a motion to compel (that wasn't a motion to compel - long story), and worked late into the night.  Or rather, I worked for five minutes, and then checked the polls for five minutes, and so on.  I remember the cheers from the streets when Ohio was declared, and when we all knew Obama was going to be President.  And I remember weeping tears of joy at the thought, "My God, he did it.  He actually did it."

In the intevening year, we've seen the promise of that night erode away.  As of right now, Obama is as popular as he was on Election day - around 55% of the country supports him.  What scares me, though, is that Obama and the Democrats seem to have forgotten how he won that night a year ago.

Here's the essence of the Obama strategy - make the pie larger, but make sure the other guy's slice doesn't get any bigger.  In the Iowa caucuses, for instance, Obama won by turning out more voters to the Caucus than had ever voted before.  Hillary and Edwards both got the amount of votes they needed to win, but Obama got more simply from the turnout.  Over and over again, through his message of Hope and Change, Obama got record turnout by reaching out to people.

So, what do the Democrats do once Obama gets into power?  They do the same dumb shit they did before.  Obama won, even in relatively conservative areas (Appalachia, excluded), by reaching out to the disenfranchised and promised fresh, new ideas.  His strategy was a break away from the New Democrat idea of being conservative to win.  Yet, these morons in the Senate (Bayh, Lieberman, Lincoln, etc.), the Blue Dogs, and Creigh Deeds have put the Democrats in a precarious place by doing the exact opposite of Obama - trying to be "Republican Lite."

This extends to the health care debate.  Orrin Hatch, who is by no means an idiot, tells it like it is.  If the Democrats pass health care reform, and do it well, the Republican Party will be decimated.  In fact, one totally wacko Republican House Member thinks health care reform is a bigger threat to the country than terrorism.  Now, if you replace the word "country" with "Republican Party" she doesn't sound so crazy.  When FDR implemented Social Security, and showed deft leadership during the Great Depression, the Democrats were able to stay in power in the House for sixty years.  Health care reform would have a similar effect on middle class voters.  So naturally, the Democrats are all set to pass major reform right?  Right? 

Um, no, not at all.  In fact, we've seen the Democrats fight each other over the public option, triggers, robust public options, etc.  As if on queue, Lieberman has announced that he's going to kill the public option because of its cost (although the public option, as currently designed, will actually lower the national debt significantly without raising taxes).  No, the importance of being different is tantamount, not doing what's good for the Democratic Party or the United States.

Now, I'm not saying we follow the GOP into its current insanity - pushing out relative moderates - but there should be an awareness that taking strong stands for traditionally Democratic causes is a good thing.  And health care reform isn't just good policy, but its a traditional Democratic value going back to FDR and Truman.  Democrats who are against health care reform aren't Democrats, and we need to realize that.

Until such time as Democrats are willing to really step up to the plate and push their agenda, we're going to be stuck in this quagmire of indecision.  And, to be honest, its pissing me off.