Friday, June 9, 2017

The Hubris of Theresa May

Theresa May called a British election three years early, thinking it would consolidate the strong hold of her party on the British Parliament. Instead, she failed to receive even a simply majority!

Her hubris is evident in several respects. She refused to debate her opponent, which is odd in light of the fact that British parties actually represent particular points of view, in contrast to American parties.

Also, her party had to walk back a position taken in its manifesto, the first time in British history this has happened. The position which came under intense attack was a proposed policy of forcing elderly people to pay more for their in-home care.

Interviews with British voters by NPR showed that nobody felt that May was "on their side", in contrast with the Labour candidate who resonated with voters by decrying cuts in government services.

Looming over the entire election was the "Brexit" issue, which May has completely bungled by blindly following the narrow 52-48 election result, instead of showing true leadership by trying to ameliorate the effects of this unfortunate vote. Instead of showing leadership, she showed "followership", and this is what came through to voters who have rejected her phony "leadership".

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Free Speech in U.S. vs. Europe

One of the most striking things about the Floyd Abrams books (see last post) is the difference between free speech in the U.S. and the rest of the world. We read almost daily about dissidents in third world countries being persecuted for their opposition to their governments.

But what is striking is that Europeans do not enjoy the free speech freedoms that we take for granted in the U.S.  In "The Soul of the First Amendment", Abrams says that all of the cases he discusses in which truth was a defense in a libel trial would have turned out differently in Europe.

Abrams cites many examples of the European hostility to free speech, but the one that is the most striking is a principle adopted in 2014 by the European Court of Justice, in which the "right to be forgotten" was enunciated. Under this ruling, Google and other search engines were required to remove content deemed to be old enough that it was "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant".

Despite the fact that we are talking about true information here, Google nonetheless had deleted over 4000,000 articles as of 2015.  Examples include the following:  1) a story about a policeman whose assault on a man was filmed and who was jailed for 21 months; 2) an article about people under 30 suffering strokes; 3) an article about a 27-year-old man who was killed in a plane crash in Nepal.

The list goes on and on, but the point is that these are stories containing true information, and to order them removed from Google shows the antipathy Europeans have to free speech. Personally, I prefer the U.S. approach, which gives me the right to discuss matters of public interest in a  free and robust manner.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Speaking Freely", by Floyd Abrams

Floyd Abrams, the country's top free speech lawyer, describes in this 2005 book a number of his most memorable free speech cases. The most memorable, of course, was the 1971 Pentagon Papers case. In that case the Nixon Administration took the New York Times to court in an attempt to prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which was a study undertaken by the U.S. government to figure out how we got mired in the Vietnam mess. Abrams represented the Times. The government's argument was that publication of the papers would jeopardize national security.

The issue was under what circumstances should the courts impose "prior restraint" on a proposed publication. A past case had held that the First Amendment generally prevented prior restraint, and the only exception ever mentioned was from a 1931 case, in which it was stated that publication of "the dates of departures of ships during wartime" could be prohibited.

Abrams won this case 6-3 in the Supreme Court, as the government failed to prove that any significant harm would result from the proposed publication. Indeed, when Abrams contacted the government witnesses ten years later for an article he was writing, not a single one of them could cite a single instance in which publication of the papers had resulted in any harm to U.S. security interests.

Most of the cases Abrams discusses involve the principle that true information, lawfully obtained, about matters of public interest, cannot be suppressed. The first such case Abrams discusses was a Virginia case involving a Virginia statute that criminalized the reporting of confidential information about a pending disciplinary proceeding against a sitting judge. A unanimous Supreme Court held that the truthful report could not be subject to criminal sanctions.

Next Abrams discusses a West Virginia case in which a newspaper disclosed the name of a juvenile offender who had shot and killed a classmate. Again, the truthful report of information, lawfully obtained, about a matter of public interest was held to be immune from criminal liability.

Then we have a case in which the singer Wayne Newton sued NBC for a report documenting Newton's ties to organized crime. Again, the information was shown to be 100% true, and Newton was sent on his pathetic way with no recovery.

Next we have a case in which the Long Island newspaper Newsday reported on heroin trafficking in Turkey. A Turkish citizen who had been named as a drug trafficker sued for libel, but was rebuffed when the truth came out at trial.

Then a 1982 case in which ABC was sued by Victor Lasky, a notorious right-wing journalist, for being mentioned in a special on McCarthyism in the 1950's in a small West Virginia town. Again, Lasky was shown to all wet, due to the diligent efforts of Abrams and his team.

A different kind of issue presented itself in the Brooklyn Museum case. Here New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was attempting to pull city funding from the museum, because he personally objected to a single painting which was part of a special exhibit. Abrams successfully obtained an injunction against this action. This case arose before Giuliani became something of a national hero following 9/11; it certainly shows Guliani in a much less favorable light than in the 9/11 aftermath.

And then we have the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform case. This law attempted to reform campaign financing. Abrams pursued a case against this law, but lost 5-4 in the Supreme Court. The three conservatives, Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist, along with Kennedy, were with Abrams, while the four liberals, Souter, Breyer, Stevens, and Ginsburg, joined by the middle-of-the-road O'Connor, voted to uphold the law.

It is interesting to note that liberals in this country were almost uniformly in favor of the law, and the appearance of Abrams on the conservative side represented a break in the traditional support he had enjoyed from liberals. Abrams makes a persuasive case that the limitations on speech represented by McCain-Finegold are improper under the First Amendment.

As Abrams describes in 2017 book, 'The Soul of the First Amendment", he again represented Senator Mitch McConnell in a later case, the infamous (to liberals) Citizens United case. Here the court unanimously rejected the restrictions on campaign spending, so Abrams got, in effect, the last laugh on this issue.

Like most liberals, I have a visceral dislike of the Citizens United ruling, but Abrams makes a convincing case that it is correct. He points out that very few of the million-dollar donations to super-PACS since the ruling have come from corporations, which were the subject of the ruling. And, the 2016 election, in which well-funded candidates like Jeb Bush got soundly trounced, sheds doubt on the doomsayers who fear money has corrupted our politics.

But the last case discussed here is one in which I severely disagree with Abrams, with no possibility that he will ever convince me otherwise. This was a 2000 case out of Colorado, Hill v. Colorado, which involved a Colorado criminal statute making it illegal to approach another person without her consent within 100 feet of a medical facility, for the purpose of engaging in "oral protest, education, or counseling".

To me this statute is easily defensible, because at its heart it involves actions, not speech. And yet, Abrams defiantly took this to the Supreme Court, where he lost, 6-3, with Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy dissenting. Justice Stevens' majority opinion upheld the law based on "the privacy interest in avoiding unwanted communication". The decades-old phrase of Justice Louis Brandeis comes to mind here, the "right to be let alone".

According to Abrams, the Hill case was "effectively reversed" in 2014 by an "almost identical" case out of the state of Massachusetts. This was the infamous case of McCullen v. Coakley. Amazingly, this was a unanimous Supreme court decision, and one not easily explainable. The majority opinion didn't explicitly say it was overruling Hill, and mentioned Hill only in passing. Given that two members of the majority in Hill were still on the court, and that other liberals had since joined the court, it is hard to conclude that Abrams is right when he calls the cases "almost identical".

The two case are certainly superficially identical, since both involve a statute regulating protest activities outside abortion clinics. But the problem in the Massachusetts case was that the statute limited activities at all Massachusetts abortion clinics, when the problem the statue was designed to address had existed at only one of the clinics. Therefore, the court held that the statute was not "narrowly tailored" enough to address the problem; i.e., it restricted speech far more broadly than necessary to address the problem.

Another problem with the Massachusetts case is that the named plaintiff was not the typical loudmouthed, rabble-rousing abortion protester. Rather, she was a gentle, kind, caring individual. Hence the case became one of those "hard cases that makes bad law". Indeed, the majority opinion even mentioned the word "caring" in describing her counseling technique.

It is interesting that the same three conservatives who dissented in Hill also objected to the court's reasoning here, though they concurred in the result. The three concurring justices felt that a less stringent standard than "strict scrutiny should apply, since they felt that the statute was "content based".

It is demeaning and condescending to women to think that they would be going to have an abortion without having thought through the consequences. I can only hope that this GOP war on women will some day come to an end.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Letter to National Review

In "The Gorsuch Triumph", Ramesh Ponnuru states that Robert Bork was rejected by the Senate in 1987 "for being too conservative". This is a gross oversimplification, and even a misstatement of, Bork's confirmation problems.
Bork's view was that the Constitution restricted the ability of government to limit our freedoms only to the extent of liberties specifically spelled out in the Constititution. This is the exact opposite of what our Founders intended. The Founders intended that "We the People" were only giving government the powers specifically outlined in the Constitution, with all other powers being reserved to the people. Bork's endorsement of excessive power for the federal government, well beyond that intended by the Founders, can hardly be called "conservative" in any meaningful sense of the word.
But Bork had more problems than this. He came across as aloof and unapproachable, turning off even many of his supporters. As Senator Howell Heflin commented, "He's too professorial".
As documented in Ethan Bronner's "Battle for Justice: How the Bork Nomination Shook America", Bork waffled over key issues during his confirmation hearing, repeatedly flip-flopping back and forth. This made him look hopelessly opportunistic, and called his character into question. Bronner says that Bork "modified views he had held strongly and repeated widely for two decades".  His repeated waffling earned him "the contempt of some fervent admirers".
Ponnuru states that Bork got "burned for his candor". To the contrary, Bork lost because he was unable to communicate his beliefs in an understandable way, despite Committee Chairman Biden's bending over backwards to give him a fair hearing. Consequently, the Senate rightly concluded that he would not make a good Supreme Court justice.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Wisdom of Maya Angelou

I heard a great quote on NPR the other day from Maya Angelou. She said that “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It struck me that perhaps this explains why Donald Trump could win an election, despite his many falsehoods and misdeeds. People are willing to overlook his many misstatements of fact, because he makes them feel like he is somebody who will stand up for them. What is important, as Angelou states, is not what he says, but how he says it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

2017 MLB Predictions

Hard to believe another season has rolled around. Here we go again with the annual predictions.

AL East        Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Rays

Red Sox look even stronger this year. Yankees are in rebuilding mode and are a year or two off from becoming contenders, but the kids look good enough to take 3rd.

AL Central   Indians, Royals, Tigers, White Sox, Twins

Indians are even stronger with Encarnacion on board. Their pitching staff looks awfully strong.They should win regardless of whether Brantley bounces back from his injuries. Tigers are still on the fence as to rebuilding or sticking with their veterans. The veterans are getting old, but the contracts are too bloated to get rid of. The Royals may nose them out for 2nd.

AL West       Astros, Mariners, Rangers, Angels, A's

This could be the year the long-suffering Mariners break their playoff drought. The Astros and Rangers will also contend. Mariners for 2nd is sort of a sentimental pick.

NL East        Nationals, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Phillies

Hard to choose between Mets and Nationals. My first thought was to pick the Mets, but then I decided that relying on a bunch of young, hard-throwing pitchers simply invites injuries, and the Mets have been plagued by injuries and, I suspect, will continue to be.

NL Central   Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers, Reds

Cubs are strong again. Reds have pitching injuries starting the season and look woeful.

NL West       Dodgers, Giants, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Padres

Dodgers are awfully strong. Padres are thought to be the worst team in MLB.

4/2/17 update.  As usual, I have picked some other predictions to compare to mine as the season progresses. This year they include USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report. What is striking this time is how similar all the predictions are. There are only two teams for which the variation is more than one place in the standings, these being the Orioles and the Braves, each of which ranges from 3rd to 5th in the predictions.

The other variations include Orioles/Yankees for 3rd/4th, Rays/Orioles for 4th/5th, Royals/Tigers for 2nd/3rd, Twins/White Sox for 4th/5th, Rangers/Mariners for 2nd/3rd, Braves/Marlins for 3rd/4th, Reds/Brewers for 4th/5th, and Giants/Dodgers for 1st/2nd.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Toledo March Swiss

The Toledo March Swiss, held on 3/11/17, had a record 68 players. Despite the huge turnout, the tournament ran smoothly, with no controversies. It was broken into three sections--Open, under 1800, and under 1400. Since I'm at my 1800 floor, I played in the Open.

In the first round I was paired against John Bidwell, a Master. Here is that game.

Round 1, chessart(1800)-Bidwell(2213), Benoni Defense

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3

Here I was quite confident, as the Catalan gives white good play with little chance for black counterplay.


Usual is 3...d5, with white retaining a nice 12.5% edge. Next is 3...Bb4+, with a similar edge for white. 3...c5 is third, with equal prospects as black transposes to a Benoni, a double-edged game which gives black more winning chances..

4 d5 ed 5 cd d6 6 Bg2 g6 7 Nf3 Bg7 8 Nc3 0-0 9 0-0 Na6 10 Bf4 Nc7 11 e4

The database much prefers 11 a4. It gives black a huge advantage after 11 e4.


This makes sense, but is not even given in the database!

12 Bxd6

This is a common theme in this variation of the Benoni. White aims to get his central pawns moving forward, in hopes at some point of discovering an attack for his B/g2 against black's R/a8.

12...Qxd6 13 e5 Qd7 14 ef Bxf6 15 Ne4 Bxb7 16 Rb1 Bg7 17 Nxc5 Qd6 18 Ne4 Qxd5 19 QxQ NxQ 20 Rxb5

The computer gives black a .34 edge here, but I still liked my position.

20...Bf5 21 Nd6 Nc3 22 Rc5 Bd3 23 Re1

The only safe square for my Rook to move to.

23...Rad8 24 Nb7 Rde8 25 h4 a6 26 a3 Nb5 27 a4 Nd4 28 RxR NxN+ 29 BxN RxR 30 Nd6 Bf8 31 Rd5 Re1+ 32 Kh2 Bc2 33. a5 Ra1 34. Ne4 Bb4 35. Nf6+ Kg7 36. Ne8+ Kf8 37. Nc7 Bxa5 38. Nxa6 Be1 39. Nc7 Bxf2 40. Rd2 Bg1+ 41. Kg2 Rc1 42 Nd5 h5?

In time trouble, black overlooks the fact that my knight move means I was now threatening to win material.

43 RxB RxR+ 44 KxB 

I now have knight + bishop for rook + pawn. While the point count is even, I actually have a huge advantage, because the two pieces are much better in this position. The computer gives me a 1.63 advantage.

44...Kg7 45. Ne3 Rb2 46. Ng2 f6 47. Nf4 Ra2 48. Bd5 Rb2 49. Bf3 Ra2 50. Kh1 g5 51. hxg5 fxg5 52. Nxh5+ Kg6 53. Bg4?

Here I go seriously astray. 53 g4 would preserve my advantage, which probably would be winning in light of black's time trouble.

53...Ra4 54. Bf3 g4 55. Bxg4 Rxg4 56. Nf4+ Kf5 57. Ng2 Rxg3 draw agreed 1/2-1/2

With the pawns off the board, black's exchange advantage is meaningless.

                         *********                                    **********

Round 2, Ravi Khanna(2136)-chessart(1800), Smith-Morra Gambit

1 e4 c5 2 d4 cd 3 c3 dc 4 Nxc3 Nc6 5 Bc4 e6 6 Nf3 d6 7 0-0 a6 8 Bg5(?)

I thought this was very weak, though my opponent disagreed. His idea is to eliminate my king bishop, and then gang up with his rooks on my d-pawn. Normal here is 8 Qe2.

8...Be7 9 BxB QxB 10 Rc1

The only game in the database continued 10 Nd4, with black winning in 42 moves.

10...Nf6 11 Bd3 Bd7 12. Na4 O-O 13. Nb6 Rad8 14. Qb3 Ng4 15. Rfd1 Nge5 16. Nxe5 Nxe5 17. Rc7 Nc6?

After the game my opponent suggested 17...Qh4, which seems much better. 

18 Qa3 Rfe8 19 Rxb7 d5 20 QxQ RxQ 21 Bxa6 Kf8 22 Bb5 Ke8 23 RxB Black resigns 1-0

                                     ***********                               *************
In round 3 I played a 9-year-old girl, who proved to be quite a formidable competitor!

Round 3, chessart(1800)-Sanjana Ramesh(1627), King's Indian Defense

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7

A huge surprise. The King's Indian seems way too complex of an opening for a 9-year-old!

4 e4 d6 5 f3 0-0 6 Be3 Nbd7 7 Qd2 e5 8 d5 b6(?)

This move is not even in the database! I'm not sure what her idea was here.

9 Bd3 Nc5 10 Nge2

Probably better was 10 Bc2.

10...Nfd7 11 0-0 NxB 12 QxN Nc5 13 Qd2 f5 14 exf5

I  like to capture the P/f5  in this line, as I will get active play however black recaptures. 

14...Bxf5 15 BxN(?)

I now understand that this move is wrong on principle. In a 2006 Chess Life article, Bruce Pandolfini writes that "Generally, in a King's Indian, white needs a very good reason to part with his dark-squared bishop, as the bulk of his pawns are already committed to light squares." 15 b4 deserved consideration here.

bc 16 Ng3 Bd7 17 Nge4

This is the point of my play. I now have a permanent spot on e4 for a knight, and black can do nothing about it. And yet, the computer insists that black has a .53 edge!

17...Qh5 18 a4 Bh6 19 Qe2 Bg7 20 Nb5 Qd8 21 Qd2 a6 22 Nbc3 Bf5 23 a5 Kh8 24 Rae1 Qe7 25 Rb1 g5 26 g4 Bg6 27 b4 cb 28 Rxb5 h6 29 Kg2

The computer finally gives me an advantage, albeit a miniscule .02.

29...Rab8 30 Rfb1 RxR 31 RxR Qf7 32 Qe2 Qf4 33 Rb7 h5 34 h3 

Probably too cautious, as 34 Rxc7 is likely playable.

BxN 35 NxB hg 36 hg Rf7 37 c5 dc 38 Nxc5 Qd4 39 Nxa6?

The computer line runs 39 Ne6 Qxd5 40. Rb8+ Kh7 41. Nxg5+ Kg6 42 NxR. For once, I have to agree with the engine.

39...Qxd5 40 Rxc7 RxR 41 NxR Qxa5

And so we arrive at an ending, if any position with queens still on the board can be called an "ending".

42 Ne6 Bf6 43 Qe4??

And I promptly blunder a piece. I will play the rest of the game a piece down. I am guessing at some of the following moves, as my scoresheet was missing a few moves.

43...Qa2+ 44 Kg3 QxN 45 Qg6  Qe7 46. Qh6+ Kg8 47. Qg6+ Bg7 48. Qe4 Qf6 49. Qd5+ Kh8 50. Qa8+ Bf8 51. Qd5 Qf4+ 52. Kg2 Qd4 53. Qf7 Qd2+ 54. Kh3 Qf4 55. Qh5+ Kg7 56. Qe8 Qxf3+ 57. Kh2 Qxg4 58. Qxe5+ Kf7 59. Qd5+ Kf6 60. Qd8+ Kg7 61. Qc7+ Kg8 62. Qd8 Qf4+ 63. Kg2 Qg4+ 64. Kh2 Kf7 65. Qd5+ Kf6 66. Qc6+ Qe6 67. Qf3+ Kg7 68. Qc3+ Kf7 69. Qc7+ Kg8 70. Qd8 Qe5+ 71. Kg2 g4 72. Qc8 g3 73. Qg4+ Kf7 74. Qxg3 Qxg3+ 75. Kxg3 Draw agreed 1/2-1/2

Young Sanjana went on to destroy her Class A opponent in the last round, winning both the game and the post-game analysis. She gained 43 rating points for her fine performance in this tournament.

                                        **************                  ****************

Round 4, chessart(1800)-Jonathan Prairie(1657), Benko Gambit, Zeitsev Variation

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cb a6 5 Nc3 ab 6 e4 b4 7 Nb5 Nxe4?

Black falls right into the trap. This loses his knight. This line of the Benko is called the Zeitsev Variation. Usual is 7...d6 8 Bf4 g5 9 Bxg5 Nxe4 10 Bf4, and now black can play 10...Qa5, 10...Bg7, or 10...Nf6, with the latter showing the best results for black.

8 Qe2 b3

The database gives only 8...Ba6 and 8...f5. Of course not 8...Nf6?? 9 Nd6#.

9 QxN

Perhaps 9 a4 was better, but I didn't like the messy position after 9...Qa5+ 10 Kd1.

9...Qa5+ 10 Bd2 Qxa2!

The exclam is for black finding this move despite not being familiar with this opening. It actually is a common idea in the Zeitsev, but kudos to black for finding it over-the-board!

11 Rb1 f5 12 Nd6+?

Here I start to go wrong. The simple 12 Qxf5 retains my advantage. If left on b5, my knight can participate in the queen-side defense with a later Nc3.

12...Kd8 13 Nxf5 g6?

Black misses a chance to take the advantage with 13...Ra4.

14 Ne3 Bg7

Now 14...Ra4 can be met with 15 Nc4.

15 Bd3 Ra4 16 Nc4 Ba6 17 Bc3?

The engine gives 17. Rd1 d6 18. Ne2 Bxc4 19. Bxc4 Qxb2 20. Qd3 Qc2 21. Qxb3 Qxc4 and I am still 3 points up.

17...BxB 18 bc BxN 19 Qe5 d6 20 QxR+ Kc7 21 Qxh7?

The engine gives 21. Rd1 Bxd3 22. Rxd3 Re4+ 23. Re3 Rxe3+ 24. fxe3 Qxg2 25. Qxh7 Qxh1 26. Qxe7+ Nd7=.

21... Bxd3 22. Qxe7+ Nd7 23. Rd1 Re4+ 24. Qxe4 Bxe4 25. Ne2 Bc2 26. Rc1 b2 White resigns 0-1