Friday, July 29, 2011

The President needs to learn speak...

This is a political post.

Well, maybe not speak as such, but as my brother puts it, what Obama needs is a class in how to tell a story. I don't think Morgan Freeman writes his own stuff, but certainly he needs to stop into DC and help the Prez get his cadence right.

The debt ceiling debacle keeps exposing completely broken parts of our already dysfunctional government, and what the President really needs to do is get on television and explain what's really happening. He needs to start with a basic lesson in government, segue into what the debt ceiling really is and what it needs to be raised to do, and why he offered that grand bargain the Republicans didn't accept.

A basic reading of the Constitution will reveal to even the most casual student that spending bills originate in the House of Representatives. The President has not been imbued with an Executive Branch American Express Card and the right to spend all, what's the technical term..."all willy-nilly." The President's job, which we all should have learned in high school civics - at least we would have before we fired all the teachers - is to EXECUTE the budget written by Congress. Boiled down into terms we can all understand, it's Congress gives him some money and a list of how to spend it. Now, he can offer a budget proposal, and many Presidents have, but Congress writes the budget. Congress decides how much money we spend, and on what.

Which brings us to the debt ceiling. Now, when Congress wrote the budget they were aware that the debt ceiling would be met before the year was out. And now to simply meet that agreed upon budget we need to raise the debt ceiling. We aren't talking about any NEW obligations or plans, this is borrowing to meet that basic budget. And we have known this would need to be addressed since January, and done nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing, as the Republican controlled House has passed fewer than 25 pieces of legislation total. On anything. (for comparison, the Pelosi led Democratic congress passed more than 150 in the same amount of time). It probably doesn't help the Republican argument that their side also insisted on keeping government revenues low by extending the Bush tax cuts, which the President grudgingly agreed to, but that's a whole other issue.

Which brings us to the "Grand Bargain". The theme the conservative talking heads have been hammering home the past two weeks is leadership, as in the President isn't providing any. But what do they mean by leadership? To these penny ante pundits, at least to ones repeatedly invoking it, it is just a "talking point." I really would like to see Anderson Cooper or one of the other TV hosts call them on it one night. To these mindless myna bird-eqse commentators the definition of leadership is like the definition of listening my father used to use when I was a teenager : If I didn't immediately agree with him, then I wasn't listening. To them it used to mean agree with my plan. I say used to, because lately its just something to say to tarnish the president's image.

(Note: You can generally tell when something is a talking point, because more than 4 conservative commentators will use the exact same language).

Leadership? In my book, leadership is doing what needs to be done. Much like the conservatives clamored, we can't go on spending forever. The markets just won't take it. We need to borrow now, but having a saving plan in place for the future. The Democrats know this. So, assuming a LEADERSHIP role and a realistic outlook, the President created "the Grand Bargain". Despite claims that the "liberals" have an agenda, or just don't get it, the President and those pesky liberals are more than willing to cut spending. But, apparently when the President offered the Republicans a deeper cuts figure than they demanded, because the facts and not ideology demanded it, suddenly there was a problem. Wait, what?

Mr. President, had the government defaulted AND we lost the NFL season, this would have been a 1000 times worse. Trust me on that.

Yes, the President and the Democrats are willing to cut expenditures. Drastically. Even more than Bohener's Plan which was supposed to be seriously fiscally responsible. Remember that Grand Bargain? Almost twice what the Republicans wanted. So why did it matter that the Bargain included some revenue increases, when the net gain in cuts still equaled more than the original Republican concept? That same damned myopic ideology. No tax increase and oppose Obama. And people are about to find out, ideology doesn't keep the lights on or put food on the table.

Obama's calculations won't let him pull the 14th amendment option, because the last thing we need is more government stalling behind a failed impeachment. But considering how little has been accomplished, and how little more will be accomplished between now and the next election, the option does look attractive.

Looking ahead, the current stalemate - if it gets to Aug 2. - will force the Treasury, and the President, to make some hard choices. But the Bond holders WILL get paid, and I doubt the soldier's paychecks will be short, but after that it everything is open. Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and Veterans Benefits all are on moving ground, and will lead to some trying times and possibly a few untimely passings. Government contracts, i.e., the defense industry may not be addressed - possibly leading to unnecessary expensive litigation. One hopes that Congress suddenly finds their paychecks missing as well. Wouldn't that be neat?

And despite the idea that history will blame the President, the right now and immediate future will blame the Congress. Those who thought the President was exaggerating about the consequences have seen $700 billion disappear from the markets in the last few days behind this hesitation. Continually insisting upon an unworkable plan won't help matters. Worse, the Tea Party likes to believe that a heavy cutting forced by a shut down will only eliminate the programs they don't like, but will soon find out the "awful" truth of just how much they to have come to depend on the government - just like everyone else.

And if the new congressmen think this is little bit of horse trading going on now is deplorable, let one week of Social Security and Medicare checks go missing. Then they'll see some real politicians emerge. The establishment has hung around so long for reason, and being an ideologue is merely the latest passing fancy.

We are down the nitty gritty. Let's hope the nitty wins out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Somebody's got to lose...

this is a political post.

It's almost comedy to watch Boehner try to explain himself, and watching his starched and stiff response after the practiced delivery of the President made him seem even more uncomfortable. That he was heard by a CBS reporter back stage telling someone "I didn't sign up for going mano-a-mano with the President of the United States" shows that he really didn't expect things to go this far. He probably didn't help things by mis-characterizing the situation right out of the blocks either.

I've watched a lot of Fox News, the conservative's propaganda machine, and one of the things I'll have to admit is that conservatives have gotten very good at not telling the whole truth, which is fundamentally different than lying. It gives them the same results as a complete falsehood, because parts of it can actually be verified. You get the parsed information spread, but without the later situation of being called out. But every now and then, they have to pretend like the truth doesn't even exist as opposed to their selective story telling method.

The President came to us asking for more money.

Spending bills originate in Congress. Which goes back to my earlier statement that right now, the Congress is really only authorizing the Treasury (via the Executive Branch) to borrow money it previously was aware or should have been aware was going to be needed to borrow anyway. To make is sound like Obama showed up with a list of new projects is misleading. Very misleading.

It's almost like the Speaker is counting on the people listening not being informed as to the basic principles of government. And unfortunately, there is a large enough contingent of Americans who actually fall into that category.

The President seems more concerned about his election.

This might have even been true at one point, but it to hold this one true you have to nullify the idea of the efficient market AND the conservatives complete argument about market uncertainty holding back growth. While the markets aren't really that efficient, they aren't stupid either. The credit agencies looking at the mess we're in now have figured out the conservatives will pull this same stunt for political reasons two more times before the next election in an effort to unseat Obama. Each time they're hoping the President will blink, or at least get blamed for any of the resulting fallout. Which is why those agencies have pretty much said that the good ole US of A would get downgraded anyway unless we adopt a long term plan - the opposite of the plan endorsed by the conservatives.

The United States is a business.

Conservatives love this analogy. Money in, money out. And like most other analogies they like, they only want to use the half that works for them. Yes, a business that spends more than it takes in has to cut its expenses. OR...raise it's revenue. Most business actually chose the second, revenue raising option. They only cut expenses if they can't increase the intake. They also like to pretend it's an outrage that the rich pay 60% of the taxes. But since they actually have 80% of the money, it's not really as much an imbalance as its made out to be. Funny how "freedom isn't free" becomes a just lovely slogan when the bill shows up.

But America isn't a business, it's a government. And government operates differently at a molecular level than a business does. Government needs to meet it's bills, but it's not a business by any stretch of the imagination. An even better model would be the family structure. Because we can turn off the cable, but Grandma has to get her medicine. There are some things we just cannot turn off.

Why is he acting like he just got there.

Boehner has been a Congressman since 1991. When he was elected, Obama had just got hired as a Law Professor and was still just a community organizer. Boehner's opening line made him sound like Captain Renault from Casablanca, announcing he's shocked to suddenly finding out there is gambling going on at Rick's cafe right before the waiter hands him his winnings. He's been there 20 years! He's not part of the solution, he's an integral part of the system he's trying to look like he's not part of. You would think he would play up the veteran angle to Obama's young upstart. Instead, on camera he looks like the guy who's sorry he just foreclosed on you. Well not that sorry. And in this economy its not a good look.

Now we get down the nitty gritty. With the deadline looming larger than ever the idea of sticking the ideals that got you into office are making less sense by the hour. I wonder if anyone has realized that the Tea Party members of Congress has basically stopped listening to their constituents, and now owe allegiance to Grover Norquist and conservative blogger Erick Erickson. But then since the conservatives have turned into a the very thing they like to invent conspiracy fantasies so that they can stand against - a radical, authoritarian nationalist political ideology - one has to wonder what it will take the wake them up from their dream.

Well, here we go. This is where we separate the men from the of them.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

So I played this game...

Ramblings Post #153
I am multifaceted. I can engage in lively and spirited conversation that works the mind with its depth of field. I can hang out and make drinks, and idle with the best of them. I can find a tall glass of juice and some snacks, a good book and be satisfied for hours. And I can queue up a set of pixelated puzzles and ...well, read on.

What did I do on weeknights before law school? I wish I could remember, because right now it's like that two weeks after the football season ends where you try to remember what did instead of watch football. It's awkward because you have three to six hours blocked out mentally, and suddenly you DO have time to pull the weeds out of the garden and regrout the tile. Or I would if I had a garden, or tile to regrout. So, in this interim, instead of starting some huge project between summer and the fall classes and not getting done, I've cranked up the PS3 to high and taken the plunge.

FIRST...I play video games because I've played video games for a long as I can remember. We played Cannons in the lab back in high school, we had our baseball league on hidden drives on the school computers in college, and once I bought my own computer, it became a way to occasionally blur out the less than fair real world. And, since for $60 or so I can get a month or three out of the game play, it comes a very cost effective way to entertain myself and keep my brain functioning.

I bought some games last fall, and rather than try and play during school they've sat on my shelf just gathering dust. So, with no school and the newness of arriving at home at 6pm (a rarity) I went ahead and cracked open one of the dusty ones - Uncharted 2 : Among Thieves.

looks neat don't it?

Now, if you've never played video games, the first thing you need to realize is that most of them are just really fancy pixelated puzzles. You're given a task, say, find the magic jewel, and a playing space and much like a Soduku or you've got figure out how to get it done. A game of Modern Warfare is really nothing more than a maze with explosions and pretty backgrounds. The better games are the ones with multiple ways to figure things out, where you can either show up armed to the teeth or with nothing but a knife and play it your way.

Uncharted 2 is NOT one of those games.

The game I sat down to played through like a action movie script. The camera angles swung around so that things looked impressive and majestic, the cut scenes were long and full of exposition, the graphics were glorious. I was excited. Then, I started playing.... and there are few games I've played as completely singularly focused as Uncharted. Most games have the decency to hide the puzzle just a little. The makers of this weren't even subtle. Far too many times I surmised there was only one way, and one way only, to get through a sequence. Wait, let me rephrase. There was one way, and one way only to get through MOST of the sequences.

I don't know about anyone else, but this was annoying. I've played plenty games where you have to achieve X to get through a sequence, but most games give you some wiggle room. Some. Any. This game won awards. I'm still trying to figure out why. It's one thing to try it something one way, then try it from a different angle, or with different tools, and see what happens. This game boiled down to pressing the buttons fast enough. And until I pressed them at the right time, in the proper sequence, it keep repeating.

But it was semi-fun. And I'd already started. So I went on and kept playing.

Through the Parkour fetish, where every other two minutes involved a dive over a chasm or gap and a finger tip grasp on a ledge. Which every character appeared to be able to pull off with relative ease. And seemed to allow the programmers love for climbing street signs to re-emerge.

Through the maps so completely counter intuitive, that the game handed out hints like candy when you frequently got stuck looking for a way out of the little inescapable virtual play pit they'd conceived of for this part of the "game". Really. I was supposed to realize I was to throw the propane tank and shoot it in mid air to dislodge the car in the river to build the bridge? How was I supposed to even conceive of that when I'd never had any reason to shoot a propane tank before now?

The Ice caves were just stupid. There was absolutely no way that ...wait, I'm going to let that go.

It was the temple. Every search for the treasure game has a intact temple the size of a football stadium that the "ancients" built that still has working parts now, a thousand years later. Yeah. Right. But it's part of the story and I went along with it although it made no sense, until after jumping and spinning and diving all Parkour style over a virtual mile only to have the way blocked. On purpose. Then working my around to the point where, I tripped this switch...and I swear...a jungle gym arrangement rose out of the pixelated mist that had forced my earlier acrobatics. I waited a second then watched my virtual guide (who didn't speak English and had been "dead" ten minutes earlier) immediately swing around like an Olympic gymnast and turned that sorry piece of ...

...I turned the game off.

I can suspend disbelief. But I can't turn it off completely.

Barkeep. I wasted three days on this? If I ever get bored enough to finish....

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When Politicans stop being polite, and start...

This is a political post.

I don't think I've ever played "Chicken".

For those who think that MTV's Jackass invented stupid things, long before cable TV people did stupid things for fun, not to see if they could get a reality show franchise and a movie deal. And one of the stupid games they invented was a game called "Chicken". The idea is fairly simple - I get in a car, You get in a car, we drive at each other at top speed threatening a head on collision, first one to veer How deciding to live was losing I never quite grasped. And since my understanding of the best way to "win" this game was to show up drunk and toss the steering wheel out the window, and ties usually ended with ambulance rides, I never was really too big on it.

Oddly, that now segues into the current issue with the Federal Debt Limit.

A quick aside. It is NOT, as Rep. Bohner tried to make it the other day, the Obama's Administration's debt limit. The House of Representatives, of which Bohner is in control, creates a budget which the Executive branch is then directed to administer. The raising of the federal debt limit usually happens so that the President can carry out those budget instructions. So it's not like Obama is asking for money to put a swimming pool on the North Lawn, or add spinning rims to the Presidential limo, he's asking Congress for money they already told him to spend! Which is kinda why every other time in the past 100 years the limit has needed to be raised, there really wasn't a question. Congress is in reality only authorizing the the Executive branch to borrow the money to do those things Congress already told it to borrow the money for.

I brought some doughnuts. Let's get to work.

So the other day, when Sen. Mitch McConnell not only took his foot off the gas, he started screaming "Turn you fool" as the grill of the other car racing towards him suddenly became legible, and it piqued my interest. I wanted to wait to talk about it because I was fairly certain he'd be vilified by his party for even suggesting anything other than a political beheading of the "time traveling dictator socialist" President we elected. And sure enough, the idea of just ceding the whole thing to the President was shot down. The Republican establishment have put themselves in a corner, and the only way out is going to cause a lot of pain. To at worst everybody, at best to just themselves. The leadership entered the negotiations with a self imposed no wiggle room they knew would be political gamesmanship, but apparently forgot to tell the newly elected Tea Party members the whole plan. The new guys believed the cover story. Now, if the leadership agrees to anything the President might suggest, they're going to shoot themselves in the foot with their Tea Party base. That or drive the country off a cliff trying to prove they're right.

Which has allowed Batman Obama to pull a little political jujitsu.

Prez: You want 2.4 trillion in cuts, how about 4 trillion?
Repubs: Um...
Prez: But you gotta give me something.
Repubs: But I can't give you anything.
Prez: Okay, I've met you more than halfway, hell technically I'm standing behind you.
Repubs: Er... can we just have the 2 trillion?

How do you blame the man that wanted to give you more than you asked for, for not giving you what you wanted? And worse, the Grand Plan the President has proposed show that he is working hard to make something happen even to his detriment. And if everything goes to hell because of this, as the President has been saying for the past few weeks, the question becomes why didn't you listen?

Worse, a lot of conservatives are trying to sell the story that a government shutdown wouldn't be a bad thing. Minnesota has been shutdown for almost two weeks and the world hasn't exploded. But Minnesota ain't the whole US of A. That Coors is about to pull all its product from the state in a licensing issue it can't clear up because the state is closed is only the tip of the iceberg. Minnesota doesn't cut Social Security checks or pay Veteran's Benefits.

Moody's has already issued a warning about the credit rating, Treasury notes are edging up meaning the US is going to have pay a higher interest rate on the money when they decide to let folks borrow again, and the Republican, the markets, are getting edgy. Meaning the people who actually pay for the Republican campaigns might not be so willing to ante up if the party has started to edge more to towards ideology than the balance sheet.

Then Obama dropped the bombshell. It was a Batman Obama move if I ever saw one.

"This may bring my Presidency down."

A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man. With that statement, the nuclear option might be back on the table. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. And, if the Republicans want to futz around until the 2012 elections trying to impeach the man who took a metaphorical bullet for the world economy (they don't have the votes) instead using that time working to improve the US economy or create jobs, well, they will end up in no better position. And that might play right into Obama's hands as well. All he's got to do is pull it off.

Giving up the Presidency to save the world economy? He might have earned the Noble Prize after all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Standing Eight Count...

Ramblings Post #152
In Rocky fights the Red Menace or whatever number Rocky that was, in the climatic fight the Philadelphia favorite's plan is a masochistic version of Ali's rope-a-dope. But instead of ducking punches for six rounds as Ali did in real life, film hero Rocky lets the imposing Russian Drago pound his brains to mush for fourteen, then though sheer gumption and fortitude...and because the script said so, won the fight with a knockout. Because if you were paying attention, he was way, way behind on points. Well, I'm heading into the closing rounds, and I have fought my way back into this thing. I wish I could say it was a lucky punch...

How it felt...

My first warning should have been when the professor casually joked that students often write as the last line on the exam, "I ran out of time." That this happens often enough for you to a) notice and b) feel it pertinent enough to remember, it should be an indicator that may be, just may be, your test is too long.

For those who don't know, your typical law exam is usually issue spotting. The professor gives you a fact pattern, i.e., tells a plausible story, and you go through it and pick out the issues. Then explain why they are issues based upon the circumstances, apply the relevant law and occasionally even make a decision of how said law would be interpreted and then explain said decision. Simple? Not really. Spotting issues is hard, and knowing why law A would apply but law B wouldn't under circumstance C is trickier than you think. I mean your Sales law professor isn't interested in your Trademark Law analysis even if the circumstances are in the facts, so its a fine line as to relevance. A fine line with a kink and a curve. For this exam I'd spoken to a number of people who'd taken the class previously and learned it's a long fact pattern. Long.

But I'm a trooper. So, I got my notes in order, with my cases laid out in law school shorthand. I had the actual sections of the relevant code included, then re-written into plain English with the relevant parts of the code referenced for each translation, along with the corresponding pieces of the accompanying Revenue Rulings and Regulations. I had the case book and the Federal code book at my fingertips in case I had forgotten something, printed out the powerpoints, and said a short prayer. Then I downloaded the take home exam. I had three hours.

The instructions were your standard law school exam instructions- make sure you reference, clear sentences, blah, blah, blah. I saved the exam to the desktop then printed it out to read because I'm old and I still like paper.

But then everything got real...intense.

That stuff I just wrote about, issue spotting. Yeah, forget that. This was that times a hundred.

I would have written at the end "I ran out of time" but I ran out of time to even write that. My ten minute warning timer went off, then the five minute timer and I was still frantically typing, throwing anything else I could at the screen. I normally like to upload a take home exam with a few minutes to spare in case anything goes wrong. My internet connection might go, my laptop get wonky, anything can happen. So you make an accommodation, just in case. This time out, I uploaded at 11:34:42. My upload deadline was 11:35:14.


Just when I thought I had a handle on this whole legal life thing, this happens. All I can do it wait and see how that turned out.

Barkeep. I got a brand new least liked law professor.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where are the actors?

Ramblings Post #152
I'm supposed to be taking an exam right now. Not like, I should be studying, or prepping or anything like that. I was supposed to have downloaded the thing at 9pm and gotten cracking. But I got home and ate too much. Coincidentally of the wrong thing, not wanting to cook then have to clean up, so i stopped somewhere. And instead of the salad I got the chicken fingers. So instead of typing furiously and having one of two behind me, I got sleepy. So, I'll cue it up on tomorrow and go at it. Tired of looking at the material, I went on and pulled a post out of my half finished folder...polished it up...and don't judge me. I am taking the final tomorrow.

A lot of actors today aren't really actors. They stand in front of the camera, recite the lines, and they get paid, yes, but mostly they're just being themselves in roles written specifically for them. Essentially playing themselves over and over again. Different names, different locales, slightly different scripts, but the same. Nice work if you can get it. But there is no ability there, only the same riffs on the same old concepts again and again, recycled because of the buzz of the moment, the laziness and fear of the producers and studios.

Think about it. How many times has Vince Vaughn played Vince Vaughn? Don't get me wrong, I like Vince, with his snarky comments and that deadpan look he gives when the script calls for him to face something exasperating. But where is the depth? Where is the reaching of ability? Where is the Vince as, I dunno, somebody not Vince?

And aren't most of Adam Sandler's movies just about Adam Sandler being, well Adam Sandler? Other than that travesty Little Nicky, which was Sandler doing a bit for a film's length, when has Sandler been somebody other than Sandler on film as of late? The thing he's got coming up where he plays his own twin sister looks like an extended episode of an old 80's sitcom trope.

Chris Rock's last few outings have him getting a little lazy too. Technically, he was barely even a defined character in the last thing I saw him in, the remake of Death at a Funeral, or Head of State or a movie I actually liked - I Think I love my Wife. Its not like he can't act, he was decent in ...wait, how many years ago was New Jack City?

Has Russell Brand ever been anyone on screen other than Russell Brand? And no, Russell Brand with and without mustache is technically not a different character.

There was a time when actors actually had to act to be in movies. They'd take the role given, and mold yourself into the character. If you were really good, people might not recognize you if you stepped out of your established character - see Larry Drake in Darkman v LA Law. Although crazy now, Randy Quaid was an actor, shifting from the crazy cousin in the National Lampoon movies to playing a believable President Lyndon Johnson. Billy Bob Thorton can act. Almost unfairly, Brad Pitt can act if given a chance. Nobody's asked Denzel to act in ages. Bruce Willis used to be able to until he cut all his hair off.

Geoffery Rush, who appeared in The King's Speech and was nominated for an Oscar also plays pirate rogue caricature Captain Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Now that, in case you're wondering, is real acting.

A great actor melts into the role. A star does the opposite. An actor isn't worried about his personal presence, which seems to dominate the idea of the making of a film now, but is more concerned with his character's appearance. I think Tony Curtis put it best. His first onscreen role was a bellhop delivering a message - in front of the camera for all of 5 seconds. He said he looked like star, you could just tell. The problem, to hear him say it, was he was supposed to look like bellhop.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Casey Anthony (as required by Internet Rule 47854b)

Ramblings Post #152
There are certain Rules. You don’t lead somebody on. If get served, then you tip. You don't talk about fight club. You don't ask the stripper for change. You don't press the little red button. The correct answer for "does this make my butt look fat" is always NO. And if it is a hot topic, your blog must comment on it...if only in passing. So, today, we discuss of all things, a trial that happened in Florida.

The only reason I understood there even was a trial was that I would sometimes catch the lurid headlines in the tabloids as I checked out at the grocery store. I’ve been in school, then in summer school, pretty much since 2008 when this all went down. And since I wasn’t getting a check and my focus really wasn’t criminal law, I really wasn’t all that pressed to know all the facts. I got briefs to write, cases to read, code to learn. So today, when I slipped into the nearly empty chicken factory as part of the skeleton crew the idea that we’d stop to hear the verdict hadn’t even crossed my mind. Verdict? For who? What? But lo and behold, the people in my section let me know when it would be read - 2:15, and went up to the big screen in the main break area to watch. The glee in which they trooped up stairs has to bring to mind the idea of Romans heading off to watch the lions at the Coliseum.

Boom. Not Guilty of the first three BIG counts.

You’d thought they let OJ off again.

The people in my office were mortified. I think my facebook almost melted down. Comments from those legal classmates of mine were a clash of pragmatic thinking, citing reasonable doubt, or wondering exactly how the defense pulled it off. Someone else suggested they put Nancy Grace on suicide watch. My other folks decried the justice system, the sense of the jurors, the complete unreasonableness of the verdict, the insanity of it all. You know, I'm getting the idea they thought she might have done it.

I had to read about the whole thing on Wikipedia.

I got nothing.

Wait, is this when she starts the search for the “real killers”? I mean, since OJ is off the case....

Got it in one.