Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sometimes the Will of the People and the Constitution Just Aren't Enough

The protagonist appears to be thoroughly unredeemable. William Osborne was convicted in Alaska of raping a prostitute. One story I read said he’d been released from prison on this charge and has been re-arrested on other serious charges.

His rape case has made its way from the Alaska courts, to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and on Monday will be argued before the United States Supreme Court.

Let’s assume Mr. Osborne is the scum that he may well be. He has asked to have the semen in a condom tested for a DNA match that helped to convict him, using a method that wasn’t existent back when he was tried. He has offered to pay for the testing. The State of Alaska has declined. It is one of six states that have laws that make release of samples discretionary.

You can read a neutral summary of the case here. An interesting opinion piece is found here.

The sovereign state of Alaska has made a political decision to not let someone prove their innocence after they’ve been tried and convicted, assuming no legal errors were committed when the person was tried. I suppose this is rational. To be legalistic, it might survive intermediate and strict scrutiny (Google for background it you want it).

But, judged by common sense, why does Alaska fear one of two results? One, the test provides further proof that the man raped the woman and he got what he deserved in the way of punishment. Two, the test proves that his sperm isn’t in the condom and perhaps, he didn’t do it.

The people of Alaska, through their elected officials, decided Osborne should be stuck with his “fair trial” on the logic that there is a stopping point to appeals of criminal convictions. I don’t know, but, I suspect given our current Supreme Court’s make-up, that the law passes Constitutional muster. But, and a big but, the guy may not have done it. If that is the case, politics and law have failed him; and, more importantly, us.

You Know Things Are Really Bad When ...

Berkshire Hathaway lost 20% of its net worth ($10.9 billion) in the last quarter of 2008. Its Class A share price has dropped 44% since last February – you could buy one for $78,600 on Friday – a real opportunity here – we all ought to jump on it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Food For Thought

Revolutionary War – Eight years*

War of 1812 – Four years

Mexican-American War – Three years

Civil War – Five years

Spanish-American War – Five months

World War I – Two years (American involvement)

World War II – Five years (American involvement)

Korean War – Four years

Vietnam War – Eleven years (combat troops)

Gulf War – Seven months

Iraq War – Seven to Eight years

Afghan War – Eight years and counting

We’ve been engaged in war for more than 20% of the years we’ve been a country (not counting things like Grenada and the Cold War).

* Period including starting and ending years.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

They Win

I’m not sure who they are; but, they win.

I’m watching the NPR news and kind of listening to what they are saying as I surf.

There’s some new mid-six billion dollars being floated for health care over the next ten years and a twenty percent increase in taxes for what I’ve heard described as the affluent. Earlier today, I heard that if the federal government shut down today, with interest on the current debt, the budget still wouldn’t be balanced. Alternatively, if the feds took every dollar earned above $75K by every person in the country, we still couldn’t pay for what is being spent. The source on the last two matters is Neal Boortz, a second tier talk radio guy that I don’t trust, but…..

I can’t get my head anywhere near around any of this stuff. For the short term, I’m not going to listen to this stuff – they win.

I am going to pay attention to the Georgia Legislature’s current limited forty day run. They are always good for a laugh.

As an example, the state DOT board just fired its Commissioner because she was touted by the Governor and they’re mad at him because he has proposed to make the board irrelevant.

Then there’s the passage of a bill in the Legislature that allows Georgia Power to start charging people for a new nuclear power plant before it goes on line. The “money fact?” If it goes over budget we pay for it, not the stockholders, the company still gets to make it’s normal rate of return and tack the over runs on to rates. If Georgia Power makes more than its rate projections, it doesn’t have to count the extra profit against cost over runs on the plant. Or in government speak: “even if the Company has overearned on its revenue requirement, the Commission could not use those over-earnings to offset any under-recovery of the finance costs and would still have to allow ratepayers to be charged the full true-up amount.” I think I got that right. And if all goes well and the plant is built for the projected budget? Us rate payers save $300 million over the sixty year life of the plant.

I've got a dollar against. Any takers?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When AOL Was King has an interesting article about the Internet in 1996 here.

Yahoo's "search" function was hand compiled by actual humans.

Government, Business, Technology and Privacy

Curmudgeon did two posts, last Friday and Saturday, about the now dead-in-the-water Vehicle Miles Traveled tax (VMT). I left a comment on his Friday post bemoaning my growing tendency to trade my privacy for convenience. Curmudgeon responded to my comment with a post on Monday, leading to this post.

Curmudgeon distinguishes between private and governmental intrusions. I don't.

While it isn't universally true, I assume that when I allow someone else to know something about me, that it may well become public knowledge (Fourth Amendment garbage cans - Google it for the reference).

Curmudgeon's Jewel card (my Kroger card) to me is no different than getting a transponder for my car so that I can use the "Cruise Lane" on the toll road here in Atlanta (I don't have one). For security, convenience and savings, I am telling companies and governments about my lifestyle.

The VMT system is a beefed-up Marta Cruise Card or a monthly CTA transit pass. If you take the train to work, you have a train pass don't you? Each of these programs track where you go, when you go, when you leave and where you go from there.

I moved last September and paid the movers with a credit card. The next day, I got an Email and a voicemail from the bank's fraud department. (The mover had inputted the security number incorrectly.) When I called, the lady asked more than the usual what's your card number and your mother's maiden name questions since there was an issue of fraud. "Tell me the name of a street that you lived on in Miami?" I moved from Miami to Atlanta in 1987; but, there was my history sitting on her monitor.

When I applied to be admitted to the Georgia Bar back then, my application with attachments was over fifty pages, giving a complete history of my life to that point.

On Monday and Tuesday I showed my boarding pass (having inserted my credit card into a machine to get it) and driver's license to four TSA people. I was "puffed" in a three sided glass enclosure to see if I had traces of explosives clinging to me. A TSA person swabbed my laptop.

Jewel, Kroger, T-Mobile, Visa, our banks, our ISP's, Marta, CTA, airlines, states and the Feds know way too much about us; and, we have wittingly and unwittingly given them the information.

The horse is out of the barn, the train has left the station and the GPS signal has left our cell phones with respect to intrusions on our privacy by business and government.

That government has police power does not distinguish it. Business has monolithic economic power. Try crossing out language in the paperwork when you do your next refinance (the President is confident than money will be loaned again sometime this decade).

My big finish? There is none. The best that can be done to reign in the effects of technology on privacy, whether it is used by government or private concerns is to weigh each invasion. Is it necessary, desirable, beneficial? Is too much disclosed in return? Businesses invade privacy when they see it as beneficial to them and when people see equal benefit to them. A trade is made. Government survives by the consent of the governed. It acts in a bit different marketplace, but in a marketplace none-the-less. The VMT was floated, roundly derided and was put back on the shelf, as it should be. There will be a next time. Be ready.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Since this morning, the blog comes up without any content. We'll see what happens with this post.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Two Thoughts from a Trip

I spent the day in Middle Georgia yesterday doing a site inspection for a new case (yes both partners from the big firm were there – see previous post).

I took the “direct” route there which resulted in a drive through the country – four and two lane paved roads that don’t go too straight, punctuated by towns that got smaller the farther I got from Atlanta.

I’ve had this thought before on drives like this. What do all these people in the nice houses I saw every quarter mile or so do to make a living? The little towns all had businesses in them, some more than others. There were farms here and there but not much in the way of industry.

Most of the country, outside of the Atlanta’s, Chicago’s and Nashville’s is just like this. And after making a living for the day, what do they do? I’ve always lived in a city. Beyond the question of making a living, I’d go nuts out in the country. I know there are charms to be found in nature, I saw them yesterday, a horse, a cow, some hawks swooping around. But every day?

When I reached the destination, the lawyers and clients took a tour through the back seventy. At the start, there was an old logging trail to follow; but, we veered from it to take a look at a stream, then some wetlands, another stream. I had another thought that I’ve had before. I wouldn’t have made a very good explorer/frontiersman.

Big Tony and I had a conversation a few years back after flying from Atlanta to Vegas. What were those people thinking when they left say Texas and got to the desert southwest? We saw it from the air and agreed we’d have promptly turned around, returned to St. Louis and opened a “last chance” bar for the travelers.

As I was carefully making my way through the woods yesterday, occasionally putting a foot into a hole, I again thought, the whole country was like this a couple of hundred years ago and people kept walking. Thousands of miles, not knowing just what they’d find or when they’d find it.

Stronger stock, as they say.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Law Costs So Much

I have a new case. Week before last, I wrote a letter to the company that my clients are unhappy with. I got a response from a partner in a large, well respected law firm here in Atlanta suggesting that lawyers and clients meet to discuss the issues.

We've Emailed back and forth this week to set up the meeting. All of the Emails from the lawyer copy his partner who bills a tenth of an hour or so to read the Emails.

This isn't earth-shaking law. To my mind, a senior associate with the big firm could handle it. Rather, the firm has "staffed" the case. I'm sure that the partners have assigned a baby associate to do research on the legal issues implicated by the problem. Both partners probably bill in the neighborhood of $350 - 400 an hour. The associate is clicking along at something over $200 an hour.

Both partners will be attending the meeting to be held about 75 miles south of town.

By the time our meeting is over tomorrow, the company we are unhappy with will have spent northward of $5,000.

Then there will be issue analysis memos generated by the firm and a report to the client. They'll probably hire an expert or two to look at some of the technical issues. Say another $10K or so?

At that point the company and the partners will have developed a "strategy" for dealing with the problem, resulting in a mindset that will get in the way of resolving the problem. Suit will be filed and it will wend its way along until it reaches a point that everyone is ready to cut their losses.

They don't teach this part of law in law school.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Courage of Their Convictions

There were three Republican U.S. Senators and no Republican U.S. House members that voted for the bailout package.

Yet, I’m reading that state Republican leaders are falling all over themselves to divvy up the largess. My own fair state’s esteemed Republican Governor Sonny Perdue up until today was opposed to a $428 million property tax grant. On February 10th, according to the AJC, he said “[I]n budget times like this, from a state’s perspective, I don’t know how we can continue programs that I don’t think have been effective in their ultimate mission,” With the bailout the budget times have changed. Sonny’s OK now with spending a bunch of money on an ineffective tax cut because he can get the money from the feds. From today’s AJC: “Perdue said the state can pay for the grants, which he called ‘ineffective,’ because the government is assured of getting more than $460 million in Medicaid stimulus money. That will free up previously committed Medicaid money for other state needs, including the homeowners’ grants.”

GOP types are principled people, they are always saying they are. It’s obvious they didn’t like the bill (or figured they could get a lot of pub by voting against it as they couldn’t do much to change it) in the U.S. Congress. Shouldn’t they push their state colleagues to refuse to accept the money?

I can just see Republican Georgia Senators Isakson and Chambliss talking to Sonny. “Son, my man, you can’t take that money, it’s a bad idea, we’re mortgaging our grandkids’ futures, you’ve got grandkids, you’re always talking about them.” “Johnny, Saxby, what you talking about, that’s fed money, not ours.” “Son, it’ll come back to haunt us and it isn’t a stimulus, its totally ineffective.” “Ya’ll just be quiet, we need money down here, we’ve cut about as much as we can cut without people taking it out on us. They ain’t going to know that using the fed’s money is going come back on them down the road. Now go on back to Washington and talk against it all you want, just know that you’re there because the people down here are dumb, and it’s my job to keep them dumb. You ought to be thanking me.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It Ain't No Stinkin' Stimulus has an article today about the effect of $787 billion dollar bill that President Obama is signing today will have on Georgia. Georgia is going to get about $6 billion over several years.

Here's a partial list:

$530 million for 2009 Medicaid

$790 million for 2010 Medicaid

$400 million for 2011 Medicaid

$2 billion for K - 12 education over several years

$1 billion for roads and bridges

$137 million for mass transit

Our leaders' reactions? "If we're allowed to supplant some state dollars, I hope we can use it for other things." "It frees up funds that can go anywhere else. It will be extremely tempting to fund the homeowner tax relief grants."

All of the items listed above are in Georgia's budget this year and presumably for 2010 and 2011. None of it is new spending. All the bill does is shift the payment mechanism to spread the cost beyond Georgia's borders to the rest of the country. We of course get our share of the costs of other states' upkeep in return. The net stimulative effect? Bupkis.

And actually there's a negative result. Georgia and other states have to balance their budgets (at least in theory). So now the feds will borrow and print money to pay for current expenses for themselves AND the states, digging a bigger debt hole for no short or long term economic gain.

God, I'm talking like a Republican.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Six Degrees

I’m watching a Science Channel show about networks that takes off from the old Six Degrees From Kevin Bacon game. I’m only about half way through; but, apparently the theory holds true.

I want some empirical proof. Send an Email to someone that doesn’t read this blog and doesn’t know me (If it turns out they do, start again). Don’t give them my Email address, all they get is Dave Tank in Atlanta, Georgia. Tell them to send an Email to someone that they think might know me or someone who knows me, telling that person the same thing, etc.

I’ll let you know if I get an Email, and if I do, how it wended its way to me. I’m not sure if this is a meme, if it is, it sounds like more fun than most. It only has one step for each of you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Not Too Bad

Friday’s wake went well, alliteration aside.

A friend collected our photos and created a Power Point show.

Lots of stories and laughs and just a few tears.

And the Crown Royal: not too bad. I actually ended up having three shots. We had a mass toast, each of us choosing our own poison; but, the toaster jumped the gun and there were some that hadn’t gotten their glasses. The solution was to do it again. Then another friend insisted he and I toast. The stuff perks you right up, for a bit.

No driving involved thanks to a cab there and a non-drinking friend back.

The only thing that would have improved the event would have been not having an honoree.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Weekend Update Update

So, as of about an hour ago, everything with the Blu-ray player and Netflix works, other that the fact that streaming Netflix movies play through the TV, not the home theater.

Who knew that to get the player to send its audio to the home theater you had to change the default connection from PCM to Bitstream and that to get Netflix to stream movies you had to disable the firewall in the router? Not ten or eleven of eleven or twelve tech type people I talked to at Netflix and Samsung.

Now, I need to figure out why my Dell laptop won’t load a page after it is on for a while. Is it the computer, IE7 or something else? I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, February 09, 2009

They Are Teaching Children

I was watching a recording of a PBS special honoring George Carlin that aired last night. When it ended the TV was on PBS, which is now airing the Atlanta School Board meeting.

The first time I heard it, I thought I just wasn’t paying attention. Then I heard it again, from the Board Chairperson. “It has been motioned, is there a second?”

Then I watched. The esteemed chairperson is Ms. Butler Burks.

Improper verbs from nouns again (see my post from a few days ago). And again, from an “educator.” "There is a motion, do I hear a second." "It has been moved that..., do I hear a second."

I have heard the enemy and it is people teaching kids.

I Have to Drink a Shot

I almost never drink liquor. On a very rare occasion, I’ll have an after dinner Cognac, brandy, etc.

On an even more rare occasion, I’ll drink champagne. The bottom end of what’s good is Moet, so that cuts down on the occasions.

Beer, wine? Good stuff. Beer regularly and there are a lot of good wines.

Back to the liquor – when I was a kid they didn’t have the premium stuff. You had vodka, whiskey, tequila, gin and so on. Back then you drank to feel the effects of the liquor of your choice. Years ago, I realized I couldn’t enjoy the effects if they came on too quickly and strongly. So I don’t.

My friend the Atlanta cop has a tradition with a friend of his, a retired cop, that they drink a shot every time a police or fire officer dies in the line of duty. After 9/11 it took four months and a few sick days. They then expanded the tradition to toasting to the passing of someone famous that they liked.

For whatever reason I thought of that today when talking to my friend the cop at the neighborhood bar. I blurted out that I’d do a shot at Tony’s wake on Friday night. If there is going to be an occasion for me to do it, this will be it. I then realized that that would lead to other things and regretted it. But I said it, and I’ll do it.

So here’s the problem. Tony wasn’t a big drinker. When he drank liquor, it was Crown Royal. I said that’s what I would do. I got disapproving looks. The shot of choice I was told is Jack Daniels. I’ve never had either.

So what should I drink? I’m not going to be driving. I throw it out to you. The first one will lead to others (mentioned abovem that I’ll regret). Low road, high road? Pricey? Rotgut?

Whatever your suggestion, don’t call me to early on Saturday.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Weekend Update

For some reason on Friday night I decided I wanted a Blu-ray player. I researched it found a Samsung that will also steam Netflix content to the TV screen.

It took me all morning Saturday to find it. It took no time at all to plug it in and play a DVD. The rest was downhill, and I’m still at the bottom of the hill

First problem, I can’t get it to output audio to the home theater thru the optical cable, it insists on going through the HDMI cable to the TV.

Second, can’t get the player to talk to Netflix to get the code to activate the streaming capability. As near as I can figure, I’ve screwed up the LAN settings, though it connected to the Internet to download a firmware update.

A few minutes ago, I connected the player directly to the modem to get the code, got it, reconnected the computer, input the code at Netflix and was told the code had “expired.”

That’s enough for today. Guess what I’m doing tomorrow night?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Obama Follows Bush's Folly

There was a quick report on PBS tonight that Leon Panetta. if confirmed as Director of the CIA, would continue the “longstanding” practice of extraordinary rendition as long as the recipient countries promised not to torture the rendees, if that is a word.

Rendition is not extradition.

Extradition is a longstanding practice. California wants a suspect apprehended in Georgia to stand trial before its court. Note that California asked Georgia to send the suspect.

Rendition is an invention of our intelligence services.We ask another country to "question" someone that we couldn't get any information from. While extraordinary, it is more importantly extralegal – read the linked article.

President Obama is disappointing me. This is nothing more that continuing Bush’s policy with the gratuitous proviso that we tell the country we are dealing with “now don’t you torture him!” (Wink.)

Here, my more liberal readers will part company with me. Big Rick, Jay, my brother Larry, perhaps Dale will give me some props, though I don't want them.

As Big Rick says, you don’t want to watch sausage being made. I don’t like it, but military and intelligence types do things that don’t qualify for a PG rating. I really don’t understand the Bush Administration’s and now Obama’s insistence on publicly acknowledging that they are doing these things. Of course they are, as did their predecessors, and as will their successors. It may not be right but it is reality.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I'm Hungry...

and nothing is appealing. I have some chili left over from the weekend. I can make a couple of different sandwiches. I can make a tuna casserole. I’ve got some bacon with…? If I don’t eat the radishes I’ve got, they are going to soon be consigned to the garbage can.

I think I’m going to have some breakfast – poached eggs on cheese on sausage patties over English muffins, with a bit of coarse grain mustard.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Stories from Youth

Big Rick and I were talking a bit ago. It bothers both of us that we are not young bucks, though we didn’t use that noun.

We started trading poor stories and honor stories.

Rick talked about the time when he was five. His aunt down in Lincolnton, GA was sick and his mother took the family’s only car down to care for her. That left his dad, his older brother and him to fend for themselves. On Friday after work, the three of them got on the bus and stated towards the home place. About Macon a guy got on who turned out to be less than sober. He was annoying, then more annoying. At a point somewhere near Dublin (Google it – one of the most desolate places in our fair state) the drunk guy was really bugging a lady, smooth guy that he was.

Rick’s dad walked up to the driver and told him to stop the bus. The driver said he couldn’t stop the bus, it was against the rules. “STOP THE BUS.” The driver complied with the request. Rick’s dad bum-rushed the guy off the bus in the middle of nowhere. His fellow passengers thanked him. There’s a second part to the story; but, since Rick won’t write for you all, you don’t get to read it.

That’s the honor part.

Here’s the poor part, kind of.

Rick calls his upbringing dirt poor. I’ve always said I grew up upper-lower class. North, South, same thing. Dirt poor is maybe the better phrase as there is nothing low about the way we were raised.

We didn’t have anything; but, we didn’t know it because no one had anything. I grew up with clean clothes and food. The clothes weren’t always new and the cuisine was not haute’.

I didn’t grow up in a demonstrative family. Kids did as they were told, often grudgingly, but they were bigger than we were.

I was clothed by my older cousins, my younger brothers got my outgrown clothes; but, now and again, us kids needed underwear, socks, a shirt or two. The family also needed blankets, sheets, kitchen utensils and so on.

I don’t remember the specific day or month or year, so the following is made up. The facts are close to the truth and the spirit is dead on.

“Kids, get in the car.” It was say 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday night. We piled in. Your immediate reaction would be to say, “Dave, why didn’t you say ‘where are we going?’” That wasn’t an option.

We pulled into the parking lot at the Sears store in, I think either Allen or Lincoln Park, Michigan. Whichever, it was Downriver, the not fancy part of the town.

The trip was as much outing as necessary shopping. We may have bought some socks, remember this is a bit of a compilation. Dad looked at Craftsman tools, I know none were bought. Mom looked at what moms looked at.

Then it happened. We came to the candy counter.

At this point in our story, I’ve just had a nagging thought. Have I written about this before? As it turns out, I have, here it is:


I still like it. Someday I’ll tell you about the Flintstones, potato chips and Pepsi, assuming a word search doesn’t reveal that I’ve already written about them.

Everywhere and Nowhere

Saying nothing is one of the best negotiating techniques there is. I don't mean not talking at all, I mean not responding to the point or demand made. It is amazing how often that leads to a concession on the point or a reduction in the demand.

President Obama seems to be everywhere these days. He read to second grade kids yesterday morning. He was on CNN and Fox and some other outlet last night. He's throwing Super Bowl parties and hosting happy hours.

He never says the Republicans are crazy or that his fellow Democrats are over-reaching on the bailout/stimulus/recovery/economic progress bill. The result? The Dems are reaching a bit less than they were last week and the Goppers are actually talking substantively rather than trying to set up the Dems for a fall.

I was going to type "the problem with this approach" and then couldn't figure out if there is a problem .

Back during the campaign, I recall reports of Obama not taking sides but rather building consensus when he was the president of the Harvard Law Review, voting "present" in the Illinois Legislature and not being a mover or shaker in the U.S. Senate.

He seems to be taking the same sort of approach as President. "You boys and girls get together and work this out. We're dealing with important stuff and we have to do it quickly. What do I think? I think it is important and is best dealt with quickly. I'm confident that at the end of the day we will have a program that we and the American People are proud of."

It occurs to me that he is acting just like a mediator in a legal dispute, gathering the opposing parties, encouraging and cajoling them to come to a resolution, every now and then poking their positions at the edges - "Isn't that condom thing a non-starter? Come on, give it up. I believe in free enterprise as much as the next guy; but jeez, shouldn't there be some reasonable limit to executive pay?"

Is this the role of the President? Johnson was a master at backroom jawboning and arm-twisting. Reagan and Tip O'Neill settled a lot of issues over a bottle after the sun had set and the reporters were tucked in bed. Clinton was a bottom line guy. They got a lot of results. Not all good results as we've found out, but results nonetheless.

Mediator in Chief?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Prognostication v. Observation

In case you missed it, Monday was Groundhog Day. In the event you didn't know, there are two groundhogs that are watched. The famous one is up north in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil; but we have a groundhog down here in Georgia, General Beauregard Lee. I read yesterday that Phil is more often accurate than Beau, though Beau's website says otherwise.

There's another competitor for the country's best predictor of spring, Mohave Max. It seems to me that he's got the mammals beat. He's a tortoise that hibernates and according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "[t]here is no shadow involved. No silliness. Just some scientists and a hole. When Max comes out, it's springtime. Before that, it is winter."

Probably not as much fun though.

Monday, February 02, 2009


So Big Rick and I were talking today about the wake a week from this Friday. The subject of driving into Virginia-Highlands in Atlanta, drinking and driving home, came up. I mentioned that I’d told our friend the Atlanta cop that I expected an escort out of town. Rick said “that’s OK, Tony can drive, he never drinks much.”

It wasn’t a slip of the tongue as we’ve been wont to do, it was a joke. Rick had his normal evil look as he said it, just subtle and unfunny enough to be close to normal.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Lame Commercials

Pretty good game.