Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Don't Get Fooled Again

During my freshman year at William & Mary, my freshman seminar class had a debate between a country lawyer Democrat and an Wall Street Republican.  In the debate, the Republican crushed the Democrat when he attacked Bill Clinton over the weakening dollar.  Now, the beating didn't occur because the Republican was right, but rather because the Democrat didn't have the foggiest understanding of economics.  And when the Republican came to our class the next day, I managed to get the Republican to admit he was bullshitting about the weakening dollar because he knew the Democrat had no knowledge of economics.

From that moment on, I realized that if Democrats were going to win debates about the economy, they have to know economic theory, or else they'll get rolled by Republicans.  And finally, we're in a situation where knowledge of economics is a good thing, and we end up getting cowed by the Republicans again.  This tweet by John Boehner is the single most ignorant thing about the economy ever.  He wants to create jobs by cutting government spending. . .Ugh.

Here's the problem with Boehner's prescription - we're not in an inflationary cycle, we're in a deflationary cycle.  Yes, the Budget Deficit is huge, and normally that would mean that there would be large inflationary pressures, but there aren't.  Inflation is phenomenally low at 1% (ish), and the economy still sucks.  That's because we have a demand side recession - businesses and customers aren't spending - rather than a supply side shock - where there's no money to invest.  Or, think 1940's instead of 1970's.  So cutting government spending is like giving a laxative to someone who has diarrhea - its only going to make things worse because now no one will be spending.

Cutting taxes is a less stupid idea, but not exactly brilliant either.  Again, there is no problem with the money supply - if anything, there is too little money in the economy right now, so increasing the monetary supply through tax cuts won't help at all.  It might encourage some people to spend a little more, but not enough to help.

No, the only thing that will work here is a massive increase in domestic spending.  Maybe not New Deal big, but close.  That way, government spending will increase overall demand, and people will have jobs, etc.  Now, I understand the whole, if we spend it, we'll end up spending it for a lifetime theory, so write in Sunset clauses into the spending legislation.  But do something.

And ultimately that's the problem - right now there's no Democratic leader who's saying this.  They're all cowed by the GOP rhetoric on the economy, even the dumb rhetoric.  If I was Obama, I would make this case in a national address every single week until Congress passed the right legislation.  Of course, what I'm saying is exactly what Paul Krugman, a NOBEL PRIZE WINNER IN ECONOMICS has been saying for the PAST YEAR AND A HALF, but what the fuck to we know.  Ugh.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Early Week Thoughts. . .

I know that right now, I should be working - my workload this week is going to be immense, and by Thursday, I'm going to be completely fried.  However, in this moment of relative calm, I have a few thoughts that have been dancing in my head, aching to get out.  So here goes:

Art and Communication - I had an amazing conversation the other day with someone who works in the advertising field about subliminal advertising.  In essence, good advertising is subliminal - it plays to your emotions in subtle ways to get you to buy the product.  For instance, red and yellow, apparently, are colors that make you hungry.  So as a result, all fast food joints use red and yellow in their color scheme.  Then I bought a painting from a nice young fellow by the name of Tyler Cristobal - my first purchase of a painting ever (and so now I have one thing on my living room wall).  And overall, I really like the painting - not just because it was cheap, but because, like a dream, it stirs up a bunch of thoughts all at once. 

Anyway, all of this brings me back to an old concept I remember talking to my roommate in college about - that art is communication.  The best artists - be they writers, painters, sculptors, actors or advertisers - can communicate a wealth of thoughts and feelings in a single moment.  Its why when we come across great art, we are immediately struck - our minds are trying to figure out the entirety of the message.  When we come across bad art, we immediately forget it - there's nothing for our minds to consider.  Interestingly enough, it is commercial art that is the most self-aware of this aspect.  I suspect its because commercial art isn't driven by artistic desire, but by cold, hard cash.

Religion and Extremism - My oldest and one of my dearest friends, consistently posts on Facebook about Islamic extremism across the globe.  While I don't like Islamic extremism anymore than the next liberal, I think his focus on Islam is somewhat misplaced.  The truth is, the extremists of all religions are equally problematic.  And, it doesn't really matter what the religion is, either.  For instance, Christianity is truly a religion of peace - to the extent that when faced with imminent death, Jesus Christ healed the wounds of his attackers after they arrested him.  Yet, as you look throughout history, Christians have committed atrocity after atrocity literally in the name of Jesus Christ.  Similar examples can be found in literally every religion.

Now, don't get me wrong, Muslim extremists - from the Saudi clerics, to the Taliban, to the Iranian regime, are all repressive douchebags.  But, they're not repressive douchebags because they are Muslims, they're just douchebags.   The problem with focusing on their religion is that its too easy for douchebags to dismiss the criticisms as chauvinism, and it serves to ignore douchebaggery in our own religions.  Of course, there are some religions more likely to be subject to extremism than others, but the nature of worship tends to get people to accept all kinds of douchebaggery.

That said, religion is not necessarily a bad thing.  A kernel of faith to help through the bad times, and religion fills a deep seated need of all people to connect with something greater than themselves.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fuck Tolerance

Here at this blog, I have been excoriating Democrats for being chickenshits* about every major policy decision.  As a result, we have had half-measures in health care reform, the stimulus, and in foreign policy.  Now, I would argue these half measures are better than what the GOP has pushed for, but while the house is burning you either throw everything you have to fix the problem, or you walk away (or, you do what the GOP is proposing, which is to throw gasoline on the fire).  As a result, voters get to choose between the chickenshits and the nutjobs.  Great.

But I wonder, where did this chickenshit attitude come from?  I think one of the beginnings was the idea of "tolerance" - that is, everyone should tolerate each other's presence because we're all diverse, and so on.  But the problem with tolerance is that there's condemnation for racism.  If I was a racial separatist, and I chose not to shoot every non-White person on the spot, I would be considered a paragon of tolerance.  Fuck.  That.

Like a lot of liberal arguments, tolerance is a chickenshit half measure.  The real goal isn't tolerance, its acceptance.  We should accept our fellow citizens regardless of race, creed, national origin, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation as fellow citizens.  There should be no difference between a Muslim American, and a Catholic American, or Straight American and a Gay American - we are all Americans.  And we have to accept the fact that not every American looks the same, prays the same, or loves the same.  Otherwise, we will slip constantly into fear and violence as people's tolerance fades.

Look at the following video:

This poor guy is simply walking through a protest to go to work - he's actually a carpenter working at Ground Zero.  But since his skin color is not white, and he's wearing a skullcap, everyone assumes he's Muslim, and a few of the people at the Ground Zero protests want to kick his ass.  The insane thing is that because they didn't kick his ass, technically, this angry crowd was "tolerant."  Again, fuck that.  The only way to go forward is to say, "This guy has the same right to be here as you.  He's an American, and if you don't like what he believes, or what his skin color is, well, then fuck you, you racist fucktard."  End of story. 

Now, this may not be nice, and it may hurt people's feelings, but just because we're liberal doesn't mean that we shouldn't take a stand.  Inherent in Obama's line, "There is no Red America, or Blue America.  There is the United States of America," should be a condemnation of all people who try to split us into groups.  Not a chickenshit condemnation, but a "if you don't like it, move to fucking communist China, you fucking fuck." 

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Lamentations of the Progressive Movement

With Harry Reid's recent statement that he wishes that the Cordoba Mosque would be built elsewhere, I am reminded of the problems inherent in the Progressive Movement in this country - our leaders are weaklings.  Every step forward, like Obama saying, people should build their mosque wherever the fuck they want (obviously paraphrasing) is hurt by someone taking two steps back.  Thanks, Harry.

And of course, this isn't the first time.  From health care reform to the too-small stimulus package, to virtually every issue, the leaders of the Progressive and/or Liberal movement have done more to handicap themselves than the GOP.  Its completely maddening from my perspective.  Moreover, it explains why Obama is flailing around.  His whole schtick is being the good cop in any negotiation.  And, as we all know, he's really good at it.  So, to be successful, he needs a bad cop - someone who refuses to compromise, and who is slowly brought around to the idea.  Nancy Pelosi, for all her faults, plays this role well.  Harry Reid, on the other hand, is a total failure.  Ugh.

What we need in the progressive movement are more bad cops at the leadership stage.  Alan Grayson and Howard Dean are good starts, but we need more. Until that happens, we're going to keep fucking up. Ugh.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Top Chef, Prop 8, and Education - Random Thoughts Blogging

Rather than a long intro, here are few of my thoughts about things, I kinda, sorta, care about:

This Season of "Top Chef" is Mediocre

Readers of this blog (all four of you, Hi Mom!), will note that I am an avid watcher of "Top Chef" on Bravo.  Thus far, I have watched all the episodes of every season. . .okay, I'm a foodie nerd.  Anyway, I haven't commented so much on this season of "Top Chef" for one reason - its been pretty mediocre.  Don't get me wrong, its not awful, but none of these chefs are remotely as talented as the finalists from last season.  Last season, the chefs were routinely producing dishes that, not only could I not cook, but I couldn't even possibly conceive.  This season, its been pretty much blah.

Judge Walker's Decision May Go to the Supreme Court, But. . .

On Wednesday, Judge Walker issued a ruling with regard to his stay that said effectively, I'll give the Proponents of Prop. 8 a week to ask the 9th Circuit for a stay.  Okay, that much is known.  However, lost in translation from legal opinion to news story is the part where Judge Walker indicates that he doesn't think the Proponents have standing to appeal, because the State of California wants out.  If he's right, and he may be, then the 9th Circuit, and the Supreme Court may very well walk away from the decision on procedural grounds.  And that makes sense - after all, why make a Defendant stay in the case when it's thrown in the towel?  I could readily see Kennedy sidestepping the issue of same-sex marriages by saying that, with good authority from the Conservative members of the Court, that because the Proponents of Prop. 8 have no standing, there's no appeal.  So, keep an eye on the case from that prospective, if you can.

Failures of Public Education

My Mom is a public school teacher, and a damn good one.  Unfortunately, the public school system she works for is a mess.  There are lots of reasons for the mess from lack of funding, to mismanagement, to outside social factors, but there's a big factor no one talks about.  Economically, the value of a high school diploma has dropped significantly over the past thirty years because we've moved from a manufacturing economy to a service based economy.  When I think about the jobs available to high school graduates, as opposed to high school dropouts, I can't really think of any difference. 

To compensate for this fact, schools have been pushing students towards college.  But the cost of college is so large that, for many students, its beyond their means.  Or, worse yet, they're burdened with a mountain of student loan debt.  Having $85,000 or more in student loan debt is okay if you are, like me, an attorney making decent money (but even I can't afford to buy a house).  If you're a college grad making $30k per year, that kind of debt is staggering.  Plus, graduating from college is no guarantee of a high paying job anyway.  So, from the perspective of a kid growing up in a poor area (inner city or rural area), college is a complete fantasy, and so there's no reason for them to stay in school.  Not surprisingly, these areas have huge dropout rates.

So, to fix education in this country, we need to make the high school diploma more valued.  Not, a mind is a terrible thing to waste value, but actually worth more in an economic sense.  Until that happens, the education system is going to be problematic.

Case in point, in Chicago a few years ago, they had a voucher program where kids could choose to go to a public school, a private school and a trade school.  The kids in the public and private schools performed at the same levels, which were generally crappy.   But the kids who went into trade school outperformed everyone by a lot - even in areas that had nothing to do with the trade they were learning.   The reason, to me at least, is obvious - the kids were told that they needed to do x and y to get a good job, not in an abstract sense but in a literal sense, and they were motivated.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Current Events Blogging. . .

Okay, so all my blogging has to do with current events, but here are a few things that have been bugging me over the past few days.

The Cordoba Mosque - For the past several weeks, conservatives from around the country, including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, have created an uproar over the fact that a Muslim group wants to build a community center (which will include a mosque) a couple of blocks from Ground Zero.  Worst of all, the ADL and the Museum of Tolerance have joined in the spectacle.

I find the whole thing utterly distasteful, and quite frankly, Unamerican.  A quick history lesson - 9 of the 13 colonies were founded as a result of religious prosecution in Europe (the rest were founded to make money, but that's for another day).  And indeed, until the 20th Century, the most common reason for immigrants to come to the U.S. was religious persecution.  As a result, the Framers of the Constitution invoked the Rhode Island rule about separating Church and State, because that was the best way to protect religious minorities.  And yet, here we are, attacking religious minorities.

Yes, we were attacked on 9-11 by Muslim extremists, but look at what they attacked - the World Trade Center (a symbol of American economic dominance) and the Pentagon (the center of American military might).  They didn't attack a church, or a synagogue, or whatnot.  You know why?  Because is a nation that separates Church and State.  There is no church or synagogue that could be attacked in this country that would have the same kind of emotional punch as attacking either of these buildings.

What's more, we forget that Muslims were also victims of the 9-11 attacks.  Indeed the reason why the Cordoba Mosque people want to build the mosque in Lower Manhattan is because there's a substantial Muslim community living there.  Of course, to people like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, Muslims are not "Real Americans" and so they don't deserve any rights.  And yet, they call Obama a fascist.  Lovely.

Lastly, the ADL and the Museum of Tolerance really, really look bad here.  First, the Museum of Tolerance is actually building on hallowed ground - its tearing up a Muslim cemetery (and moving bodies) to build a house in Israel.  To then complain about the Cordoba Mosque is the height of hypocrisy.   The ADL, although a Jewish organization, used to fight for everyone's civil rights.  Not anymore.

Gibbs' Bitch Session

This just came out today, I guess, but its been brewing for a long time.  For the past two years, the Liberal grassroots have been asking questions like - isn't the stimulus too small?  why aren't you pushing for a public option?  what's your plan for Afghanistan? when are you going to close Guantamo Bay? why are you leaving Health Care Reform in the hands of Max Baucus? - and every time, the Administration says, essentially, trust us.  Here's the thing - we have been largely right, and the Administration has been wrong.  So, we keep asking the same questions, and we're getting a bit antsy.  In the meantime, the Obama Administration has been largely clueless and rudderless.  Where is Obama's statement regarding the Cordoba Mosque?  Where is the powerful argument for a new round of stimulus?  Where is the communications discipline we saw during the campaign?  Instead of bitching about the Left, Gibbs and the boys should figure out what they're doing wrong on the communications side and fix it.  Because.  That's.  His.  Fucking.  Job. 


Ugh.  Its a total fucking mess over there.  The Taliban are they're typical douche nozzle selves, but the Afghani people have determined that the only thing worse than the Taliban is Hamid Karzai, and we're kinda stuck.  So, allow me to kindly make a suggestion - the CIA should create, or empower an insurgent group that aren't total Taliban douche bags, drug runners, or warlords.  There has to be some one in Afghanistan that fits the bill.  Surreptitiously provide money and arms to this non-douche bag insurgent group, have them "kick our ass" and "force us out" of various areas of Afghanistan, hold peace talks with the group, declare them to be non-douche bags, and get the fuck out of Afghanistan.  Of course, this assumes that the CIA is capable of pulling this off without completely fucking it up. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop. 8 Goes Down. . .

Unless you are far from the internets, you know by now that Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional.  Specifically, the Court finds no rational basis to deny LGBT couples the right to marry.  As a lawyer with a civil rights background, here are a few points I'd like to highlight:

1) The Findings of Fact are Significant

Typically, in a case like this, the legal decision overturning or affirming a statute is done early on in the litigation process.  The Plaintiff files his or her complaint, the Defendant files an answer, some investigation is done, and the parties and the Court more or less agree to what the facts are.  From those facts, the Court makes its decision.  Then upon review, the appellate court is able to review the same facts and determine if the trial court made the right decision.  Decisions of that nature get overturned all the time.

Here, though, the legal decision comes after a trial on merits - at the end of the litigation.  Because the parties did not request a jury trial, the Judge was tasked with making findings of fact.  Now, this is significant because appellate courts don't usually overturn findings of fact, and they particularly don't do so when the trial court makes determinations of credibility.  That's because the trial court Judge is the one who saw the witnesses testify, and saw their body language during the proceeding. So, any determination of fact on the basis of credibility is basically bulletproof.

The only way the appellate courts can overturn a finding of fact is when they determine the factfinder (Judge Walker in this case) abused his discretion, and that no reasonable person could make that finding based upon the evidence presented.  Um, that's not happening.  Like ever.

2) The Scope of the Decision is Huge

Okay, this decision relates to California, and only California.  It is fact-based, and strictly tied to California.  However, the path of attack for anyone who wants to overturn a same-sex marriage ban is clear - go for the facts.  Indeed, when given the opportunity to present a multitude of witnesses to present their case, Prop. 8's proponents presented an expert on ballot initiatives and a self-described "expert" on homosexuality who the Judge found to be completely full of shit.   So, I have the feeling that the opponents of same-sex marriage don't have a lot in the tank, evidence wise.  The lesson here is take the case all the way to trial.

More importantly, the Court held that there was no rational basis for banning gay marriage.  Now, in civil rights litigation, the rational basis test is the easiest test a jurisdiction must pass to do whatever.  So, if the City of San Diego passed an ordinance prohibiting people with red hair from being out during daylight hours, it would be challenged under the rational basis test.  And the City would probably win because people with red hair are more likely to get skin cancer, and that would be bad for the tourism business, etc.  In other words, a government has to work pretty hard to fail the rational basis test.  In fact, even if a government had a discriminatory motive, if it can come up with a reason after the fact, that's considered a rational basis.  For the past seventy years of American civil rights jurisprudence, the words "rational basis" were always coupled with cases against the Plaintiff.

So, when the Court finds no rational basis, its using the absolute lowest standard possible.  But the Court then explains that sexual orientation discrimination is equivalent to gender discrimination, which has a higher standard of review.  To get overturned, the 9th Circuit and/or the Supreme Court will have to hold that Judge Walker is incorrect about the standard of review AND that there is evidence of a rational basis.  I don't see the 9th Circuit doing that, and I don't think Justice Kennedy would do that either. 

3) Don't Let the Judge Sexual Orientation Fool You

Upon hearing that Judge Walker is openly gay, you might be persuaded to think that he was inclined to rule in favor of the Plaintiffs.  However, Judge Walker was nominated to the bench by Ronald Reagan, was blocked by Democrats, in part for being anti-gay, was renominated by George H.W. Bush, and has built a reputation of being one of the most conservative judges in the State of California.   My boss was stunned to hear that Judge Walker came down with this decision - absolutely stunned.

So, all in all, this is an amazing decision. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Amending the 14th Amendment

I've been thinking about this post for awhile, but every time I write, it comes out wrong.  Now that revoking the 14th Amendment's birthright provision is apparently a mainstream Republican policy (ironic, considering that the Republican Party was responsible for its creation and ratification), I had to write something.

The birthright provision of the 14th Amendment is one of the hallmarks of America's post-Civil War policy.  It says that no matter your race, your color, your creed, or your gender, if you are born in the United States, you are an American and are entitled to the full rights are privileges therein.  This provision separates America from all other countries in the world, and carries with it the promise that the American Dream is open to all people.  It was a clean break from our racist and slave-owning past, and a statement for the future.

Many of those who attack the 14th Amendment hate the fact that its definition of American opens the door to everyone.  Contrary to the hysterical statements of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and others, America is not a Christian country.  It is not a White country.  It is a country that is made stronger by the polyglot of peoples and religions and cultures that are within its borders.  That is the promise of the 14th Amendment, and that's why it must stay unscathed.

It is this promise that gives us an opportunity in the Middle East - a promise left unfulfilled by our own bigotry.  We can and should remind the Muslim World that an American can be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu.  An American can follow his or her beliefs, guided only by his or her conscience.  We should remind the Muslim World that in America, what is or is not proper Islam is not defined by sheikhs and imans, but only by the internal belief of its practitioners.  Where bin Laden offers intolerance, we must offer freedom.

Instead, we fight amongst ourselves over what constitutes a "Real American."  But guess what, San Francisco is a real part of America, as is Northern Virginia.  There is no real America or fake America, there is simply America.  And yes, there are differences between Americans over pretty much everything.  But those differences are our greatest strength.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

Evolution and the Arts. . .

So, like so many other people, I saw "Inception" the yesterday and was suitably impressed.  I guess a better way of saying it was that my mind was completely blown.  To balance four (or five) separate dream sequences in the mind of the viewers simultaneously was totally fucking awesome.*  My initial thought was that the acting was solid, but not great, while the plot was brilliant.  Upon reflection, the acting was far better than I had realized.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance, in particular, was amazing and subtle.  Anyway, Christopher Nolan is a genius, hands-down. 

And in that realization, I began to think again about the evolution of art, in general.  For instance, if you look at the cave paintings of our early ancestors, which have depth and perspective, and compare them to the paintings of the Middle Ages (which lack either depth or perspective), and then compare that to the later works of the Renaissance, you get totally confused.  Are we evolving or moving backward, or going back to where we've been?

Biologically speaking, there's not a whole lot of difference between humans today and humans 25,000 years ago (especially since, outside of Africa, the family tree doesn't branch out a whole lot).  The same abilities and same brains are at work.  The hunters in the caves made art because they were felt compelled to by the same motivation that drove Leonardo and Christopher Nolan - to make art.  And as hunters, they had a lot of free time on their hands (look this one up people - hunting and gathering is ridiculously easy compared to agriculture), so they could take the time to paint. 

But as people spent more time farming, less time was spent on painting.  So, art began to suck.  Additionally, the good artists were probably drawn to other types of art.  If painting is a drag, then artists will go into sculpture, or performance art, or writing.  And when it comes to the painting art of the Middle Ages, I think that's what happened.  The good artists were probably sculpting, and the hacks were painting.  Once there was some money in painting, the good artists, like Leonardo or Michelangelo became painters.

Comic books in the 20th Century is a good example of this.  When the 20th Century rolled around, probably the lowest form of art was the comic book, and the authors of comic books wrote crappy plotlines and two dimensional characters.  But, these comic books were popular, and some kids who actually had artistic talent went into the comic industry (such as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman), and then comic books became more and more complicated and complex.  Similarly, Nolan's rewriting of the summer action film is probably the result of being inspired by earlier, crappier films. 

So, I guess to sum up, I think that art, or rather the production of art, is a fluid evolution and devolution of thoughts and techniques, all depending on what inspires the artist.  Who knows, maybe the "Jersey Shore" will inspire some genius down the road. . .or not.

*Ed. Note - The author has a tendency to turn into a total fanboy sometimes.   Our apologies.