Friday, October 31, 2008

What about Ted Stevens?

Interesting debate snippet on C-SPAN this morning showing Senator Stevens saying in a debate lat night in Alaska that he was "not convicted". Obviously this is wrong, as Senator Stevens "has" been convicted and what he meant was "this is not over, I am appealing and expect to be vindicated". This of course is what he should have said, if he had any regard for the truth.

With regard to his appeal, a couple of things jump out at me. First, the prosecutorial misconduct was severe, as the Judge's repeated chastisement of the proseuction makes evident. Second, keeping the trial in Washginton D.C. just doesn't seem right. The basis for this venue is that the finanical filing was done there, but all the witnesses were in Alaska and it just seems somehow wrong to try the man in D.C., far away from his home. I think these two factors combined will give him good chances on appeal.

I can't help but think of a case from decades ago, the case of Jimmy Hoffa. I studied this case in law school, and my criminal law prof, who at the time of the decision had been on the D.C. Court of Appeals as a clerk, said there was no way the Justices were going to overturn that conviction, based on the strength of the political winds blowing against Hoffa. What the prosecution had done in that case was truly outrageous, as they had planted an undercover informant in the defense's camp before and during the trial, and if it had been anybody else but Hofffa, that would surely have caused the conviction to be reversed based on the extreme misconduct by the prosecution.

The Stevens case seems just the opposite to me. Here you have an 84-year-old man, with a lifetime of public service, and no prior criminal rcord. It seems that the Court of Appeals will bend over backwards in this case to find a way to overturn the conviction.

All that aside, I can see how the jury could have convicted Stevens. He testified in an arrogant and combative manner, and some of his claims seemed truly incredulous. Generally if the jury doesn't like you, you will get convicted, and this is what happened here.

The financial form Stevens and all Senators have to fill out is an important part of the post-Watergate ethics rules, and Stevens just didn't take it seriously. It would have been an easy matter for him to pick up the phone, call his friend, and say "Are you going to send me a bill for that work you did, or is it a gift?" Stevens testified he had repeatedly asked for a bill, which means he really convicted himself, because it showed he was fully aware that he had not paid for the work done on his home. When he went to fill out the disclosure form, he could and should have gotten it straight once and for all if this was a gift or not, and then he could have made the proper disclosure. The fact that he did not do this shows his arrogance and disregard for the rules we all have to live by.

On "Spreading the Wealth"

Obama has really gotten a bad rap on this one. Any tax system, especially any progressive tax system, "spreads the wealth", if it must be put in those terms. What people don't seem to understand, and what the McCain campaign surely does undersand but cynically ignores, is that all Obama seeks to do is to repeal the Bush tax cut on the very wealthy, that is, to return those tax rates to what they were under Clinton, which, by the way, was a period when the economy was very good, and in which we experienced the first budet surplus in a very long time.

But do we hear anybody speak the truth on this issue? Of course not, we hear terms like "socialism, "spread the wealth", "redistribute the wealth", etc. When I was growing up in the '50's the tax rate on the very wealthy was 91%! This was obviously an obscenely high rate and was ultimately pared down to something more reasonable. This was indeed "spreading the wealth". But now it is less than 40%, so any hint of confiscatory taxation is obviously out of line. Shame on the McCain campaign for suggesting otherwise.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

States to Watch Next Week

Here are the States I will be watching next week when the election returns come in: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Arizona. Obama wins without these states, but if he wins these 8 states, it will approach a landslide.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The 2008 World Series

At this writing the 5th game has been suspended, to be continued tonite or as soon thereafter as weather permits. I note that the last 4 Series have been no more than 5 games, and the question arises as to the longest such streak in World Series history.

A perusal of the history shows that only once before has there been a streak of 4 Series without a 6th game. This was in 1913-1916, during the decade in which the American League dominated the Series. There have been four streaks of 3: 27-29, 37-39, 41-43, and 88-90.

If the Phillies finish off the Rays tonite, the 5 straight short Series would be a new record.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Election Predictions

I start with the proposition that Obama is going to win the 252 electoral votes (EV's) which Kerry won 4 years ago. To that I add Colorado and New Mexico, which give him 14 additional votes to put him to 266, 4 short of the 270 needed to win. This seems a pretty safe bet so far.

To this I add Iowa and Ohio, which adds 27 more EV's and gets Obama's total to 293. This also seems a pretty sure bet.

Obama is leading also in some other states (he has 375 EV's right now). It is intriguing that North Carolina is currently about even. However, I note that NC has not voted for a Northern Democrat since JFK in 1960, so it is hard to predict it will do so now. Neither Virginia or Florida have voted for a Northern Democrat since Harry Truman in 1948, so the same comment holds for those states. And then we have the odd case of Indiana, where polls show Obama leading by 7 points. But Indiana hasn't voted for a Northern Democrat since the FDR landslide of 1936! So, I'm giving these 4 states to McCain.

It is harder to do the same with Missouri, since Missouri "always" votes for the winner. I hate to jinx Obama by not predicting he will win Missouri. In over a hundred years (since 1900), Missouri has only once not voted for the winner. This was when it went for Stevenson in 1956. However, I know the state well enough to know that it is infested with rednecks, and I predict it will narrowly go for McCain, breaking its record of 12 straight times voting for the winner, just as in 1956 it broke its streak of 13 straight times going for the winner (it went for Bryan in 1900).

So, will Obama get 375 EV's or the more modest 293? Stay tuned!

3/18/16 update.  I was right about Colorado, New Mexico, and Missouri, but wrong about the four swing states (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana), which all went for Obama, giving him a total of 365 EC votes. I was right about the Missouri margin being "narrow":  McCain won 49.4% to 49.3%!

In 2012 Obama dropped down to 332 EV's, as Indiana and North Carolina slipped back into the GOP column.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Today's News

Some items in today's Wichita Eagle caught my eye. My reactions follow.

1. The main headline involved a joint appearance yesterday of the two candidates for Sedgwick County District Attorney. They traded negative barbs with each other. On the editorial page is an endorsement for Nola Foulston, the longtime incumbent. This is unfortunate. Nola is a grandstander and has a huge ego problem. Although I supported her when she first ran, that has proven to be a mistake as she has shown distressing power-hungry attributes over the years.

2. There is also a front-page story about the Congressional race, pitting Betts against Tiahrt. Although I didn't see it in the article, Betts has stressed Tiahrt's reneging on the promise he made when he was first elected, defeating longtime incumbent Dan Glickman with the promise that if elected he would only serve 12 years. Betts is also stressing Tiahrt's vote for the 1999 Act deregulating the financial industry, which has led to our current crisis.

3. There is a really bizarre story on page 3. A woman in Japan was arrested and taken 620 miles from her home for detention. And her "crime"? She killed her fantasy ex-husband's avatar in an online virtual reality game!!

4. The Eagle prides itself on being "relentlessly state and local" in its emphasis, but on page 3 there is a small story indicating an awareness that a Presidential campaign is going on. There is no analysis of the campaign, just a rehash of statements made yesterday. However, from other sources I see today that Obama is now ahead in the electoral vote by 375-157. The biggest news today is that Indiana has finally gone blue, with Obama having a 50-43% lead there now.

5. On page 4 appears an article about Alan Greenspan being "called on the carpet" yesterday by a congressional committee. I saw some of this on C-SPAN yesterday. Greenspan, formerly viewed as almost a god for his economic widsom, was pilloried for his longtime advocacy of no regulation for finaincial markets. The article says Greenspan "seemed genuinely perplexed" by what has happened, showing what an inexact "science" economics is, if it is even a science at all. And if it is not, then why in the world is there a Nobel Prize for Economics??

6. A small item on page 4 reported that the New York City Council amended its term limits law by a 29-22 vote, to allow Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third term next year. While I respect the advocates of term limit laws, I disagree with the concept because you are throwing away expertise. In the context of Congress, what you are doing is giving the power to the staff and professional lobbyists, who remain in Washington year in and year out,l while members of Congress come and go.

7. There is a small item about a 16-year-old who walked into a Nebraska hospital in an attempt to take advantage of that state's "safe haven" law. I have heard that the intent of thsi new law was to provide for the abandoning of infants without fear of retribution, so that mothers will not throw their new-borns into trash cans as is sometimes done. However, it was written to allow abandonment of any child under 18. If this is true, it shows the folly of inexperienced legislators trying to write laws. We have seen this often in Kansas, where the "citizen-legislators", i.e., famers and insurance agents who have no idea how to write a decent law, get to make the laws. My friend Rob complained to me recently about twoo many lawyers in office. In fact the exact opposite is true. In Kansas there has been a steady decline in lawyers in the legislature, and the result has been a deterioration in the qualiy of our laws. If you want something done right, do you hire an expert or an amateur? Do you want our laws written by people who know what they are doing, or by people who do not?

8. Turning to the Local & State section (a redundancy in itself since the first section is mostly state and local in its own right) there is an article on 3 of the Judge's races. As my barber told me yesterday, it is hard for the average voter to know anything about the local candidates for Judge. In light of this, it is really silly to have them elected instead of appointed, but that is the system we have in this county. Anyway, an article spotlights 3 of the contested races. I would say at the outset that a good rule of thumb for a Sedgwick County voter is that if an incumbent Judge has opposition, it is a good idea to vote for the opponent. The reason is the *good* Judges never have any opposition. Anyway, 2 of the 3 Judges (Pilshaw and Wilbert) spotlighted have had public ethics problems, and have been disciplined by the state disciplinary people. The 3rd, Dan Brooks, has low marks from the bar and by all accounts should be voted out, as should the other 2 with public ethics issues.

9. In sports we see that the Tampa Bay Rays have tied the World Series at a game apiece. The odd thing about the Series so far is that the analysis before the first game was that game 1 was a must-win for the Phillies. This is because their star pitcher, Cole Hamels, was on the mound. If Hamels couldn't win, nobody can, because the Phillies were going to be underdogs when the teams' 2nd, 3rd, & 4th starters were facing each other. Yet, when the Phillies barely won 3-2 (thanks to a blown balk call by the umps), all of a sudden the oddsmakers were saying the Rays were no longer Series favorites. I immediately recognized this for the bs it was. All that had happened was that the Phillies had won a game, as they were supposed to. I understand that the team which wins game 1 wins the series some 60% or more of the time, but there is more to the analysis than the math and history of it. In this situaion, given the American League dominance in recent years, as reflected by the Red Sox' terrible thumping of the Rockies last year, my money would still be on the Rays even after the game 1 loss. And this proved right when the Rays came back last night with their 4-2 win. I say, Rays in 6, maybe even 5.

10. Finally, in the Entertainment Section we have the schedule for the annual Tallgrass Film Festival, which offers a variety of independend films from all over the world. This runs through Sunday night, and hopefully I will be able to get out to see at least one this year. I also note in this section that Clint Eastwood's new film, "The Changeling", does not open today n Wichita. It was reviewed on NPR this morning and sounds quite fascinating. It is based on a true story which happened in 1920's-era Los Angeles. A boy went missing and the police returned the wrong boy to the mother. When she insisted it was the wrong boy, she was incarcerated as insane. Angelina Jolie plays the mother, and John Cusack also is in it, I believe playing a minister who publicizes the police incompetence/corruption.

11. And finally, an unusual source of interest and comment is a review of a film newly out on DVD, though it is 26 years old. It is "Missing", and the DVD contains extra information describing how declassified documents since the film came out confirm the involvement of the US military and CIA in the overthrow of Allende in Chile, and describe also how the filmmakers successfully defended themselves against a libel suit filed by 3 of the US embassy officials depicted in the film, giving further credence to the film's truthfulness. An interesting sidelight to this is a story which came out yesterday, that in 1985 McCain traveled to Chile to meet with the dictator Pinochet, the same guy who was the villain in the coup which overthrew the democratically-elected Allende. This despite McCain's blasting Obama over and over about his willingness to meet with bad guys from other countries. Incidentally, this was something Colin Powell mentioned in his recent endorsement of Obama, that meeting with other leaders is something the new president *should* do.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Powell Endorsement

Colin Powell's endorsement on "Meet the Press" Sunday of Obama is quite noteworthy. Powell, in his usual thoughtful way, made a number of points leading up to his announcement, and gave a numbers of reasons afterwards. Here are some that struck me.

1. He stressed that he has been a life-long Republican, and has known and admired McCain for 25 years. He mentioned the "narrowing" of the Republican base, and this reminded me so much of the famous comment by Jim Jeffords when he switched parties. Jeffords said, "I didn't leave the party; the party left me." Though he didn't use these words, Powell referred to the capture of the party by the extreme right-wing reactionaries, and how McCain was allowing that capture to take place instead of putting his own imprint on the party.

2. He expressed concern about Sarah Palin, and was clear that he felt she was *not* competent to become President if something should happen to McCain.

3. He said how impressed he was at the way Obama was reaching out to all kinds of people, crossing ethnic, gender, and other lines that often divide us. He said Obama had the potential to be a "transformative" figure, transforming U.S. politics and restoring our image in the world abroad.

4. He referred to Obama's intellect, and how he was able to understand complex issues.

5. He expressed his disappointment at the negative tone of McCain's campaign in recent months, and specifcally mentioned Bill Ayers and said the connection between Ayers and Obama was very tenuous, and that McCain was wrong for making this an issue.

6. Along those same lines, he expressed disdain for the false information circulating that Obama is a Muslim. He said the right answer to that is that Obama has always been a Christian. However, he said the "real answer" is, "so what?". He said we have always been a pluralistic society, and he told of seeing a Muslim mother grieving over the loss of her son who had served in Iraq and died there. Being a Muslim should not disqualify anybody from office, or from being considered a fully patriotic American.

Powell said he has served in various capacities for over 40 years, and does not desire another position in the new government, regardless of who is elected in 2 weeks. If he holds to this, the country will be the poorer for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Signs of Personal Progress

1. Saturday I had the longest jog in my life--40 minutes. Plus, I took a new route, starting at the foot bridge near Central & McLean, crossing to the West side of the river and going North on the bike Path to 13th Street, then crossing the river again and back South through Sim Park.

2. Sunday morning I finished going through the accummulated newspapers, which I will recycle this afternoon. A couple of weeks earlier I finished all the magazines.

3. Sunday afternoon I played in a chess tournament, in support of Anthony Winn's chess club which has a new home on 21st St. It formerly was supported by William Sanders, Barry Sanders' father, who visited during the tournament to lend moral support to the club.

4. Yesterday I took yet another new jogging route, in Central Riverside Park.

5. Today I packed up books to be stacked up in the place where the newspapers formerly were.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What about Third Parties?

Does our electoral college system make adequate allowance for third parties. Should third parties be allowed to participate in Presidential debates? I will attempt to speak to these and related issues.

Our founding fathers did not envision the advent of political parties. This is why the Constitution had to be amended after Jefferson tied with his running mate in the 1800 election.

The electoral college system obviously discriminates against third parties. Just look at Ross Perot's 19% vote in the 1992 election. How many electoral votes did all those votes get him? Exactly zero, zilch, nada. In fact, he only finished second in 2 states--Utah and Maine.

This shows how the deck is stacked against 3rd party candidates. Since you have to win a state to get any electoral votes (except in Maine and Nebraska where you "only" have to win a Congressional District), you have to pretty much be a major party to get on the board in the electoral college.

The commission in charge of debates says no 3rd party candidate will be included unless they have 15% in the polls. An organization whose head was on C-SPAN recently (I think "open-debates" was its name), espoused its theory that any candidate who was on enough state ballots to be eligible to get the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected should be included. This would have allowed Ralph Nader to be included in this year's debates, and certainly we would have had a chance to have real debates if this had happened, instead of the meaningless joint press conferences that we got instead.

I believe we need to unstack the deck to give 3rd parties a chance. Just look at how John McCain picked his running mate. He wanted Joe Lieberman, but was assured by party leaders that if he did this, a floor fight would ensue at the convention. Consequently, he got stuck with Sarah Palin, the last in a long line of bimbos McCain has surrounded himself with.

It is apparent from this fiasco that the Republican party really consists of 3 different parties. You have the libertarians, who really should be part of the Libertarian Party. Then you have the so-called social conservatives, who are decidedly anti-libertarian in their belief that the government should regulate our personal lives, prohibiting abortion, prohibiting gay marriage, prohibiting drug use, and advocating all kinds of other regulations designed to foist their religious views on the rest of us. Lastly, you have the Rockefeller Republicans, the folks running Wall Street, the so-called Eastern Establishment that Barry Goldwater ran against in 1964.

These are really 3 different parties, not part of one party, and they should be allowed to go their separate ways and advocate their respective views to their heart's content. Somehow a way needs to be found so that people can advocate their positions in an authentic way, instead of being forced to be part of a big party which only in part shares their views. Or, alternatively, being forced to be part of a small party which has no chance of ever having a true voice in national affairs.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Beanball War

The latest version of this recurring baseball phenomenon occurred during the NLCS between the Phillies and the Dodgers. In game 2 the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez got thrown at, and the Dodgers' pitcher that game failed to retaliate, to the dismay of many of the Dodger hitters. Then in game 3 the Dodgers' catcher, Russell Martin, got hit and then thrown at again the next at bat. The Dodgers' pitcher "retaliated" by throwing a pitch a foot above Victorino's head, and somehow the Dodgers felt like this made things even.

What gripes me about this whole thing is the way MLB administered punishment for the whole mess. They fined 7 players or coaches, hitting both sides as if it was a mutual thing. This is akin to a political commentator giving equal time to both sides, even though one side's position cannot stand up to any objective analysis. Or, punishing both sides in a fight equally, without considering which side started the fight. Or, blaming the victim, which is more and more prevalent in our amoral society.

In this case, the Phillies clearly instigated the hostilities, by throwing multiple times at Dodger hitters. The Dodgers one attempt at retaliation was really quite pathetic, and yet the Dodgers hurler, the Japanese import Kuroda, is hailed as a hero for dong something about it when Billingsley would not. The real culprits here, the ones who started the benches-clearing incident, are the Phillies first-base coach, Davey Lopes, who yelled at Kuroda as the inning ended, and the Phillies' centerfielder, Victorino, who repeatedly pointed at his head and his ribs as a way of saying, "throw at my ribs, not my head". Then after the at bat Victorino also engaged in the yelling along with Lopes.

I think in an effort to appear impartial, we too often forget what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. The only people to be fined in this situation were Lopes and Victorino, who started the benches-clearing incident. MLB should have reprimanded those two, and left the others alone.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The special report on Troopergate was issued last Friday. I attempted to read it with an eye towards summarizing it here, but it is just too long and depressing. Suffice it to say that Mr. Monegan was summoned to a meeting on January 4, 2007, with Todd Palin, Sarah's husband, and at that meeting Monegan explained that the allegations had been dealt with and Mr. Wooten had been disciplined. In other words, it was a closed book at that point.

Despite that, Palin and many on her staff continued to make complaints and attempt to rehash the past concerning Trooper Wooten. It is really a despicable, sordid mess, and one wonders how thorough McCain's staff was in investigating Sarah Palin before picking her as a running mate.

This whole mess illustrates the problem when extended family gets involved in a divorce case. From my own experience in private practice I can attest that it is never useful for extended family to involve themselves as the Palin's did in the divorce case of Sarah's sister.

McCain's Naval Record

Because the Democrats have eschewed the type of negative campaigning that is commonplace among Republicans, John McCain's abysmal naval record is little known. I think it is relevant to know that he finished 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy, and he crashed several jet fighters during his flying career. Anyone else would have lost his wings, but because of McCain's family connections, he repeatedly was given special treatment. Further, McCain's womanizing and temper tantrums are legendary among those who knew him in his early days.

This helps explain why McCain has run such a pathetic ampaign--he just doesn't have the smarts and doesn't have the judgment.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Final Results for 2008 MLB Predictions

The 2008 regular season is over and here are the final results, starting with the NL in the East and going West, then same for the AL.

Me -- 4+1+1+0+2=8; 4+1+2+0+3=10; 0+2+0+2=4; AL total = 22.
1+3+2+0+2=8; 0+2+1+1+2+0=4; 0+0+0+1+1=2; NL total = 14; overall total = 36.

Bob Lutz -- 1+1+1+3+0=6; 4+1+2+0+3=10; 3+1+1+1=6; AL total = 22.
0+2+1+1+2=6; 0+0+2+0+2+0=4; 2+1+1+1+1=6; NL total = 16; overall = 38.

Baseball Digest -- 1+1+1+3+0=6; 2+3+2+2+1=10; 0+2+0+2=4; AL total = 20.
0+1+2+2+1=6; 0+0+0+0+0+0=0; 2+0+2+1+1=6; NL total=12; overall 32.

Sports Illustrated -- 2+0+1+3+0=6; 4+1+2+0+3=10; 0+2+0+2=4; AL total = 20.
1+1+1+1+2=6; 0+1+1+1+3+0=6; 2+0+2+1+1=6. NL total=18. overall 38

I lost my season-long lead at the end when the Phillies nosed out the Mets in the NL East. This was a 4-place swing vs. those who picked the Phillies to win it. Also hurting near the end was the Astros nosing out the Cardinals for 3rd place in the NL Central, although by only half a game.

My best division was the NL West, where I missed only by flip-flopping the Giants and the Padres. Baseball Digest nailed the NL Central perfectly, accounting for its win.

My worst picks were the Rays and the Tigers, each off by 4. Off by 3 were the Nationals and the Twins. My worst division was the AL Central, where the Twins and the Tigers really threw off the results with their surprising seasons.

While nobody picked the Rays (who have just won the Division Series as I write this) to finish higher than 4th, it is noteworthy that SI wrote about how improved they were and picked them to win 80 games.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On Negative Campaigning

The McCain campaign has fallen so far behind, and is in such desperate straits as a result, that it is reported that the campaign will unleash a barrage of negative campaigning against Obama during this upcoming last month of the campaign. It was said on "Meet the Press" this morning that the Democrats shouldn't just respond aggressively, but they should attack aggressively. An Obama ad was shown criticizing McCain on his economic policies.

It seems to me that the phrase "negative campaigning" is too broad to really get a handle on what is going on here. There are at least two kinds of negative campaigns: attacking your opponent's policies, and attacking your opponent's character. Obama 's new ad does the former, and there is nothing wrong with that. McCain's expected ads attack Obama for his supposed association with a guy who was part of the radical Weather Underground movement in the '70's, and this does the latter.

Are the American people so gullible so as to fall for this sort of nonsense? Certainly they fell for it hook, line, and sinker in 1988 when they elected Bush Sr., following his despicable negative campaign against Dukakis. Past voting habits give one no cause for optimism, but I would like to think the undecided voters in the middle have more sense than to fall for the negativity we are about to see from McCain. Even arch-conservative Peggy Noonan decried the upcoming negativity from McCain, and pleaded for a politics that is more civil in nature.

On the Kansas level, a candidate some years back for Attorney General, named Richard Schodorf, unleashed a negative campaign against his opponent when he started accusing her of "hugging a drug dealer" after a Court hearing. His excuse for this despicable line of campaigning was that "I thought my opponent was going to go negative". He was trying to beat her to the punch, based on a mistaken assumption about her intentions. It failed, and a candidate with long prosecutorial experience lost to an unqualified newcomer who had virtually no experience as a result. Shame on you, Richard Schodorf.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Wisdom of David Brooks

One of the things I like so much about the PBS political commentators, David Brooks and Mark Shields, is that although they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, when they come on PBS they are both willing to take off their partisan hats and offer honest, objective analysis. This is in striking contrast to many shows today, which those of you unfortunate enough to have cable TV probably have seen ad nauseum, with guests yelling at each other and talking at the same time.

Anyway, Brooks, the conservative, offered some good observations tonight. He said the Republicans cannot succeed with their current strategy of running against the coasts, Washington D.C., and the big cities, and appealing only to rural America.

Another awfully astute observation he made is that McCain likes the Goldwater libertarianism and also the Teddy Roosevelt progressivism, and he cannot decide which kind of Republican he wants to be. So, he plants himself in the middle, in a sort of Republican identity crisis.

All I can say is, kudos to Brooks and kudos to PBS.