Friday, December 31, 2010

Life and death go on whether you like it or not.

Tuesday is the anniversary of my friend Tony’s death.  We are in the process of putting together an anniversary wake.

Living can get in the way.

Big Rick has to work so we are doing an in person pre-wake on Sunday and he will attend the Tuesday wake via Skype, appearing from his office via my MacBook on a table at the bar.  I wonder if we can do stereo Rick on Bill the Engineer’s MacBook?  Get a routine together Rick.

Then a friend informs me he may have to be in Florida as his mother may be close to the end.  Skype?  I don’t know.  Maybe we’ll have serial wakes.

I just know we’ll work it out one way or another.

And more life, one of my nieces is getting married in Mesa, AZ next weekend. 

Round and round.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sometimes it's hard to be a liberal commie pinko

I’ve spent yesterday and today researching WARN, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act in its federal and state forms.

Now I’m all in favor of the worker, the bedrock of our society.  But, you knew there was a but, right?

Putting it overly simplistically, the statute says that companies of a certain size (100 employees for the feds, 75 for the state) can’t lay off more than a third of their workers at any given location unless they give sixty days notice and the workers get pay, benefits, FICA and so on during the notice period.

So say you wanted to lay off 50 people because you don’t have anything for them to do and each of them makes an average of $700 a week, call it $1,000 with fringes.  You are going to spend $200,000 to do it at a point when you are losing money, the reason you want to lay them off in the first place.  (A good number of the court decisions about the statute are from bankruptcy court, which should tell you something about the statute’s effect on companies that fall victim to its provisions.)

And that catchy statute name with the word retraining in it?  Nothing in the statute deals with retraining workers.  The “adjustment” seems to be that the company, rather than the government, is paying unemployment benefits, for the first sixty days.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I side on the side of solitary.  I like spending time alone, inside my head or listening to music or watching a movie.  Part of that is habit, living alone for most of my life.

Even if I’ve enjoyed going to the bar or a restaurant with friends, there comes a time that I’ve had enough and want to retreat to the couch.

That said, there’s something to be said for people.  I spent the last long weekend in New Orleans with a friend and two new friends.

Even with friends and family, I can be standoffish, there, but not there.  Now and again, I engage.  I probably should do more of it.

I’ve written about it before; but, when you look at people and smile more often than not they smile back.  Double down and say something friendly, or better, funny, and the world is yours.

Do either or both in New Orleans and you are garonteed to have a good, good time.  I had a good time.

Without going all sociological, we are meant to be around other people.  You don’t get the full benefit of your time here going it alone.  I need to remember that more often.  Not a resolution or anything, just a thought.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Where have media companies been over the past couple of decades?

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is starting The Daily Paper next month for people with an iPad. The reported price is 99 cents a week for a “paper” pushed to you every morning. (The New York Times plans to do something similar next year.)

Given the way I read online, a bit here, a bit there, returning several times a day when I'm bored, this seems to me to be a step backwards as it won’t have the attraction of continuous updates to the news being reported; and, assuming The Times and others go the same route, it would make me go to several different places to get what I need, though I do have to do that now. It’s a return to hearing the “thunk” of the paper hitting the front porch as you’re waking up, without the accompanying tactile pleasure of holding real paper in your hands.

The days of reading “The Paper” are just about over if I’m any example. Most people with access to the internet get their news from a variety of sources. But, most people on the internet aren’t going to pay 99 cents here and another 99 there. They want a place to go.

Paying for online news is going to become a reality over the next couple of years. I really wish someone (Google, Apple, Amazon are you listening?) would get it right and aggregate everything that’s out there, charge me a reasonable price and let me have at it.

Google has the perfect model with the opposite of AdSense. Put everything behind a wall, charge the reader and distribute the money to those that get the hits. Quality (or at least popularity) gets paid and the also-rans drop out.
Apple’s iTunes or would be a second best model. Log on to “iNews” or “ANews” and buy what you want.

The days of the corner store started to end when the mall was invented. Amazon knew that when it built its online mall. Why don’t the media companies understand this?

I wish I had a billion bucks to bet on this.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's love got to do with it?

A writer for the New York Times argued recently that we “fall in love” with the software in electronic devices, seeing it as an extension of our brains, making the devices objects of our affection.

“[I]t should come as little surprise that people feel lost or actually grieve when they lose a personal electronic device. ‘You are leaving your brain behind….’”


I’m more tech oriented than many.  I bought one of the first “portable” computers, an Osborne (it was the size of a small suitcase, 4” screen, two 5 ¼” floppy drives with a total of 64k ram).  But the computer went into the closet when I started as a baby lawyer because my secretary typed 100 wpm.

I got my first Email account when clients started asking for my Email address.  Same for the first cell phone, I bought it when enough people asked for my number.

I didn’t make the decision on getting Internet access, we moved our office and the new place was wired.  Within a year or so there was enough online that I got a laptop to use at home and on the road.

The smart phones I’ve bought were the result of seeing that their features would be useful.

Did I mourn when a laptop got stolen or I switched computers?  I did bitch about having to transfer stuff, getting it from one “brain” to the next.

I’ll admit to liking a lot of the changes in electronics.  My first laptop was pretty cool when viewed next to my secretary’s clunky beige IBM 386 something or other.  The little Motorola Razr was kind of elegant in its day.  My Mac Mini and MacBook are much better looking and operate much better than their Dell predecessors.  I love multi-touch phone screens; but, I can’t see myself buying an iPad, as elegant as it is, anytime soon because it won’t do all the things my MacBook does.

But love?  It’s all stuff that does something I need done.  Once the initial fascination with the new features wears off, it’s a tool like a car or a TV or, pick your own example.  Better, stronger, faster as the narrator on the Six Million Dollar Man intoned; but, to be replaced somewhere down the line with the next better, stronger, faster thing.

Love?  I love the old, old drafting board that I bought for $25.00 thirty years ago.  It is a piece of art.  I love my Ping putter.  It fits my eye – it’s my eye’s fault not all the putts go in the cup.  I love the Grapes of Wrath and like paper books more than eReaders.  As much as I try, I can’t really concentrate on words on a screen as well as I can on words on a piece of paper.

The Times writer asks “[c]an you love an electronic device made of glass silicon and plastic?”  Nope, just what it can do and the next one will do better.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I just don't know anymore

It looks like Congress is on board with the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts.  As I understand it, this will cost upwards of $800 billion in foregone tax revenue.   Even if I’m wrong by a hundred billion or so, that’s hundreds of billions more than the net cost of the original TARP bailout, you know, AIG, GM, Wall Street and so on.

Isn’t that the program that the Republicans ran against (even though it started with the Bush Administration)?

Everything I’m reading says the GOP and the Dems are just going to yell over the other guys heads leading up to the 2012 elections and no one is going to cut any meaningful spending.

Maybe it’s just me; but, if everyone agrees that we can’t continue what are crushing deficits which will only cascade if spending isn’t cut, what the hell are they doing increasing the deficit? 

W and Congress (and yes there were and are Dems in it) cut taxes with the idea that it would grow the economy which would result in more taxes being paid, reducing the deficit.  How did that work out, as the good Sarah would ask?

I’m too lazy to go find out how GDP, federal spending and tax revenue have changed but here’s the net result, the gross debt according to the Treasury Department:

09/30/2010 13,561,623,030,891.79
09/30/2009 11,909,829,003,511.75
09/30/2008 10,024,724,896,912.49
09/30/2007 9,007,653,372,262.48
09/30/2006 8,506,973,899,215.23
09/30/2005 7,932,709,661,723.50
09/30/2004 7,379,052,696,330.32
09/30/2003 6,783,231,062,743.62
09/30/2002 6,228,235,965,597.16
09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06
09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86

The last decade of government cost about $8 trillion more than it took in.  And we’re going to add 10% to that in the next day or two.  Then we’ll “talk” about cutting spending.  Of course, defense spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all the other big ticket items are off the table, especially while our leaders are angling for political advantage. 

As Sarah would say, how ya think that’s going to work out?

I’d say we’re screwed.  We’ve met the enemy, the enemy is us – we want and we elect people that give us what we want.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Value of Learning Pronunciation from the Bowery Boys

 Big Rick and I were sitting at the bar a month or so ago and he said “that’ll put the kibosh on that!” (Short I sound, emphasis on the second syllable.) “Kibosh,” I said. ( Long I, emphasis on the first syllable.) We went back and forth with no resolution of the dispute.

I spent a lot of Saturday afternoons as a little kid watching things like reruns of the Bowery Boys. The “boys” had been making movies since the 1930’s in various incarnations. The constants were Terrence Aloysius "Slip" Mahoney (Leo Gorcey), Horace Debussy "Sach" Jones (Huntz Hall), Bobby (Bobby Jordan), Whitey (Billy Benedict), and Chuck (David Gorcey). (Later on the Gorcey brothers’ father, Bernard, played Louie Dumbrowski, the proprietor of the sweet shop where they hung out waiting for their adventures in their sanitized New York, blue collar neighborhood.) 

Rick, if he could bring himself to listen to the dreaded National Public Radio, would have gotten support for his pronunciation this morning. There was an exchange between the host and guest about the etymology of the word, with the guest using Rick’s ki BOSH pronunciation. Having learned my pronunciation from Slip Mahoney (when Whitey came into the sweet shop out of breath with news of what the bad guys in the next block were doing and Slip vowed “I’ll put the “KI bosh” on that!”) I was taken aback.

So, rather than working for the past hour, I’ve been researching the elusively pronounced word.

guy goes with me but can’t settle on an origin of the word (though, he mentions the origin promoted by the NPR guest – a kibosh was a “death cap” put on a body in a coffin in Ireland and evolved into putting an “end” to something).

Extensive surfing of dictionary sites finds none use Rick’s pronunciation. Slip Mahoney and I are the consensus winners.

So, you ask, the moral of the story is? Let your kids watch the classics and the dreck – an eclectic education gives them a fifty/fifty chance of being right when they argue with their Big Rick over a beer decades later.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Jimmy Stewart, where are you?

From Wikipedia, of course:

“In the modern filibuster, the senators trying to block a vote do not have to hold the floor and continue to speak as long as there is a quorum, although the Senate Majority Leader may require an actual traditional filibuster if he or she so chooses. In the past, when one senator became exhausted, another would need to take over to continue the filibuster. Ultimately, the filibuster could be exhausted by a majority who would even sleep in cots outside the Senate Chamber to exhaust the filibusterers. Today, the minority just advises the majority leader that the filibuster is on. All debate on the bill is stopped until cloture is voted by three-fifths (now 60 votes) of the Senate. Some modern Senate critics have called for a return to the old dramatic endurance contest, arguing that the ease with which a nominal ‘filibuster’ can be staged (compared to the real suspension of business) has led to a progressively wider use of it and has contributed to perceived ‘gridlock.’”

A “procedural” vote for DADT failed today 57 to 40 in the Senate.   Note please that there were 57 of 100 Senators “voting to vote” on DADT.  They do these silly things because of the filibuster – once a person opposed says filibuster, you have to get 60 votes to end it to vote.  Then you only need 51 votes. Susan Collins and a couple of other Republican Senators say they’ll vote for it, someday, after they debate a long time.  These are the same Senators that signed the letter that said nothing was getting done until the Senate passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts.  Classic cross-examination:  “Were you lying then or are you lying now?”

Consensus is nice and as vestigial as the appendix.  If the Senate is going to give such great weight to historical methods, they ought to do it the way they used to.  Susan Collins and her friends should get up there and talk and talk and talk and do nothing else.  We can start a C-Span 3 or 4 or whatever the next number is.  All minority cranks, all the time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Murder as a Political Question

A United States District Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit yesterday brought by a father who wanted to block the Obama Administration from killing his son, a U.S. citizen; so, the contract to off the son is still good.  (The Administration declines to admit or deny that it plans to kill the guy.)

Sounds terrible doesn’t it?  Let’s color the facts a little.  The guy is an alleged (and almost certainly is a) terrorist.  He left the country some years ago for Yemen and is allegedly involved with “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Judges have a lot of “doctrines” or rules for what cases get decided and how.  While this case involved several doctrines, the one of interest concerns “political questions.”  Overly simply put, courts will refrain from judging the conduct of elected officials – sometimes.  One of the areas of conduct that courts shy away from is national security, given that they feel ill equipped to make judgments.  To borrow a phrase from another area of law, the trial judge decided that he shouldn’t engage in “prior restraint” by second guessing the executive branch’s conclusion that the guy was such a threat to national security that he should be summarily killed.

There’s an existing body of law that allows soldiers to kill enemy soldiers and government agents to kill others who pose an immediate threat.  The logic is similar to validating a policeman’s judgment in shooting someone under some circumstances.  This decision though seems to greatly expand such discretion and pretty much do away with the requirement of an immediate threat.

“”The court recognizes the somewhat unsettling nature of its conclusion – that there are circumstances in which the Executive’s unilateral decision to kill a US citizen overseas is constitutionally committed to the political branches and judicially unreviewable,’ Bates wrote in his 83-page decision. ‘But this case squarely presents such a circumstance.’”

The judge “said the case would require him to ‘understand and assess the capabilities of the [alleged] terrorist operative to carry out a threatened attack, what response would be sufficient to address that threat, possible diplomatic considerations that may bear on such responses, the vulnerability of potential targets that the [alleged] terrorist may strike, the availability of military and nonmilitary options, and the risks to military and nonmilitary personnel in attempting application of non-lethal force.’”

Yes; but, isn’t that what judges do?

The terrible irony is that if the government wanted to tap the guy’s phone or computer, it would have to get a warrant.  Take his life?  Whatever they decide is just fine with the judge because determining whether they are justified is just too much work.

There’s a cliché that bad facts make bad law.  Refusing to look at the facts makes worse law.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Success doesn't necessarily result from smart (or, you can fool a lot of people a lot of the time)

President Obama is by any measure a smart person.

His presidency to date is pretty dismal no matter which view you take of it.

If you bought into that “hopey changey thing” you’ve been sorely disappointed.

President Obama, if he actually cares about civil liberties, has other things to do than promote them; indeed, he seems to be willing to attack them if he thinks the Republicans will let him sit at the lunch table with them.

Each and every one of his economic initiatives have benefited big business.  He apparently thinks trickle down is a viable economic policy, regular people just need to be patient (he must be an Augustinian scholar).

As it turns out he’s what the British call a backbencher.  By no means, for better or worse, is he a leader or a negotiator.

If you are a member of the GOP or a Tea Partier, you could do worse – just what has he done that has hurt you?  And, he serves as a useful false enemy to whip up the base and until recently placate the other side.

Our President is a failed Chicago Pol.  Everyone wants to work a deal don’t they?  We’ll just sit down, I’ll give some, you’ll…. Wait, you aren’t giving!  OK, here’s something else, now what do you say?

We have two more years of Bush Lite.  The scary thing is thinking about who is next.

Friday, December 03, 2010

John McCain to Pentagon: "Yo Mama!"

“We send these young people into combat; we think they’re mature enough to fight and die. I think they’re mature enough to make a judgment on who they want to serve with and the impact on their battle effectiveness.” 

John McCain at yesterday’s hearing on DADT.

Our young military members’ fathers and grand fathers weren’t too keen on a lot of people that weren’t like them.  Give women the vote?  Women, other than teachers and nurses, in the workforce?  Black people serving with white people in the military?  Integrated Schools? All recipes for disaster!

John McCain is ‘agin gays; but, he knows he can’t come out and say that.  So he wants the military to study the issue.  They do it and conclude that the world won’t end if gays are soldiers.  So, he says, the study is flawed, it didn’t address all of the issues, let’s listen more to what our brave young warriors have to say.

There is no perfect time to change the rules.  All of society will never buy into any given social change.  There are misogynists and racists in your neighborhood and they’ll still be around for decades, perhaps centuries to come, living next door to gay bashers.

But we’re making progress.  The fearful haters can’t just spew their bile, they have to couch their “arguments” in other terms.  You don’t hear the phases barefoot and pregnant, shiftless colored folk and the like in polite society much anymore.  The emotions are still there in some; but, they’ve been driven underground.  Sen. McCain is finding himself behind the curve and he’s none too happy.  Here’s to his continuing unhappiness.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Go All In on Taxes?

Brinksmanship – noun, the technique or practice of maneuvering a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance or safety in order to secure the greatest advantage, esp. by creating diplomatic crises.

I think it may be useful to look at what Republican Senators are doing this week in terms of table stakes poker.  “We aren’t doing a damn thing until Obama and the Democrats fold on extending the Bush tax cuts.”

Obama is probably going to fold facing the “all in” bet.  But should he?

The key word here is extension.  If there isn’t a bill passed to extend the current tax rates, the old tax rates kick in as the 2001 statute had a sunset date, December 31, 2010. Then the millionaires and billionaires and crotchety old Mr. Smith down the street go back to paying more taxes.  According to Yahoo News “[t]he current six rate brackets of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% will be replaced by five new brackets with the higher rates of 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6%.”  (For more on the changes read the Yahoo article here)

There are a lot of people that don’t pay any federal income tax; and, guess what, most of them are the poor and working poor.  So, changing the brackets won’t have any effect on them. 

Who’ll get hit?  Middle and upper middle class people, you know the people making a pretty good living, making say $100,000 to $250,000 a year (the ones that Obama and the Dems want to shield).

A lot of them identify with the Tea Party, Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce and so on.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most of them voted for Republicans last month.

These are the people that watch Fox News, listen to Limbaugh and subscribe to Palin’s Twitter feed.  Down with taxes, we’re the Tea Party!  If their tax burden ox is gored, will they turn on their ultra-rich brethren on Wall Street and in the corporate offices of the drug companies and banks?  Might there be a softening of GOP militancy?

The Republican attempt to shut down the government didn’t work back in the 90’s.  If Obama develops some balls, it just may not work this month.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Getting the Little People Back on Their Feet

News reports today are doing sound bites on the Republicans’ refusal to extend unemployment benefits for about 2 million people about to lose them.  The GOPpers say they are sympathetic; but, that any money spent on these long-term unemployed must come from some other current recipients of government largesse.  (That’s not exactly how they phrased it.)  In short, no borrowing says Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, it has to come from the “savings account” of current spending not the “credit card” of deficit spending.

Sounds good – good sound bite.

At the same time, the Republicans are holding firm to their conviction that rich people deserve equal protection when it comes to the Bush tax cuts; after all they are the engine of economic recovery, the investors that must be motivated to jump start our return to greatness.  They neglect to say that maintaining the tax cuts requires the government to use the “credit card” of continuing deficit spending.  I’m not hearing any clamor to cut government spending from the “savings account” to match the amount of taxes that won’t be collected.

I suppose they have a point, Wall Street bonus babies were in the news last week with stories about how they were going to spend their seven figure year end checks.  I especially liked the one about hiring a midget for a buddy’s bachelor party.  It’s good to see that some little people are reaping the benefit of Republican economic policy.