Thursday, December 11, 2008

Water, Water Nowhere

The UN and others have been circulating the idea that water, and not fuel, will be the resource impetus for the nextmajor world war. The popularity of bottled water already shows a trend towards outlandish, inaccessible pricing for a resource that is utterly essential to life. Control over water equates to control over life and death (just ask Tank Girl), and any time some authority asserts that level of control over peoples' lives, war becomes inevitable, even if it takes time before it actually happens. Not only do we squander water on things like bottling it, washing cars, watering wasteful plants such as grass (even in the L.A. desert), and so on -- we also pollute it like crazy, to the point where our fish are loaded with Mercury. The whole "Green Revolution" that people are talking about needs to include not only alternative fuel production, but a serious retooling of our water usage policies, including subsidizing the clean-up of drinking and fishing waters with taxes and fines on industrial users of water. This isn't socialism, it is transferring costs borne by one set of businesses (fishing, farming, restaurants, etc.) and the public (their drinking water) to the cause of the costs (industrial polluters, bottlers, and anyone who profits off water at the expense of other industries because unfair policies skew in their favor).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day Without A Gay

Today has been declared Day Without A Gay in protest of California's Proposition 8, and various other discriminatory legislation across the country. Because our workplace is so supportive of people, regardless of their sexual orientation (or race, religion, or other compartmentalizer), most anti-8 supporters here are volunteering before or after work, and/or are helping to spread the word through e-mails, blogs, and so on.

If you're not gay, imagine yourself in their position, being unable to live the same kind of lives as all your friends and neighbors because of discrimination. "The other," when observed, turns out to be much more like you than they are different. As Graham Greene says in The Power and The Glory: “When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity — that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.”

Supporting gay rights is indirect support of your own rights, because the same kinds of unimaginative people who oppose gay rights would be just as keen to oppose your rights should doing so increase their own power and prestige in some way. I know they'd oppose mine, because very similar arguments were made from very similar pulpits about miscegenation not too long ago. In those times, Anu and I could not have married. Perhaps only a fringe consciously want to return to those times, but the parallels are obvious to me.

So this is my missive encouraging people to get out there and support gay rights in some way. If you can't take a day off work, or want to show support for a supportive workplace by not taking the day off, find some way -- volunteering, donations, propagandizing -- to help people secure rights you may very well take for granted, even if only because by doing so you help increase the value and security of your own rights.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

China winning Cyberwar

According to the Guardian, Telegraph, and other sources, China is currently engaged in, and winning, a Cyberwar against the United States. Not only is China allegedly targeting US industrial and commercial capacity, committing corporate espionage and undermining US businesses, but it is also already in position to disrupt deployment of high-tech US troops. Given China's laggard deployment of high-end military technology itself, this superiority in the area of hacking is intended as a bulwark against our otherwise superior deployment capabilities. If the Chinese can interrupt our military networks, they can use this technique to prevent us from deploying rapidly, or to throw our deployments into chaos by sending incorrect orders and generaly causing problems in our command and control structures.

As someone generally opposed to war in all but the most extreme of circumstances, I am not particularly excited about the idea of a war with China to begin with, but this situation would make it far worse by giving China's conventional forces an opportunity to make use of their superior numbers by decreasing our technical advantages. Russia is said to be pursing a similar strategy. What the US needs to do, and this is true whether or not the military finally gets its act together and does a far better job of (understanding and) securing its networks, is to take seriously cyberwar and cybercrime and put money into training, deploying, and supporting our own cyberwarriors and cybercops. This, much like cleanup of the environment, AI R&D, and R&D into life extension medicine, needs a Manhattan Project or Space Program style investment in order to really achieve its goals.

We should be concerned that China and Russia targeting our military computing systems, but we should be just as concerned that gangs (and especially Chinese and Russian ones, allegedly in collusion with their militaries) are targeting our online economic and business activity. The losses from cybercrime are estimated at around $240 Million, which while a drop in the bucket compared to bailing out Wall Street, is still significant criminal activity. The US, Europe and Japan need to get their acts together and protect our militaries and economies from being undermined by technologies that we created, and therefore we should be able to exploit just as well as the others.

If we're willing to make engineering and science careers seem fashionable again, rather than promoting only sports and entertainment, we can entice more younger people into those disciplines and generate enough qualified people to attack a variety of problems: cybercrime, environmental issues, health care, and so on. The first big step is, as a society, wanting to do it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Let's Make Jobs

I've been busy at work, too busy to blog much for the last couple weeks, and am quite thankful for that. After all, I have a job, and a good one at that. According to reports, the U.S. has lost around two million jobs, the worst decline since 1974. With job loss numbers like that, people are starting to get desperate.

Obama has announced, but not detailed, a plan for job creation. Some of the components are sensible, such as renovate deteriorating school buildings and making public buildings energy efficient. Others, however, miss the mark. Rebuilding the national highway system cites Eisenhower, probably a good P.R. move, but it seems unwise in our current economic and environmental situation to do so without also making a priority of rebuilding of our once-great national railway system, and giving matching funds to cities and suburbs to expand commuter rail and metro systems.

The idea of upgrading hospitals being limited to giving them access to electronic medical records also seems sorely lacking. Many hospitals need facilities expansions and upgrades, equipment modernization, and most importantly staffing expansions (especially in nursing and emergency room doctors).

Furthermore, a national effort towards preventative medicine, nutrition, and fitness would not only reduce healthcare costs (an economic win), it would also create jobs and business opportunities in these areas (another economic win). Legislation mandating insurance (including government plans) pay for preventative care would be a good start.

Cutting subisides on beef and corn would also be a good plan. This would force a cometitive agricultural market and allow other food options to be cost competitive, such as real sugar vs. corn syrup. It also brings me to energy, as corn ethanol should not receive subsidies, and neither should oil. Cutting both would save taxpayer dollars, and open-up the alternative fuel markets by making alternatives to these two options more competitive.

Corn ethanol is not much of an alternative to oil, as corn is a resource-intensive crop to produce (I love to eat it, but am not so keen on as a monocultural basis for all agricultural production in our country). In tandem with transferring subsidies from processes that are already mature (corn and oil) to R&D into better processes, the government should also encourage hemp ehtanol production. Hemp is a lower water usage plant than corn, and is a hearty stock that can grow on "waste" land not used for food production.

Hemp ethanol could ameliorate several problems with corn ethanol: that using corn to make ethanol is preferencing fuel over food, that corn is a resource-intensive crop, that corn ethanol doesn't seem to have a gross energy win as a fuel source, and that subsidizing a mature process that isn't hampered by previously restrictive laws or counter-subsidies of another product and therefore should be able to compete on the open market is the worst kind of corporate welfare.

Any plan to create jobs in this economy will be met with public acceptance, but I hope the Obama team will be more creative and contemporary in their thinking about such plans. Simply looking back at Eisenhower and F.D.R., and adding the word "Internet" in a couple places, isn't going to be enough to create enough new markets for the U.S. to be a world leader not just economically, but in terms of economic and environmentall problem solving and technical innovation as well.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bailouts And Bombs

The markets continue to fall, and the Fed exercises its right to spend our tax dollars on bailing-out zillionaires. I've been having a hard time keeping track of who is and isn't getting a bail-out with each new announcement. What I do know is this: it's going to be more than $700billion now, it's allegedly directly targeted at stabilizing the home real estate market (finally someone noticed the instigating market of the whole crisis), and is somehow going to do this without the government procuring subprime mortgages. I'm not at all clear on how that last trick is supposed to work (if you are, please post in the comments and enlighten me). The Big Three automakers are also poised to get a bail-out, so they can continue to manufacture cars nobody wants. Apparently it's a point of national pride that those companies continue to exist, because Japanese and German companies are rumored to be quite willing to buy the manufacturing capacity and keep the jobs here in order to expand their own operations (and presumably get their hands on the one thing Detroit still does best: light and medium trucks for the commercial market).

Meanwhile, across the globe, attrocious terrorist attacks hit Mumbai, India's financial and cultural capital. Claims range from 80-100 are dead and upwards of 300 wounded, and hostages are and were being held at two major hotels, and a residential complex with Jewish residents and a Jewish prayer hall. Accounts vary as to whether the attackers are from the previously unknown Deccan Mujahedeen from India, or are Pakistani nationals. If the latter (or if the "Deccan Mujahedeen" is really the allegedly ISI-funded "Indian Mujahedeen"), Pakistan's politically unreliable ISI and the ultra-extremists they underwrite may once again have nudged India and Pakistan closer to war, and thus the world closer to hosting a nuclear war, and for what? And since Indian Police officials, government officials, and foreign businesspeople were specifically targeted, it remains to be seen what kind of a response India's security and military apparatus will put in place once the immediate threat has been neutralized. As for the lunatics who perpetrated these crimes, whatever legitimate grievances they may think they have, once they resort to terrorism, they taint their own cause. Terrorists (unless they are killing Israelis, in which case widespread antisemitism disguised as some kind of faux-outrage at Israel behaving like pretty much every other nation-state in the world gives their cause a popularity boost) turn world opinion against whatever issue their footsolidiers were supposedly recruited for. But that's just the recruitment lies, just like we have our own recruitment lies for our military. The ultimate analysis is always the same: whatever the supporters believe, the leaders are always after the same goal -- power for themselves. The leaders want exactly what they're getting, which is fear, chaos, the driving of a wedge between people, and fueling of the fires of hatred, so that Democratic societies might fall apart and leave behind feudalistic feifdoms for these extremist leaders to control. Afghanistan under the Taliban is the prototype here, and it's obviously all about power and control, because Afghanistan under the Taliban had absolutely nothing except for some desperate people for self-indulgent, power-mad warlords to rule over.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Another Exciting First

General Ann Dunwoody became the Army's first woman four-star General. As women can not yet serve in ground combat roles, Gen. Dunwoody was promoted through her service as a logistics officer. Here's hoping that this first, along with other changes in military culture, lead to increased exposure for female servicepeople, and a general review of how women are treated in our armed forces -- with an eye towards redressing and preventing recurrence of the kinds of abuses that have been perpetuated against women in uniform.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In Today's Absurd News

Sarah Palin says she'd be honored to help Obama. Thank you, Governor. You already did.
Palin, McCain (still loyal to his party), and others are already talking about her as the headliner on the Republican ticket in four years. According to CNN, 77% of Republicans polled support this idea. Apparently, given all the polls showing her as a negative during this campaign, she is also anxious to help Obama get re-elected. Again, thank you.

Now, enough with the Palin stories. Who cares? Obama is President now, and his personal story, as well as his upcoming challenges, is much, much bigger news.

As for Obama, given all the problems he has to tackle as President, the media has apparently decided that choosing and naming his kids' dog is what constitutes headline news. It's less than two weeks since election mania, and one of the most momentous occasions in U.S. history, and already the media is back to reporting on nonsense.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans' Day

One Week Later

Now that I've had a weekend away, and the euphoria of the Obama victory is starting to wear off, I've come back to my senses and realized just how screwed up the country really is right now. As one friend of mine put it: "Now that the idiot is finally gone, we can get on with hating this guy now." Obama and his administration will have a lot to deal with, and all eyes will be on his administration to get it right, and do it quickly, in a bi-partisan manner, and without making life difficult for Joe Citizen. Good luck. Any of the usual shortcomings found at the beginning of any administration will be magnified by hopes that have reached stratospheric heights.

Market indices continue to plummet as the financial news reports daily fears of a recession. (Exactly how long can so-called professional traders "fear" something that is already here?) The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to drain the national coffers, and no concrete goal is in sight. (Exactly how long can so-called professional leaders fight a "war" with no definitive objectives?) Meanwhile, problems like social security, health care, infrastructure, energy independence, and so on continue to languish. (Apparently so-called professional legislators can achieve deadlock on those issues for exactly forever.)

I continue to drink the hope Kool-Aid because, after all, an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama (of all names) was elected the freakin' President of the United States, which is still unbelievably amazing. But, Team Obama definitely has their work cut out for them. While their Kennedyesque plan of trying to enlist all Americans to ask what they can do for their country is laudable, I am not sure that Americans of 2008 are as ready to heed that call as Americans of 1961 were. The Me-Generation decades have given us the reputation of being selfish, lazy, entitled, and hypocritical. I hope that reputation will prove to be undeserved, but we won't really know until after January 20th, when the Obamanation is truly in-effect, and sixty-six million Americans need to help President Obama put their money where their votes were.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Republicans In The Cabinet?

Obama and/or his staffers have mentioned Colin Powell as Secretary of State, and keeping Paulson in Treasury. I'm not sure of the wisdom of either of those choices, given that while they may be skilled in their areas of expertise, and moderate aisle-crossers by personality, they both participated in some disastrous Bush miscalculations. Robert Gates, Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel have also been mentioned, by the Obama team, with Gates possibly intended to stay on in a National Security capacity (hopefully not as Secretary of Defense, though).

Several commentators have also mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm not sure what our Governator would bring to the table beyond star power. He hasn't been an especially effective California executive (he hasn't been incompetent, either, but he has been arrogant and Machiavellian at times). The pundits feel Arnie has unique talents related to the environment, but I'm not entirely sure what the basis of this claim is, and I'm one of more politically engaged constituents (he's a moderate who changed his platform to conform to the prevailing attitudes in California -- politically shrewd, and I approve, but he's not exactly an environmental visionary).

The (former) Republican who Obama really could make use of is New York's Michael Bloomberg. A talented executive in his own right, Bloomberg is a moderating force who has handled the unruly New York polity generally with aplomb, and who did a pretty good job cleaning up after the mess and smoothed over the acrimony left by eight years of Giuliani. In addition to his level head and clearly proven ability to work across party lines, Bloomberg's financial expertise will also be much needed in the coming administration. Mike Bloomberg would make an excellent Treasury Secretary.

Other moderate Republicans (and ex-Republican Independents) kicking around the political landscape include former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee (now an Independent), former NY Governor George Pataki, Maine Senators Snowe and Collins, and former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker (also now an Independent).

However, all this media discussion about Republicans in the Cabinet raises the question: what about Democrats in the Cabinet? The big question there is: will anything be offered to Hillary Clinton or is her reputation too poisonous in terms of building a moderate coalition that includes Republicans, and if something is offered, will she accept it? So far, the only Democratic name I've heard mentioned by the broadcast media is Rahm Emanuel as a candidate for Chief of Staff. I'd like to see Bill Richardson and Wesley Clark (as Secretary of Defense) in the Cabinet, though I doubt Richardson would accept because former Cabinet members rarely go on to be President and I suspect Governor Richardson still has that possibility in mind. Ed Rendell is another popular, capable Democratic Governor who is probably not interested owing to his own career as a political executive.

Former Democratic Primary candidates are also interesting possibilities. Chris Dodd and Mike Gravel are both highly experienced politicians whose time for Presidential bids may be past, and who would make very competent Cabinet Secretaries. John Edwards, already shortlisted for VP, is likely to be considered for some position (maybe A.G.). Kucinich would be interesting, but his personality is considered sufficiently unruly, and his stands sufficiently far Left, that I doubt anyone would consider him seriously.

Our highly experienced and competent 7th District Representative, George Miller, could be interesting as a Secretary of Labor, Education or the Interior (all issues he's worked on in Congress). While I had once hoped Eliot Spitzer would be U.S.A.G. some day, he committed career suicide, leaving behind Mark Green and Andrew Cuomo to fight for the job. Cuomo won, but Mark Green has had a following in NY for a long time, and many of us were disappointed by his failure to advance farther in NY politics. I personally feel it was because Green was not enough of a machine politician, and it would be fantastic to see Mark Green involved in a Change and Hope Cabinet, even if only as an Undersecretary or an Assistant A.G.

Mainly, I'd like to see some Californians and New Yorkers involved in an Obama Cabinet. These two great states deserve to have some representation in the Cabinet, as they are first and third in the nation by population and GDP, have produced some highly competent and popular politicians, and consistently vote Democratic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Anti-Gay-Marriage Amendment Debases All Californians

Many of my gay friends are posting this banner (or ones like it):


My own marriage is not threatened by Proposition 8, though as it is an interracial marriage, it only exists because Civil Rights activists of the past few generations fought a long, hard battle against one kind of prejudice. It's a shame that many of their constituents, having emerged from being victims of extreme prejudice, decided to use their vote to take away Civil Rights from and enforce prejudice upon another minority group. Homophobia (along with Islamophobia and Athiestophobia) is one of the last great "acceptable" prejudices in America.

The passage of Proposition 8 has done nothing whatsoever to protect traditional marriage, it has only served to enshrine prejudice in the California Constitution and bitterly divide the people of the state (after all, it is a very close vote). Proposition 8 not only fails to "protect" traditional marriage, as it was never under attack to begin with, but it makes marriage continue to be a privilege denied certain minorities, rather than a right shared by all. I feel that it therefore lessens marriage by retaining it as a discriminatory institution of majority privilege, serving to differentiate one segment of the population as a disenfranchised minority rather than being a universally available contract of commitment and responsibility between two adult individuals and the state.

I hope that in my lifetime the vestiges of this archaic pseudo-morality about homosexuality will crumble away, and people will focus on the parts of faith traditions that have positive, practical merit, such as: human fellowship, compassion, charity, and justice.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Proud To Be An American

Yes We Did!


Today I am again proud to be an American. Our collective rejection of four more years of Bushlike Republican control of the Presidency makes me think that perhaps there is something to these Reagan comparisons people keep making: it really is a new day for America. Obama's message of change and hope resonated with a public tired of more of the same failed Neocon policies. I don't think he's perfect, but the Democrats ran a better race, had a better platform, and fielded better candidates -- and the best ticket won.

And while some claim that race was not an important issue, or should not be, I only partially agree. It wasn't why I voted for Obama. And race alone has no bearing on someone's qualifications for office. But I think that the historic choice of a "black" President is a real turning point in race relations in this country. This repudiation of racism is proof positive that the American experiment really does apply to people of all ethnicities, races and creeds. What this should say to anti-black racists is that African Americans are capable of great achievement, and what it should say to anti-white racists is that European Americans are not trying to hold-back or be "out to get" non-whites. Obama could not have won without white voters. Final demographics are not yet in, but the math is obvious, and to quote from an analysis of earlier polls: "Barack Obama is drawing more support from white voters than any Democratic presidential nominee since Jimmy Carter in 1976." These facts hopefully will lead to a real new day for relations between the races in our country.

Here's hoping that the next four (eight!) years of an Obama Presidency are as good for this country as this election has been.

Disappointed To Be (Almost) A Californian

Despite having lived in California for nearly ten years, I've always vacillated between trying to embrace being a Californian and accepting that I'll always be a New Yorker living in California. I was raised in New York, and having spent all my formative years there I suppose I forever will be a New Yorker by personality. Yet, there are so many things I love about my adopted state: natural beauty, agriculture that produces some of the world's best food, cultural diversity, the high-tech and media industries, and many other great things. My embrace of my adopted state is strong enough that not only do I have no plans to leave any time soon, but that I've floated the idea of a 3rd party, Internet-based run for state office.

However, today I am disappointed in my adopted state. Proposition 8, the Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriage leads in the polls. The fact that is still too close to call, and may come down to the provisional ballot count, is no consolation: it ought to have gone down in flames. True bi-partisan support existed to oppose Prop 8. Not only did Gov. Schwarzenegger come out against it, according to radio news, one of the major "No On 8" campaign organizations was even headed by a Republican. How can citizens of this great state, this pioneering civil rights state, vote to prevent consenting adults from solidifying loving relationships, and providing social and economic stability for their families? The fact that Californians could come together to help elect America's first African American President (by a 20 point landslide), while at the same time denying civil rights to Homosexuals, is very disappointing. We, of all states, ought to do better than that.

I Love Voting

I really enjoy voting. For me, going into a voting booth is a great experience, even if I know I'm going to see some propositions or candidates I support lose (I am cautiously optimistic about Obama, but very unsure about CA Proposition 8 going down in flames like it deserves to). Voting in NY was a little more exciting than in Contra Costa County, not because NY is a big city and CCC is a suburb, but rather because in NY I voted using a big mechanical voting machine where I got to pull on levers and at the end throw a big one to commit my vote. That final "clunk" of the machine was very satisfying. Sticking a paper ballot into a scanner isn't quite as exhilarating, but it is still a great feeling to paste-on that "I Voted" sticker.

I also enjoy campaigning, which I've been doing since I was a kid. I campaigned for Mondale, as I've mentioned before, and even wrote a Reagan parody rap song in opposition to my candidate's opponent (but this was 20 years before YouTube, so nobody ever heard it except some folks in my home town). My contributions to the Obama campaign have been much more reserved -- blogging, talking to people in-person, and financial support. I couldn't top "Obama Girl" (Miss Ettinger) and other early YouTube supporters (who got into the campaigning back when I was still a Hillary Clinton supporter), so I sat this one out in terms of homebrew media. But I still love the electoral process, and encourage everyone to participate in every way they can. Anu, for example, is a Democratic Party Poll Watcher this year (which, of course, means no campaigning at the polling place -- but poll watchers do call party registrants on election day to help get out the vote). Whatever you can do, do it. Get out and participate. Many people fought and died for you to have these rights, so honor them and participate in the political process as vigorously as possible.

Right Wing Hack Warns Of Left Wing Takeover

Sarah Palin is certainly an expert on being outside the mainstream, so when she warns of a Far Left Wing Takeover in the form of the Obama-Biden ticket, you might be tempted to believe it. After all, her only area of expertise is being all Mavericky so maybe she knows a fellow extremist when she sees one. However, a solidly center-left ticket like Obama-Biden only looks Far Left Wing from the vantage point of being too far to the Right. Today is the day to show everyone that America gave the Right Wing its eight years, and our economy, security, and diplomacy are not the better for it. Obama's mantra of change may just be a campaign slogan to some, but the country really does need it.

Just Do It

Monday, November 3, 2008

Which is the bigger prank?

Palin falling for a prank caller pretending to be French PM Sarkozy, or John McCain's juvenile stunt in selecting her as a running mate in the first place? I'm wondering how exactly aides to Sarah Palin came to the conclusion that a telephone call from Canada was genuinely from the French politician, and put her on the line? Their official campaign phones don't have Caller ID? Apparently, the boss is not the only one over at Team Palin that's not quite ready for the big game. I continue to be surprised that McCain hasn't taken the out that some pundits (including conservatives) suggested should she turn into a liability: have the party leadership have Bush nominate her for a Federal judgeship and touted as a future Supreme Court candidate and find a better running mate. The point the Republicans I heard suggest this made was that it wouldn't be about her being a judge (she almost certainly wouldn't be confirmed by this Congress, and would return to her job as Alaska Governor), but about saving face and preserving her for later use (which I'm not at all enthusiastic about, to say the least) while ditching a liability. Maybe nobody in the right position over at McCain HQ (such as, say, McCain) sees her as a liability, but for me her continued presence on it is one big reason to support the Obama-Biden ticket.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One Party Rule

Of the arguments against McCain's "one-party rule" election run-up gambit, I must say that the "Republicans had one from 2003-2006 so McCain is a hypocrite" argument is quite a strong one. This is especially true since I haven't heard a single DNC operative make similar claims to the ones that I heard more than one RNC operative (not just Tom DeLay, to whom it seems most often attributed) make in 2004 about creating a "permanent majority" for the Republicans (and I'm not the only one who heard that, you can find references to it on other blogs, and in Rolling Stone). If McCain was so opposed to single party control of the executive and legislative branches, why didn't he oppose his own party's flacks when they were publicly stating that their goal was to permanently entrench their control over all three branches? It seems all McCain is opposed to is losing, and all he's in favor of is building himself a bigger legacy. That is not the kind of leader America needs at this crucial time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How Many Mommies Does Heather Have?


Let me beat the Vote No On California Proposition 8 drum a bit more. Recently, on two different radio programs, I heard someone declare that children deserve a mother and a father. I understand the implication here: children raised without one or the other, and especially without a father, are deficient.

I understand that implication because it is the same argument that was used against my family when I was a kid. My lack of a father came from my dad's death by heart attack when I was eight. We moved to East Hampton to live with my Aunt, because three kids was a bit much for my poor mom, especially when one of them was an incorrigible pain in the ass like me. For the couple years we all lived together, in a sense I had two mommies, though they were sisters, not lovers. Even after my aunt remarried, she only moved a couple miles away, and we saw her all the time.

Various people, particularly certain school administrators, used my mom's status as a single mother against her constantly. She was told to remarry, that her kids needed a father. Without a father, they'd say, her children would grow up "wrong" in one way or another. All my teenage rebellion blew back on my mom in this way. Every time I did something obnoxious or stupid, and that was often, it was supposedly because she didn't have a man in the house. One particular school administrator mentally cudgeled my mom into backing down on issues we had with the poor quality of the school system by threatening to use his social status within the community to compel Child Protective Services to take her children away -- and he did this more than once.

It wasn't easy for my mom to raise three kids on a working class salary and schedule, and it was made much more difficult by the social attitudes of some of our neighbors -- unfortunately including some well-placed people in the school administration, and police.

Mandatory conformity is the attitude we faced, and it is the attitude that is threatening the families of thousands of gay couples (even though as two parent households those couples are better situated to shield their children from the financial and social burdens that we faced). When the Yes On 8 leaders say it's about the children, what they mean is it's about ensuring that the maximum number of children are raised in families which do not challenge social assumptions, or in any way threaten or make uncomfortable those whose power in the community is underwritten by their unwavering support of traditionalism.

And here is yet another take on why you should Vote No on Prop 8 from screenwriter John August, whose own marriage is threatened by this proposition. There really is no rational, compassionate reason for being in favor of Proposition 8, only an irrational unwillingness to deny power to the fearmongers who stand to benefit from its passage.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Happy Halloween Barack-o-Lantern



Image from the "Candidate Pumpkin Project."

Vote OBAMA-BIDEN '08

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Californians: No on 8

As a staunch supporter of civil rights for all, I will vote no on California proposition 8, and hope you'll do the same. I agree that this is a vote for loving gay families, and a pro-family stance which simply recognizes that not all families are of exactly the same configuration.

But it is also a matter of fairness under the law. Civil marriage is a civil contract. Proponents say that without Prop 8, the court has created a "protected class" and that allegedly makes all sorts of things mandatory under California law (teaching gay marriage in schools, for example). However, if Prop 8 passes, I say it will create a "rejected class" of people who are excluded from an important section of civil law. I believe that doing this undermines that section of civil law, and sets a precedent for further attacks on the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It's not gay marriage, but that kind of "separate but equal" approach to civil unions vs. marriages, that serves to undermine the legitimacy of civil marriage.

Additionally, the freedom of religion argument in favor of Prop 8 is utterly bogus. The California courts ruling should not compel churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies against their beliefs, rather only require the state to recognize same-sex civil marriage as valid. On the other hand, Prop 8 will impinge upon the religious freedom of churches that do wish to allow same-sex couples to marry under their auspices. It is actually Prop 8 that is in opposition to religious freedom.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Plot Against Obama

Another plot against Obama's life has been stopped. It is repugnant enough what a few rotten individuals are saying at various political rallies about Senator Obama, but it is downright disgusting what at least three different sets of people have been plotting to do to Obama. I'm not blaming McCain for the words of a few of his supporters at his rallies, or these people (who are almost certainly not supporters of McCain, either). It's just sad that while America has come a long, long way to for Obama's candidacy to even be possible in the first place, this just goes to show that there's always someone out there who doesn't want the American Experiment to succeed.

Palin

Did McCain pick the wrong Palin? Some folks don't think the whole Palin thing is all that funny. John Cleese, on the other hand, does think it's funny. As much as I hate to split hairs with the great John Cleese, I'm going to have to go with the "Not Funny" camp on the Palin issue. Now if Tina Fey were running, then it might be a whole different story.

Never Mind Palin, Is McCain Ready To Be President?

McCain wants to be in charge of the world's most powerful, richest country, but he can't keep his own running mate with his program? And if elected, when negotiating with world leaders he didn't particularly like, would he not look them in the eyes? I used to think of John McCain as a respectable aisle-crosser who could control his temper when issues really were at stake, and who was willing to hear opposing views and negotiate positions so long as it was done respectfully. That has changed with this campaign. Not only has he picked an awful running mate, but his own behavior reveals him to be a temperamental Machiavellian with little substance who gives the appearance of having lost control of his own campaign. I wasn't going to vote for the guy to begin with, but now I'm having a hard time even respecting him.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Christopher Buckley, Colin Powell, and Me

Apparently, not only am I supporting Obama for President, but so is Colin Powell, Susan Eisenhower (Ike's granddaughter) and, of all people, Christopher Buckley. The obvious difference between us, besides the fact that they're all well known personalities and I'm not, is that they're all Republicans and I campaigned for Walter Mondale when I was 11 years old (actually, I turned 11 during the campaign). Unfortunately for me, as a New Yorker transplanted to California, neither Mike Bloomberg nor Arnold Schwarzenegger have joined the chorus of Republicans who realize that their own party's candidate isn't the best man for the job.

Get Your War On

Last night a friend told me that David Rees is now doing video versions of his brilliantly awesome clip-art comic Get Your War On. Amazingly enough, the voice acting sounds pretty close to what I'd always imagined in my head when reading GYWO.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Patriotism, by Ed Gorman

My friend Ed Gorman is a World War Two veteran, retired businessman, and long-time Democratic booster. He is a great guy who helped me out a lot when I was younger and needed a lot of helping out.

In his many years, he's seen many times good and bad. Ed's Veteran credentials are at least as strong as John McCain's, so when he decides to speak about patriotism, he's not wanting for experience putting his ideas into action. Here is a letter to the editor of my home town newspaper, the East Hampton Star, which Ed wrote and forwarded to me:

"Patriotism can be defined most simply as loyalty and love of one’s country and willingness to protect and preserve it for future generations. I do not think of America, as a certain area of mountains, rivers, fields and forests but as a set of long established principles modified as America has matured. Most Americans understand, accept and try to respect those principles even if they cannot readily articulate them.

Patriotism, therefore, implies a responsibility to the future.

We cannot know with certainty how a presidential candidate will manage the awesome burden that office imposes but it is our duty to look at past behavior for clues.

John McCain and Barack Obama have provided us with clues of unprecedented clarity by the choice each has made for his vice-president. Joe Biden, Obama’s choice, was a serious highly regarded presidential candidate of broad experience and proven capability. He is a sound and responsible choice capable of taking charge should something happen to the president.

Sarah Palin may prove to be a likable enough lady although her desperate last minute non-vetted selection was entirely political. The Republican Party could not afford the convention floor fight of Joe Lieberman, McCain’s preference.

More than most presidential candidates McCain, the oldest ever to run for that office, should have been particularly thoughtful about the future. It is frightening to think that a woman with Palin’s limited experience, high school education and questionable judgment could be only a geriatric heartbreak away from suddenly becoming the most powerful head of state in the world--if McCain were elected president.

What do we know about Sarah Palin’s judgment? She believes in the creationism fairy tale and approves teaching the widely discredited faux science called intelligent design. She acknowledges global warming but does not believe mankind is responsible. She is free to believe what she wants and as voters it is our responsibility to consider her judgment when we vote.

As both vice-president and a mother of five, her youngest requiring great extra attention plus a soon-to-be-grandchild what would be her priority? Will she neglect her demanding family responsibility? Will she neglect responsibility to her job? Can a working mom; can anybody really handle both?

But if McCain vetted her and knew all he needed to know it was irresponsible to settle for her. If she was not thoroughly vetted it was irresponsible to settle for her. Either way McCain is grossly irresponsible. Opting for Sarah Palin was McCain’s first executive action. How he made that snap decision is a terrifying insight into this complicated, confused and irresponsible man. He is scary.

What do we know about McCain’s judgment and intelligence? Although he now struggles to distance him self from George Bush he has consistently supported the Bush agenda as we watched in despair as Bush was destroying America. So much for McCain’s judgment.

What about McCain’s intelligence? The best evidence might be his record at the Naval Academy, which like West Point places a premium on academic achievement. Of the 899 graduates in McCain’s class he was 894--well within the bottom one percent of his class. We cannot afford another dim or flickering bulb in the White House

Am I saying that McCain is unpatriotic? Yes. He has made clear that political gain trumps duty and responsibility to America’s future. His overworked POW trump card is not acceptable. The stakes are much too high. He has created a very frightening future for America

To protect America’s future it is the duty of every responsible American to vote and to reject John McCain."

Ain't Funny

Check out the pro-Obama commercials at Aintfunny.org. If you like them, buy airtime to show them in a swing-state market. With only a few campaigning days left until the Nov. 4th election, if you've not done anything (or enough) yet to support your candidate (especially if he happens to be the same as my candidate), now would be the time to get to it. After eight years of Bush, it's definitely time for a change. For me, Obama is the correct agent of change for the particular times and challenges facing us. Whether or not you agree, you should not only get out and vote on election day, but also get out and do something for your candidate. The best part about Democracy is that you actually can participate.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Right Wing Watch

I stumbled upon Right Wing Watch this evening (it's a site run by People For The American Way). I'm sick tonight and want to go to bed soon, so I'll let you read it for yourself. It's not very in-depth, but is a quick-to-read clearinghouse for things to go do more in-depth reading on (and quotes of silly things people say, like claiming that Obama is the culmination of fifty years of Communism and Radicalism).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Steal Back Your Vote

As we head into the election, it's time to enjoy some voting irregularities in comic book form and other nonsense. Steal Back Your Vote is worth reading (it's a quick read), and it includes tips on how to make sure your vote counts, such as: do not accept a provisional ballot, and do not absentee vote. The comic, created by investigative reporter Greg Palast, cartoonists Ted Rall, Lloyd Dangle and Lukas Ketner, and attorney Bobby Kennedy, Jr., details various ways in which votes may go uncounted, and how to avoid them.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nouriel Roubini on the Economy

My friend Mike A. just pointed me at RGE Monitor, a site run by Nouriel Roubini, who very precisely predicted this mess in February. Roubini is definitely a bandleader on the "sky is falling" bandwagon, but unfortunately much of what he has to say is backed by very compelling expert arguments. And he's been quite right so far. He is currently giving free premium access to the content of his sites, and I highly recommend reading as much of Mr. Roubini's writings as you can while that access is affordable -- I know I will be.

The Great Global Financial Cock-Up Of Aught-Eight

Someone at work was searching for an accepted term for the current economic crisis, and boring suggestions such as "The Mortgage Meltdown" (not fully accurate) and "The World Financial Crisis" (not fully interesting) were suggested. Should this go from downturn to recession to depression, I suggest "The Fair-To-Middling Depression," but as it is not yet there, may I suggest that we instead refer to it as "The Great Global Financial Cock-Up of Aught-Eight." The Britishesque blitheness of that terminology ought to inspire people to keep perspective, and a stiff upper lip, about the world economy's latest gigantic clusterfornication. Next time someone asks you what this mess is called, please join me in loudly proclaiming this "The Great Global Financial Cock-Up of Aught-Eight."

Addendum: Should it become a Depression, I recant my suggested nomenclature, and recommend Josh Muskovitz' brilliant suggestion: "The Manic Depression."
Which was, of course, precipitated by the event we shall call "The Great Global Financial Cock-Up of Aught-Eight."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Duh

This CNN article about how 80% of Americans are stressed about the economy definitely deserves a "beleaguering the obvious" award.

McCain "Lost" The Debate

This morning a Republican commentator cited the presentation of a plan to buy mortgages directly, rather than buying mortgage backed securities, as John McCain's big win from last night. Isn't that already part of the bailout plan, in that the existing law gives the Treasury permission to buy any debts it sees fit? This article claims such, and Joe Biden's comments that I mentioned previously also seem to indicate this.

So if reiterating a part of the existing plan, one which Biden had already commented on in his VP debate, was McCain's big splash in this debate, it's pretty clear to me that he didn't "win." Furthermore, given that the Town Hall style meeting was his choice, the fact that McCain didn't perform better is problematic for his campaign. To me, his inability to connect better with the Town Hall voters showed just how out-of-touch he's become.

McCain is so obsessed with winning, given that this is almost certainly his last chance at it, that he's become much less appealing in the process. Once upon a time he was one of the Democrats' favorite across-the-aisle politician. Now his independent resolve has become just pandering to the Republican base, and his policies are nothing more than reiterations of Bush's failed policies. His bitterness is seeping out in his speeches, and calls, including his own calls, for a calm response to the problems facing the country today make his famous temper a liability.

Since I'm already solidly in the Obama camp I suppose my analysis of McCain's performance here is suspect, but I did expect a better showing from McCain in the Town Hall setting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One Hundred Million

Barbara Boxer mentioned on KQED's Forum today that the bailout bill requires that the government give a company $100,000,000 before the Treasury is entitled to warrants against that company. She also mentioned that they are permitted, to her chagrin, to buy some classes of unsecured loans. Neither of these things seem to be great for protecting the taxpayer's dollars from give-aways to mismanaged, failing financial institutions.

We'll see what Congress does next to address these problems, since Boxer also admitted that here in California 95% of correspondents were against the bailout. With that kind of public pressure, Congress clearly will be on the hook for getting the Treasury's money back one way or another (simply reducing/eliminating tax credits for bailed-out entities so that when the economy does recover they pay back in at a faster rate seems, as I previously suggested, like a good idea to me).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Adjusting Principal Principles

I will be voting for the Obama/Biden ticket come election day, but I am not so sure about this statement by Joe Biden:

"Number two, with regard to bankruptcy now, Gwen, what we should be doing now -- and Barack Obama and I support it -- we should be allowing bankruptcy courts to be able to re-adjust not just the interest rate you're paying on your mortgage to be able to stay in your home, but be able to adjust the principal that you owe, the principal that you owe."

I am all in favor of helping people who need help, including food stamps and (non-permanent) welfare. But when someone else gets food stamps or welfare, it does not decrease the value of my assets. It is also nearly impossible to be a welfare speculator (despite the Reaganian myths about that). This leads to an entirely different situation with welfare and food stamps than with a housing bailout of this type.

Speculative purchasing underwritten with highly leveraged purchasing is a big part of this situation, as are people who cashed-out equity on existing homes (another form of speculation). Too many people who are in a foreclosure situation did this (rather than, say, being in foreclosure because they lost their jobs but had previously behaved responsibly).

If their principal is lowered by 10%, that lowers the value of their home by at least 10%, and given the scale of the situation, all homes will fall in value by at least 10%. I'll have just been charged an additional 10% of the value of my home, compounded over length of my mortgage, for the bailout. Bankruptcy is about to become too common, so this will become a somewhat widespread problem -- the issue is that in order to keep people out of foreclosure they will be pushed into bankruptcy.

Of course, if the government doesn't do what Biden suggests, the foreclosures will force down the value of my home even farther. Bankruptcy at least allows restructuring, mass foreclosures are a market crash. I understand that, but what proviso is there for the bailed-out to pay me back (by paying the Treasury back over time, and thus I can get paid back in lower taxes /
tax incentives for non-bailed-out homeowners)? Would there be different rates (or a cancellation of) the income tax mortgage write-off for bailed-out consumers? I think something like that is in order.

Bankruptcy restructuring protects other debtors, so I think the treasury should also become a de-facto debtor to the tune of the ten percent principal and any interest they assume (through buying and adjusting the mortgage). The mortgage becomes affordable, but the bailed-out do not double-dip by then also getting tax credits (until their bailout is paid off).

Also, is it part of the plan, to prevent speculators from profiting from bailouts, to have a cap of one on numbers of homes per person, and extent of leverage, in terms of who is qualified for bailout underwriting? I sure hope so.

Sorry to say, but some people on main street did get greedy. Not everyone was an innocent victim of predatory lending (and some who were became victims because they let short-term greed get the better of them). Speculation was rampant, even among amateurs. House-flipping was rampant, even amongst people who lived in their own homes. I saw it. I read about it. And everyone was told they needed to get into an expensive home because prices would just go up and up and then they'd be house-rich, and everyone would get a piece of the pie.

Everyone did want a piece of that pie. People very often talked about making a profit off their homes, and not always long-term. This market psychology is exactly how bubbles happen. It doesn't make these homeowners evil, villainous scoundrels, or even retards, but they did make mistakes. Problems with "the system" include actions taken by more than just a few people. Systemic problems come from the actions of many. Those actions likely stemmed from bad information circulating about various elements of the market, and were egged-on by wealthier, perhaps greedier players in the market, but the buyers are not guilt-free.

Wall St. made the bigger mistake -- by huge margins -- but Main St. was buying into the bad instruments and bubble fervor. Main St. greed allowed a stable, major asset class (home real estate) to become entangled with Wall St. greed and sketchy practices (like CDSes). It was because of this speculation mania that Wall St. had enough subprime mortgages to bundle into other financial instruments in the first place.

I sure don't think the people who behaved fraudulently, or unethically, in the big institutions should get off -- they should be arrested and/or fined heavily if what they did was illegal, prevented from profiting directly from taxpayer bailout dollars, and fired if what they did was legal or quasilegal but unethical. They caused the major problems in the economy, by far, and those big guys should pay back first and most.

However, if we're all going to bail-out the overextended individual borrowers, then the government should also make them responsible for paying back the treasury. Everyone who is getting bailed-out should be giving the American Taxpayer their money back over time, whether it be in warrants, reduced tax credits, or some other way. Reduced tax credits are probably the least painful. It's not a matter of punishment for punishment's sake, but requiring people take at least some responsibility for the repercussions of their actions.

I'm not generally particularly conservative, but I'm also not in favor of giving busted speculators a free ride on my back, even if they were poorly financed, poorly educated amateurs. Those people I'm willing to cut more slack than the big guys, and would not mind somewhat more generous terms for them, but if they are completely off the hook, that encourages this sort of thing to happen all over again.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This Broken American Economy

Of all places, This American Life on NPR has a pair of shows which give the best, most detailed yet comprehensible to laypersons, account of our current economic problems.

Featuring NPR National Desk business reporter Adam Davidson, the shows explain the market instruments and practices that led to the crisis, how and why it happened, and what some of the repercussions may be. The shows do a particularly good job of giving clear and detailed explanations of financial instruments like Credit Default Swaps, and terminology like hedging and netting.

The 10/03/08 show I heard last night led me to also check out the 05/09/08 show, which I hadn't previously heard. Both are very much worth listening to if you'd like to have a better idea of what's going on with the economy, precisely what it is that Paulson and friends are hoping the bailout will accomplish, and why.

It does a pretty good job of making the case that maybe the bailout is necessary (with the modifications made by the Senate, which I still think should have gone farther in protecting the taxpayer and preventing the bailed-out companies from profiting off it until the taxpayer is paid back). It also does a pretty good job of making one continue to wonder if it will even work.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Argumentation by Intimidation

What is Jenny McCarthy doing in my political blog? Being an example of deteriorating intellectual and political discourse in America through this quote run by Time online:

"[She] has a lot of balls to come forward and be on that side, because there is an angry mob on my side." - Jenny McCarthy, actress, on fellow thespian Amanda Peet, who said that parents who don't vaccinate their kids out of fears of autism are irresponsible

This kind of intellectual intimidation, a fallacy combining Appeal to Ridicule and Appeal to Belief, is a common part of political dialog today. It is an appeal to the ugly "tyranny of the masses" flipside of the currently popular "the wisdom of crowds" perspective.

Whether or not it is presented in an intimidating manner, a big problem is that "wisdom of crowds" is in and of itself fallacious grounds for drawing a conclusion about an issue. "The wisdom of crowds" is, when applied to argumentation (rather than, say, marketing research), simply a whitewash rephrasing of Appeal to Belief.

And celebrity pull-quotes in political discourse is a form of Appeal to Authority, an intellectual affliction which both muddle-headed pseudolefty acolytes of the Hollywood quote machine, and theircounterparts in the dittohead armies loyal to the shrill false pundits of the right-wing talk media empire. That these so-called authorities primarily gain their pseudointellectual street-cred by being grand masters of Appeal to Ridicule makes the situation all the more depressing.

I'd like to console myself that nobody cares what Jenny McCarthy thinks about vaccinations, but I'm not that naive. Famous peoples' one-liners can often carry far more weight than the most carefully reasoned newspaper or magazine article on a subject (never mind books, which mostly go unread). I think it is irresponsible of Time and similar news venues to present these sorts of pull-quotes without analysis.

We, as a nation, bemoan the insubstantial and mean-spirited political campaigns of recent years, but then refuse to take responsibility for our part in creating it. It's high time political discourse returned to substantial arguments about significant issues.

The Pen And The Damage Done

The Bailout Bill has passed.

Here is what Dennis Kucinich had to say about it:
"This bill fails to address the fact that millions of homeowners are facing foreclosure, are facing the loss of their home. This bill will take care of Wall Street, and the market may go up for a few days, but democracy is going downhill."

If the Fed is going to bail out the banks, they certainly will need to bail out mortgage holders as well, otherwise the foreclosures will continue to drag down the economy, and the bailout will have been for naught. Once again, it seems, Socialism for the Ultra-Wealthy trumps both the American fiscal religion of so-called Free Market Capitalism and the so-called Compassionate Socialism of places like Scandinavia. Either of those would be preferable to another huge taxpayer bailout of huge corporations and their wealthy, at-fault officers which (according to a number of economist-pundit types) may not even accomplish its goals.

In America, "Socialism" is just fine so long as it involves taking from the middle-class taxpayer and giving to the ultra-rich. Both real Liberals and real Conservatives ought to be disappointed in this whole situation. But since it's costing me, as a taxpayer, so much -- I sure hope it works.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Orphan Works Bill

When it comes to copyright, my main concern is that artists/writers/creators are able to make a living, and that fair use doctrine strikes the balance that allows others to build upon the state of the art, as all human disciplines do. I support a more progressive fair use theory (including a more contemporary view on the novel contribution test for things like cut-up / mash-up works), and expiration of copyright after a reasonable period (rather than the continuing extending of that period of time as has been happening for a few decades now).

However, I do not support the Orphan Works Bill. I agree with both the claims that it will cause undue burden on copyright holders to pay a fee to a third-party registry to make their work "findable," and that it changes the underlying fundamentals of copyright by making it no longer a de-facto, passive right (because of the need to make the work "findable" in order to receive protections). While I'm not sure about their interpretation of the bill on every point, The Illustrators' Partnership has a lot of interesting things to say about it:


The architects of the Orphan Works Act have already placed testaments to the bill on their websites:

Senator Leahy: http://leahy.senate.gov/issues/OrphanWorks.html
Senator Hatch: http://tinyurl.com/3jsq5o

They say this "landmark intellectual property bill" will "unlock proverbial attics of copyrighted works" whose owners can't be found. Is that really what all the fuss has been about?

No. If that were the case, the problems could be solved with a modest expansion of Fair Use. It's not proverbial closets we fear seeing unlocked. It's our commercial inventories, which would be exposed to potential infringement.

And while one Senator pointedly writes that the bill "does not dramatically restructure copyright law" (emphasis added), he's right: it doesn't "restructure" it. It merely redefines an orphaned work so broadly that it would let users infringe millions of works as orphans on the premise that some might be.

And why, if the bill is only meant to benefit libraries and museums, have the doors been opened wide for commercial usage?

A Fundamental Change to Copyright Law

For us, the saddest of these postings is on the Copyright Office website itself. http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/ There, Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights explains that this bill is necessary because the U.S., in trying to harmonize our law with international agreements, has created too many orphans.

But that's not the sad part. There are orphans. She's entitled to her belief. And as Register of Copyrights, she's entitled to lobby for a change in the law. But what's sad is that the Register, who we've respected for years as an advocate for creators rights, has chosen to justify this legislative scheme by mischaracterizing the honest objections that creators have raised in good faith, again and again.

Here's how she summarizes the objections of the hundreds of thousands of artists, writers, photographers and musicians who oppose this bill:

"Some critics [she writes] believe that the legislation is unfair because it will deprive copyright owners of injunctive relief, statutory damages, and actual damages. I do not agree."

Well, those are all real issues, but they've never been our focus. We've made our case clearly, simply and often.

Our objection goes to the heart of the matter. Here it is, as one of us expressed it in his opening statement at the Small Business Administration Roundtable, August 8:

"The bill's sponsors say it's merely a small adjustment to copyright law. In fact, its logic
reverses copyright law. It presumes that the public is entitled to use your work as a primary right and that it's your obligation to make your work available. If this bill passes, in the United States, copyright will no longer be the exclusive right of the copyright holder."
- From "Orphan Works: A Hobson's Choice for Artists," by Brad Holland August 8 2008

And in case the point needed elaboration:

"This exclusive right matters to artists for three reasons:
· Creative control: No one can change your work without your permission;

· Ownership: No one can use your work without your permission;
· Value: In the marketplace, your ability to sell exclusive rights to a client triples the value
of your work.
-
http://ipaorphanworks.blogspot.com/2008/08/orphan-works-hobsons-choice-for-artists.html

The Orphan Works Act passed by the Senate Friday explicitly voids that exclusive right as expressed in Article 9 of the Berne Copyright Convention:

(1) Authors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall have the exclusive right of authorizing the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form.

(2) It shall be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to permit the reproduction of such works in certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author.

(3) Any sound or visual recording shall be considered as a reproduction for the purposes of this Convention.
http://www.law.cornell.edu/treaties/berne/9.html

There can be no responsible argument that the Orphan Works Act is consistent with Article 9 of Berne. None.

Simple reason: the Orphan Works Act does not limit exemptions to an author's exclusive right to "certain special cases." Case closed.

There are many other reasons to object to this terrible bill: it violates the entirety of Article 9. But we only need to make this single point to show that it's a radically new copyright law.

Hiding the Rabbit

The key to the Congressional magic act has been to hide an anti-copyright rabbit in an Orphan Works hat while misdirecting attention to a tedious debate about "reasonably diligent searches," injunctive relief and statutory damages.

Meanwhile the secret of the trick has been simple: redefine an orphaned work as "a work by an unlocatable author."

This new definition would permit any person to infringe any work by any artist at any time for any reason - no matter how commercial - so long as the infringer found the author sufficiently hard to find.

Since everybody can be hard for somebody to find, this voids a rights holder's exclusive right to his own property. It defines the public's right to use private property as a default position, available to anyone whenever the property owner fails to make himself sufficiently available.

This is a new definition of copyright law.

The headline on the Copyright Office website should read:

In the United States, Copyright Will No Longer Be the Exclusive Right of the Copyright Holder.

This headline would at least have the virtue of candor.

On March 13, the Register of Copyrights testified before the House IP Subcommittee. On page 1 of her testimony she said:

"Every country has orphan works and I believe that, sooner or later, every country will be motivated to consider a solution. The solution proposed by the Copyright Office is a workable one and will be of interest to other countries."
http://www.copyright.gov/docs/regstat031308.html

You can bet it will be of interest to other countries, because the copyrights of other countries can now be orphans in the U.S. too. The Copyright Office and the Senate have thrown down a gauntlet to the world.

Tell the House Judiciary Committee not to adopt the Senate version.
We've supplied a special letter for this purpose:
http://capwiz.com/illustratorspartnership/issues/alert/?alertid=11980321



You can also find out more at the Illustrators' Partnership's blog specifically about this issue.

To reiterate, I am not a draconian "eternal copyright" supporter by any means. Personally, I do want:
- A way to verify what work has passed into public domain and is available for unlimited reuse
- A Creative Commons type of option where artists retain copyright passively but can actively choose to make work available under a variety of blanket usage parameters as they see fit (though I have problems with the Creative Commons model and philosophy which I'll blog about some time)
- Sensible, not over-generous, lengths of copyright protection
- A reassessment of Fair Use doctrine with an eye towards permitting mash-up, collage, and related work while not going too far and stripping original artists of their rights (another topic I'll get into more at a later date)

But I think this particular bill is the wrong solution, one which goes too far in granting public rights to an artist's work while at the same time not really addressing the issues above. This is a bad bill, and I encourage you to write your lawmakers and tell them to find a better way to deal with this issue -- one which leaves copyright fundamentals in-tact, and which won't be potentially cost-prohibitive for independent artists and small copyright-driven businesses.

Arts Positions of the Candidates

I received this today from Americans for the Arts, and wanted to share it with you:

Americans for the Arts Action Fund is pleased to present you with its just released summary of the Arts Positions of the 2008 Presidential Candidates. (Also see side-by-side comparison table below.)

As you may know, Americans for the Arts Action Fund launched its ArtsVote2008 initiative in May 2007 in order to educate presidential candidates on issues impacting the
arts and arts education with the goal of securing—for the first time ever—formal position statements from the top candidates.

To date, we have shared with you Senator Barack Obama’s comprehensive arts policy proposal that he began issuing in February 2008. Unfortunately, the McCain campaign has not been as forthcoming, despite numerous formal requests from the Arts Action Fund and Senator McCain’s own supporters over the last year. However, we are pleased to report that Senator McCain has now issued a short statement that he released in an article for today’s Salt Lake City Tribune.

With this information in hand, we ask you—the arts advocate—to take action by doing the following things:

  1. Share this side-by-side comparison of the presidential candidates with your friends, family, and colleagues.
  2. Blog about this issue on any sites that you are affiliated with.
  3. Post the comparison chart on your social network sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and others.
  4. Send a Letter to the Editor of your local newspapers and journals. We’ve made it easy for you by drafting a customizable letter at our E-Advocacy Center that you can personalize. You will then automatically be given the choice to e-mail your letter to all the key media outlets in your area based on your zip code.
  5. Ask questions about policies on the arts and arts education to both your Congressional and presidential candidates in any kind of town hall forums, online chats, or any other
    public forums.
  6. Vote for the candidates that you feel will best advance the arts and arts education in America.

With only 32 days left to Election Day, now is the time to act and show your support for the arts!

Arts Positions of the 2008 Presidential Candidates

Sen. Barack Obama
Democratic Nominee

Sen. John McCain
Republican Nominee

Campaign has met with Americans for the Arts Action Fund to
discuss policy issues.

Yes
Meeting held 4/1/08

Yes
Meeting held 4/1/08

Campaign has published policy proposals on the arts and/or arts education.

Yes
Read policy proposal 2/28/08

No

Candidate has made statement on federal support of the arts.

Yes
View Pennsylvania speech on 4/2/08

No

Candidate has made statement on federal support of arts education.

Yes
View Texas speech on 2/28/08

Yes
Read Statement 10/03/08

National party platform includes statement on the arts and/or arts education.

Yes
Read platform
statement on
page 49

No

Candidate has pro-arts Congressional record.

Yes
Co-sponsored S. 548, Artist-Museum Partnership Act, 2/25/08

No
Voted to cut funding or terminate the National Endowment for the Arts (see listing of votes*)

*Roll call votes on 7/12/00, 8/5/99, 9/15/98, 9/18/97, 9/17/97, 7/25/94, 9/15/93, 9/15/93, and 9/14/93.
Source: Americans for the Arts Action Fund, as of 10/03/08

Americans for the Arts Action Fund is the bipartisan advocacy arm of Americans for the Arts, engaging citizens in ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to appreciate, value, and participate in the arts. Arts Action Fund members are citizen activists who are committed to helping make certain that arts-friendly public policies are adopted at every level of government and in the private sector. ArtsVote2008, a program of the Arts Action Fund, was created to secure bold, new policy proposals in support of
the arts and arts education in America from candidates in the 2008 presidential campaign.

For more info visit
www.artsvote.org, or call 202-371-2830

Hillary Supporters for Palin?

I find it mind boggling that this strategy on the part of the McCain campaign didn't completely fail out of the gate.

And I completely respect the Republican Spin Machine. The way they can take a whole litany of things their candidates do often (shrill derision of half the American people with every speech, sexist comments, slanderous political campaigns, etc.) and spin it around on so quickly, it's rather amazing. They have some really talented spin doctors working for them.

What I want to know is when the hell the mainstream media is going see through the ruse and stop whitewashing Palin and do some real reporting? I am so sick of hearing her compared to Annie Oakley, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earheart, and the friggin' Virgin Mary, when the real comparison is obvious to me: Pat Buchanan.

It boggles my mind that social conservatives -- the architects who designed the glass ceiling back when liberals were tearing down the concrete one -- are suddenly considered, in the person of Sarah Palin, the targets of sexism. And when the same kind of ad-hominem attacks they vehemently deploy against the Clintons are unleashed on Bush or Palin, they get away with screaming bloody murder. It is genuinely impressive. The Liberal spin machine should take some notes.

Her supporters, including normally Liberal women who've jumped on the "any woman will do" bandwagon, have been claiming the Democrats and the media (meaning, presumably, Katie Couric) are treating her unfairly. Palin is the new Dan Quayle, and her getting Quayled by her opponents is supposedly sexist? Give me a freakin' break.

But she's certainly not getting Quayled by Newsweek, Time, Fox or CNN, so I'm not sure where this belief that she's being unfairly treated is coming from. Is it just that one interview, or did masses of people suddenly all start reading Mother Jones or something? Yeah, I'm sure the likes of Salon and The Hill are pillorying her just like most likely National Review Online and The Drudge Report are probably singing her praises. But the mainstream media seems to have bought Palin hook, line and sinker. Though the Couric interview fallout is starting to erode that goodwill and novelty, most of the articles still seem very "gee whiz" about Palin and her "compelling story."

Just how amazing is her story? She's a working mom? So are Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. She's got working-class street cred? Joe Biden is from Scranton, PA, a quintessential rust belt mining town. When his dad lost his work, he moved the family to little Claymont, Delaware. She's "folksy?" I find that one the most interesting. Folksy means affable, unpretentious, low-key. Pretense is not restricted to intellectualism.

Palin seems quite pretentious, indeed she seems downright self-righteous about the superiority of her small-town lifestyle and values. Her disdain for the 58% of Americans who live in large towns and cities is palpable. She's an provincialist elitist who rejects and denigrates the values and concerns of 58% of the population.

I'm also incredulous that Conservatives support her. Do they really want such a lightweight in their corner? Furthermore, as Governor, the thing she seems to be most known for is taking on Big Oil (and to give credit where it is due, she does seem to have done some valuable work there). So, Conservatives are willing to abandon their cherished economic policies so long as the candidate makes a good show of being folksy and religious? Where have all the Rockefeller Republicans gone? (The answer is probably the Democratic and Libertarian parties.)

What really amazes me, though, is the self-described Liberal women who support Palin (like the lesbian ex-Maoist former classmate of mine, who now supports Palin despite Palin's paltry platform having nothing whatsoever on offer for her). Palin may be a woman, but on what issues of importance to women is she actually aligned with these kinds of supporters? This amazing turnabout where suddenly an archconservative is the victim of sexism, and "Blue State" women are defending an anti-choice, religious fundamentalist, former beauty queen as a feminist icon is really amazing to me.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

TANSTAAFM

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Market.

Whether or not it's desirable is irrelevant, because it's impossible. All markets are regulated, taxed, and manipulated. That's the nature of markets. After all, a market is a social contract between as much as a government is. People agree to participate in it, and they have expectations about the honesty and fairness of market transactions. When the people perceive that this is no longer the case, the one instrument they have to deal with it is the power of the government.

During the early days of the NYSE, American stock markets were nearly unregulated, but much of the rest of economic activity in the country was regulated. Stock markets do not act in an economic vacuum, and legislation about taxation, land use, wages, and a variety of other socioeconomic issues must be considered when claiming a market is a so-called free one.

And since no one person can have all information about all markets at all times, pro-polity, properly functioning government regulations such as disclosure and labeling, safety standards, and so on are enacted on behalf of the people to ameliorate unfair and dangerous market practices. Fraud, embezzlement, and coercion, for example, should be an illegal act, even though punishing these activities is regulation of potentially viable market practices. Yes, government can easily make bad laws that harm the citizenry, but it is the people's duty to use their voting and First Amendment rights to prevent that.

Simply saying "let the markets decide" -- meaning let the financial markets decide -- ignores the fact that government is a market participator. Businesses, as collectivist entities themselves, hold more power than individual consumers. Ad-hoc consumer groups can augment the role of government in such situations, but our form of government is specifically intended to be the representative of the people. The government is part of the markets, and what the markets have decided through unethical, and perhaps illegal, practices is to provoke the attention of this particular market actor.

So the markets have decided. They've decided to embrace practices which will cause the government to fulfill its role of representing the people by attempting to protect them from economic catastrophe. Whether or not I agree with the plan, and whether or not it accomplishes its goals, the government is performing a natural duty by stepping-in.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bailout Bonanza

Will the Senate version of the bailout bill pass? We'll know soon.

Here is Pete DeFazio's take on it from his NPR Marketplace Interview:
"...it is the same Paulson plan, which, in short, is what he started with. He gets $700 billion, unbelievable discretion in how he spends it. He can pick winners and losers on Wall Street. He can even buy credit card debt."

The Bill is 451 pages, and I haven't yet read the whole thing, but I am still opposed to weak oversight, a lot of discretion on the part of the Treasury Secretary, and any proviso that allows the Treasury to buy bad debts without receiving equity positions in the companies being bailed-out. I've read the sections that permits taking equity or debt positions in the bailed-out company (pages 31-32, 36, 85), but I can't really tell from their wording if they require it or not. Since the cap on salaries and golden parachutes for CEOs only seems to apply to companies where the Treasury receives equity or debt positions in the company, if there's a way around Treasury doing so, there's a way for Paulson to hook up his friends.

While some people may not agree with my position that all the panic talk is excessive, and is helping fuel emotional reactions that are causing big dips in the markets, I stick by it. I do agree with many of the points in that article about earlier "happy talk" causing the markets and regulators to ignore unsound fundamentals, but I think that to "make up for it" with panicked talk of cataclysm now isn't much help.

I'm not a big fan of basing our entire economy on gambling, but if we're going to do so, we should at least pay attention to the odds, and not make the typical gambler's mistake of throwing good money after bad by panicking after a bad run. Sometimes, it's best to just walk away from the table.

I don't know for sure if rejecting a bailout will cause another Great Depression (nobody knows for sure), but with a variety of economist pundits saying the bailout might not prevent one, either, given the shaky fundamentals we've allowed to take root, if the package doesn't include New Deal style aggressive regulations it may do very little to shore-up the situation (something Steve Fraser was discussing on NPR).