Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Play Ball!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Free Radicals

For readers in the Greater Chicagoland area (I love writing Chicagoland--it sounds like it comes from a fairy tale--once upon a time, in a Chicagoland far, far away . . .), you should come see Free Radicals, a world-premiere play by Brenda Kilianski from Stockyards Theatre Project.

A child of the '60s, now in her sixties--an ex-radical just released from a long-term prison stint--finds herself incarcerated once again, this time by the adult daughter of one of her victims. Lydia Carmichael is about to find out if she faces even further consequences when she's held hostage by Nancy Ormsby, a woman whose mother was killed in a botched robbery involving the once-privileged Barnard coed 30 years earlier.

Free Radicals is playing at North Lakeside Cultural Center, which is at 6219 North Sheridan Road in Chicago, on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights through April 25. It's also got special performances on two Tuesdays, April 1 and April 8, and Sunday, April 6. You can make a reservation at 773-936-7896.

(Full disclosure: Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk is managing director of Stockyards and I'm on the board of directors, so yes, this is a plug.)

We hope to see you there!

Truth, Justice, and the American Copyright Way

A significant and intriguing copyright decision came down this week in California. Seventy years ago, two young professional sold a character and a story to DC Comics. The character was Superman, and the team was paid a full $130 between them to buy the concept. Now, due to a reversion clause written into the copyright reform act of the late 70s, the heirs of Jerry Siegel have been awarded their portion of the copyright of Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1. (For reasons I can't explain, Siegel's partner, Joe Shuster, didn't have any heirs eligible to pursue his share of the rights under these same provisions.)

Everybody seems to be linking to Jeff Trexler, who has a nice overview. He also makes some room to provide the entire 72-page decision in PDF form. Trexler also offers a FAQ on the case.

Although there's been a fair bit of speculation on "what it all means," except for the rights to Superman going back where they belong and the Siegels getting a larger piece of the pie, I'm not sure it means much of anything. I don't imagine that the Siegels will be averse to making a deal with DC Comics to continue publishing the character. They could, in theory, develop the character and sell him elsewhere (although DC could continue to publish--read the decision for a few specifics), but they only have rights to the manifestation of Superman in the Action #1 story. His origin is only vaguely sketched out, his costume (including his S-shield) has changed somewhat, and he can't fly yet. So the character they could take elsewhere isn't the character as we've come to know him. So they'll work out a far more lucrative deal with DC than they ever had before.

There are still a a fair number of details yet to be worked out, and I'll be shocked if DC doesn't appeal. We're not done yet.

One interesting side note in all this was mentioned by Heidi MacDonald in a comment at Nikki Finke's post about the situation, that it's widely believed that the provision in the 1976 copyright revision was inspired by Siegel and Shuster's plight, which had been publicized a short time earlier. I've heard that myself, but I'm not aware of any evidence to back it up. But presuming for the moment that it is correct, it proves that sometimes justice can be very poetic indeed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Not-So-Veiled Threat to Pelosi, Take 2

Well, let's try that again. It's very late at night (or early in the morning), and now that I've had a couple of martinis in place, maybe it's time to expound a bit more on the subject of superdelegates.

I said last night that I tended to agree with the Hillary supporters. A superdelegate has a different background than a regular elected delegate, and it seems to defeat the purpose to force a superdelegate to vote the same way that people of his or her state or district did. Nancy Pelosi ostensibly disagrees with that position, arguing that following the voters would be a quick way for the superdelegates to choose a nominee. As I've said before, that allows superdelegates with a way to mostly vote for Obama without directly crossing the Clintons. And that's precisely why Pelosi is such a good target for the letter from some of Hillary's wealthy supporters.

But if that's a good reason to do it, there are so many good reasons not to. First of all, although her opinion almost certainly carries some amount of weight, why presume that Pelosi is powerful enough to tell the superdelegates how to vote? She can no more do that than guarantee a certain vote in the House--if that were the case, they'd be passing everything on the Democratic side by veto-proof margins. So this is a somewhat empty gesture to begin with.

Secondly, isn't this kind of extortion best conducted in secret? Why have these people signed such a dangerous letter? You never go on the record with these kinds of demands, they have to be vague or implied. I hope that the result would be the same even under those circumstances, but once the letter became public (and although I imagine that it was intended to be a private correspondence, there was virtually no possibility that it would ever remain that way), Pelosi had no choice but to loudly denounce the demand.

One of the primary underpinnings of this whole episode is the expectation that superdelegates voting their consciences would overwhelmingly vote for Hillary. That seems like a very iffy proposition. The later endorsements have been breaking Obama's way, and there's every indication that superdelegates free of all encumbrances would move significantly in his direction. When we also take into account that all the Democrats in the House of Representatives are superdelegates, the letter seems a direct threat to each of them to vote for Hillary or risk losing significant funding. Maybe I've only got limited experience, but it's never seemed to me that elected officials particularly like being pushed into that kind of corner.

So in essence, it looks like this maneuver by the major Hillary supporters is both useless and foolish. Not bad for a day's work.

Friday, March 28, 2008


If you can't win an election outright, then buying it is the next best thing. And if you can't buy it on the up and up, you don't have much choice but to go underhanded. Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central had a letter to Nancy Pelosi from Clinton contributors essentially saying that it's a nice Democratically controlled House she has there, and it would be a pity if anything happened to it. Pelosi had earlier suggested that superdelegates should follow the will of their constituents and reflect the popular vote. Needless to say, the letter has been getting quite a bit of comment around the Web.

As it happens, I tend to agree with that position on superdelegates. If all they're going to do is rubber stamp the popular vote, what's the point in having them? Superdelegates, usually office holders but also party officials, have their own points of view, and they should vote however they feel they should. But there's no need to introduce extortion into the mix.

What I find most striking about this situation is the idea that the superdelegates are some monolithic block that would all vote for Clinton if given half a chance. I've written about this already, but I still maintain that superdelegates who desperately want to support Hillary are already committed to Hillary. And many superdelegates are also congressional representatives, who I'm sure are thrilled to be on the receiving end of such a threat.

UPDATE--Ah, the perils of posting a couple of hours after you've already gone to sleep. I've cleaned this up a little bit from some of its previous sloppiness (that also points out the perils of spell-check--parts of the post may not have made complete sense, and the words chosen may not always have been entirely appropriate, but there wasn't a misspelling to be had in the entire piece). I've got more to say on this subject, which I'll try to get to later today or tonight.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unsolved Mysteries

The name D. B. Cooper hasn't been prominent for a while, but when his parachute may have been found earlier this week, it didn't take long for the story of the world's only unsolved skyjacking to start making the rounds again.

The man originally gave his name as Dan Cooper back in 1971, but it was later incorrectly reported as D. B. I'm not sure this particularly matters since neither was likely his real name anyway, but you never know how someone feels about his alias. He was traveling alone on a short flight between Portland and Seattle when he passed a note to the flight attendant (or stewardess, as they were called back in the day). He claimed to have a bomb, and he was convincing enough that everyone on the plane believed him. The plane landed in Seattle, but Cooper was given $200,000 in cash and a few parachutes, and it took off again, ostensibly for Mexico. Not too long after the plane was in the air, Cooper took his money and jumped out the back. By all accounts, the jump would've been a harrowing one, and it's questionable whether or not Cooper would have even survived. But we don't know--and that's where the intrigue came in.

Cooper has been the subject of urban legends and lore. It didn't take long before he was considered some sort of modern-day Robin Hood, the fact that there was no proof he did anything with the money except spend it on himself notwithstanding. Treat Williams played him in a speculative movie, and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks was a sly reference, as well. There's been some speculation about who he might really have been, but the FBI hasn't seemed to pursue an active investigation in quite some time. New York magazine a few months ago had a nice, informative piece on potential new information. It has a good overview of the case, too, so it's worth a read even if the individual it identifies as Cooper has no connection to the case whatsoever (although the article seems to make a good argument). With the new publicity, there's apparently a man in Texas who also identified Cooper as his brother (who conveniently died 34 years ago).

Alas, the man who actually packed the chutes that were given to Cooper throws water on the new find. He's going to examine the evidence, but he's not optimistic.

"Unless they find the harness with the chute, I'm not sure it's the same one," Cossey said. "Why would he take the harness off the parachute if he's wanted with $200,000 in ransom money?

"I think they're barking up the wrong tree."

Of course, it's a valid question of whether we even want to know the truth. What would we do with all the legends if D. B. Cooper turned out to be an identifiable, boring, mundane person?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Does Hillary Have a Future Writing Thrillers?

Although I'll admit that I've been edging toward Obama, I've got no desire to come on here and beat up on Hillary. But then, why does she keep making herself such an easy target?

I can't say that I fully understand the whole rigmarole around Hillary's claims of facing down danger in Tuzla. Although the big claims came on St. Patrick's Day, the danger in which she put herself by traveling to the world's hot spots had been simmering among her comments for a while. That was the whole basis for her claim that only she and John McCain had the proper preparation to be Commander-in-Chief. She was talking about her harrowing landing in Iowa way back in December. There was no reason for Mary Ann Akers to have even talked to Sinbad about his experience traveling with the First Lady.

Sure, it makes a certain kind of sense to fire back when under attack. If the Tuzla airport is brought into question, why wouldn't we expect Hillary to defend herself? But was it really wise to embellish? All of a sudden, the threat of sniper fire turned into actually ducking fire and rushing from the airplane to the vehicles with heads covered. But not only did she assert this, she Did she think no one would look into it? Certainly, it was a dozen years ago, but there would've been contemporaneous reports . . . and it didn't take long before they started to circulate.

So now that her obvious exaggerations have been exposed? There's a simple explanation. She "misspoke." Yeah, clearly. We're all aware of that. It was a huge mistake to make such statements about a subject that could be checked so easily. But that doesn't really start to explain why she made this mistake. Does she truly believe that what she said was true? Newsweek speculates about that. Surely she didn't think she could get away with it. But then even later, the real culprit was revealed. Hillary isn't getting enough sleep. She's just overtired. As someone whose fingers hit the wrong keys when blogging in the middle of the night, I can understand being sleep deprived. Now that I know that's a viable excuse, I'll warn you only once: Watch for more fabrications on this blog from now on.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Obama for Obama

I've had this for a little while, but I keep forgetting to write about it. The post the other night about Japan's appointment of Doraemon as an ambassador reminded me, though, so here we are.

Barack Obama has been getting attention in Japan for more than just being a U.S. presidential candidate. He shares a name with a city in Fukui prefecture, and needless to say, Japanese Obamites (Obamanians? Obamaers?) are firmly in his corner. The New York Times offers some information, including a map that features the name of this city of 32,000 in a larger font than that for Tokyo. The mayor of Obama has been trying to get in touch with the candidate, and Barack Obama sent his appreciation back a couple of weeks ago. But to get an idea of the lengths to which the city of Obama has gone in its Obama fever, you've got to go to the source. You'll have to be able to read Japanese (and have a Japanese browser) to fully understand The Japanese site ZAKZAK has some pics of a new, delicious-looking kind of dessert, or manjuu--red bean paste cakes with Obama's picture on it. Elsewhere on the page is a display of Barack Obama banners at a pachinko palace. A polite letter from the mayor is nice, but these are the kinds of developments that demonstrate how deeply interest in and support for Barack Obama have filtered into daily life.

(Thanks to ST and MS for the ZAKZAK page.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

4,000 Dead

It's a sad irony, but we reached 4,000 American military dead in Iraq on Easter Sunday. Once again, somebody's dying for somebody else's sins.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Great Moments in Diplomacy

According to Heidi MacDonald at The Beat, Japan has a new employee on the public payroll. Doraemon, a blue robot cat from the future, has been named Japan's anime ambassador. (He's not the first anime character to become an ambassador, though. As he has in other areas, Astro Boy got there first, being named ambassador for overseas safety at the end of last year.) Here we see Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura making the whole thing official with Doraemon and his friend Nobita.

The Times suggests that Doraemon will be more than a goodwill ambassador for Japanese culture and anime--he may also send an anti-piracy message against those, particularly in China, who are stealing Japanese anime and other films.

When I was an exchange student to Japan more than twenty-five years ago, Doraemon was everywhere, and from what I understand, he's only gotten bigger ever since. The character first appeared in manga and then moved over to anime. Interestingly, because the cartoons have never been translated into English, he's almost unknown in the United States. That may be changing, however, as the first Doraemon movie to be shown in the United States will be coming later this year, with Spongebob's Tom Kenny voicing the title character.

Inapt Comparisons

This one's for Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk. A couple of weeks ago, while he was kept waiting by the presumptive Republican nominee, the Prez broke into a little dance. Cuing off of that and some other seeming out-of-character moments, Maureen Dowd wrote:

Everyone here is flummoxed about why the president is in such a fine mood.

The dollar's crumpling, the recession's thundering, the Dow's bungee-jumping and the world's disapproving, yet George Bush has turned into Gene Kelly, tap dancing and singing in a one-man review called "The Most Happy Fella."

Unfortunately, one reader begged to differ. Actually, a number of readers might have, but only one was married to Gene Kelly:

To the Editor:

Surely it must have been a slip for Maureen Dowd to align the artistry of my late husband, Gene Kelly, with the president's clumsy performances. To suggest that "George Bush has turned into Gene Kelly" represents not only an implausible transformation but a considerable slight. If Gene were in a grave, he would have turned over in it.

When Gene was compared to the grace and agility of Jack Dempsey, Wayne Gretzky and Willie Mays, he was delighted. But to be linked with a clunker — particularly one he would consider inept and demoralizing — would have sent him reeling.

Graduated with a degree in economics from Pitt, Gene was not only a gifted dancer, director and choreographer, he was also a most civilized man. He spoke multiple languages; wrote poetry; studied history; understood the projections of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. He did the Sunday Times crossword in ink. Exceedingly articulate, Gene often conveyed more through movement than others manage with words.

Sadly, President Bush fails to communicate meaningfully with either. For George Bush to become Gene Kelly would require impossible leaps in creativity, erudition and humility.

Patricia Ward Kelly

(Via Atrios)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Run for the Borders

It's not a good time to own a big box store. We talked quite a bit about Tower Records going down last year and the fire sale it left in its wake, and then the Chicago Virgin folded, as well. CompUSA closed a number of stores last year, and since then they closed almost everything before being bought out by Systemax, the parent company for Tiger Direct. At the same time, Borders was pulling back, as well. I wondered if it was a portent of things to come, and it turns out that it was. Borders came out on Thursday and admitted that it is looking into putting itself up for sale.

Borders has said that it simply can't compete against and other online outlets or the deep discounts of Wal-Mart. Although Wal-Mart certainly sells books for cheap, it's never seemed to me that they have a particularly broad selection. Does that mean that customers mostly want to stick with the best-sellers? I suppose that if Wal-Mart has only a selection of 100 titles, that plenty wide enough if you want to get one of those titles and nothing else.

Keep an eye on what happens at Borders. Barnes & Noble has suggested that it might be interested in buying. I'm sure there are others out there that might want to consider it, as well. But if Borders follows the Tower Records model, there will be some great deals going on there before they close everything out altogether.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

C'Mon, Bad Guys Are Bad Guys!

The trouble with straight talk, apparently, is that it's hard to keep the details straight. John McCain was in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday and said that it's "common knowledge" one of the problems in Iraq is that Sunnis are training Shiites to attack Sunnis. One would think that it's also common knowledge that Sunnis and Shiites hate each other, so that such an arrangement would seem quite unlikely, but I guess that's why I'm not in Big Time Politics.

What McCain specifically said was that Iran was taking al-Qaeda operatives across the border, training them, and then sending them back, but that's essentially the same as what I wrote above. He had no idea that he'd said anything wrong--twice--until Joe Lieberman whispered into his ear to set him straight. (My money's on Lieberman for Defense in a McCain administration. Anybody want in on that action?) Immediately after the whisper (which was quickly after the second time McCain made the error), McCain corrected himself: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda." Needless to say, the press immediately stopped treating McCain as the last word on international affairs. Ooops! What am I saying!? Of course they didn't.

Think Progress has a response from the McCain campaign maintaining that the senator immediately corrected his error. They've also got video to demonstrate that such a statement about McCain is clearly false.

You know that all he really wanted to say was, "Iran bad! U.S. good!" It's just those pesky details that ruin everything.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My Brain Hurts a Lot

Five years, and this is all we've got? It's the fifth anniversary of whatever it is we're doing in Iraq. What really is there to say about it at this point? Some of us might say that it's all a horrible mistake, but apparently that sentiment's not shared by the White House.

Dan Froomkin had a very nice summation of the whole thing today, so I'm just going to be lazy and quote him.

On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, President Bush today attempted to recast it as a great success for the United States and a major blow to Osama bin Laden. But for the American people to go along with his construction will require a pretty severe case of amnesia.

The security situation in Iraq is undeniably somewhat better than it was a year ago, before Bush increased the number of American troops there to more than 160,000. But the violence nevertheless continues at an appalling level. And the political reconciliation the "surge" was intended to bring about remains a distant fantasy.

The supposed victory against bin Laden that Bush is celebrating is belied by the fact that al-Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before the invasion, that its Iraqi namesake is a mostly home-grown version with limited ties to bin Laden's organization, that the administration's own intelligence has concluded that the war has helped rather than hurt al-Qaeda -- and that bin Laden himself likely remains safely ensconced in Pakistan.

Looking at Iraq and seeing progress requires not looking back beyond the past 12 months or so. And even on that basis, it's hard to argue that the events of the past year have put us any closer to getting out. Furthermore, Bush's decision to arm anti-government Sunni militias may lead to even greater chaos when we do leave.

The only way the surge has been an unqualified success is one that Bush didn't mention today: It has bought him time.

Toward the end of 2006, after a Republican electoral rout and a devastating report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, it looked like Congress might force Bush to get us out of the mess he got us into. But the surge changed that political calculus, and the war will now be passed on for the next president to resolve. On that count, there is indeed cause for Bush to kvell.

Speaking of the next president, let's choose one who thinks five years is enough rather than cheerleading for another 100.

Obama Says What He Has To

I saw parts of Barack Obama's speech today, and I thought it was quite effective. I started to write, "It seemed to do what it needed to do," but then I realized that this was far too lame a cliche. What is it, exactly, that this speech needed to do? There are a couple of things. Most immediately, he needed to put some space between him and his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. He did that quite effectively, I thought, but he did it without denouncing and rejecting him. Obama had enough grace to make clear that though he doesn't accept the comments that have gotten so much exposure for Wright of late, he still holds him in respect. He tried to provide a context for the comments and the controversy. This is dangerous territory, because Obama's own comments can (and will, if they haven't already) be taken out of context to be used against him. But Obama has raised the bar in discussing race. He has to avoid being the affirmative action candidate, but he can't pretend that we're beyond race, so colorblind that race isn't an issue, either. I think he pulled it off. If you haven't seen it, the Obama campaign makes it very easy to watch and read.

Part of the process of judging a speech like this is how it plays, and we've got to give it time to filter through public opinion. William Douglas of McClatchey Newspapers talked to analysts who thought "Obama may have righted his shaken presidential campaign with his bold speech on race." The New York Times editorial page compared this speech to Lincoln's and Roosevelt's inaugural addresses and Kennedy's 1960 campaign speech on religion. The Huffington Post rounds up a lot of positive comment. For the negative response, Kevin Drum goes right to the source, the National Review blog The Corner, where you can find the expected bile.

But how will this be playing by Friday (which counts as long-term nowadays). That's when we'll get to know the true effectiveness of Obama's efforts.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Growing Financial Mess

So what's going on on Wall Street? Don't look at me. In fact, I'm a bit surprised you'd even ask me about that.

It sure is worrisome to see financial news getting worse and worse. The Bear Stearns sale to J. P. Morgan seems to have taken a lot of the financial markets by surprise. Not only did shares close at $30 on Friday only to be sold for about 6.5 percent of that over the weekend, but shares were going for around $158 a mere nine months ago. Did J. P. Morgan get a windfall in the deal? There are all kinds of opinions, but this one from Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, made sense to me.

The news that J.P. Morgan bought investment house giant Bear Stearns for just $236 million, or $2 a share, sent tremors through financial markets around the world today. This is company whose stock was worth almost one hundred times as much a year ago. Its building alone is valued at close to $1 billion, which suggests that all the other assets of this 85 year-old investment bank had a negative value – Bear Stearns liabilities exceed its assets.

Further confirming this view is the fact that the Fed apparently had to make guarantees to J.P. Morgan of $30 billion in order to get the bank to take Bear Stearns even at this price. That suggests the bank had a lot of real garbage on its books. The markets are right to be worried. Of course with the $8 trillion housing bubble in full meltdown, there will undoubtedly be much more bad news for the banks in the months ahead.

So instead of getting a deal, was J. P. Morgan pressed into taking on Bear Stearns' obligations? That bodes ill for what may lie ahead.

And what does lie ahead? Paul Krugman wrote, "O.K., here it comes: The unthinkable is about to become the inevitable." What is both unthinkable and inevitable? A federal bailout of the financial system.

Many people say that the government should let the chips fall where they may — that those who made bad loans should simply be left to suffer the consequences. But it's not going to happen. When push comes to shove, financial officials — rightly — aren't willing to run the risk that losses on bad loans will cripple the financial system and take the real economy down with it.
. . .

the important thing is to bail out the system, not the people who got us into this mess. That means cleaning out the shareholders in failed institutions, making bondholders take a haircut, and canceling the stock options of executives who got rich playing heads I win, tails you lose.

According to late reports on Sunday, JPMorgan Chase will buy Bear for a pittance. That's an O.K. resolution for this case — but not a model for the much bigger bailout to come. Looking ahead, we probably need something similar to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which took over bankrupt savings and loan institutions and sold off their assets to reimburse taxpayers. And we need it quickly: things are falling apart as you read this.

If that's not cheery enough for you, Krugman ends one of his most recent blog posts with, "Things fall apart, and the center doesn't exist."

Yeah. That's good to know.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Or, is it? Since St. Patrick's Day falls in the middle of Holy Week, it causes a conflict with the holy calendar. Although the day is named after a saint, St. Patrick's Day celebrations aren't necessarily the definition of holiness. So the Catholic Church--or, at least, some parts of the Catholic Church--agreed to move the liturgical day for this year only. The Vatican approved a move to March 15, which was Saturday, but a Canadian bishop in this story pointed out that the Vatican decision was only for Ireland. I was told that the decision was on the Vatican Web site, but I couldn't find it, so I can't say one way or another. Be all that as it may, the Archdiocese of New York held their liturgical celebration on Friday, but the New York parade is today. Boston's Southie Parade was yesterday. Chicago's was Saturday.

But when it comes down to it, if St. Patrick's Day is more about shamrocks and leprechauns (if not necessarily Wonder Woman) than the patron saint of Ireland, there's no reason to move the celebration from this very day.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, after all!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What's a Superdelegate to Do?

I found this story in today's New York Times awfully disappointing. A couple of days ago, I theorized, half in jest, I'll admit, that the real problem the superdelegates were having is that no one wanted to tell Hillary that her campaign was essentially over. The Times pretty much validates this. Various uncommitted superdelegates are "growing increasingly concerned about the risks of a prolonged fight between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, and perplexed about how to resolve the conflict." I've got an idea for how to resolve the conflict: Make a decision! They've got the votes, it's their decision, so make it, already!

What are the dynamics of the decision? At this point, Obama has an overpowering lead. I hadn't realized quite how overpowering until kos put together the numbers (although note that this was before the shifting delegates of the last couple of days). Despite Clinton's insistence to the contrary, she's got a very tall mountain to climb to come out on top. Based on a Times summary of campaign tallies, roughly two-thirds of the superdelegates have committed (although it's always worth noting that superdelegates can change their minds at any time). So why haven't the other one-third staked out a position? It seems to me that there are three reasons. First off, there may be superdelegates who want to support Obama but don't want to turn their back on the Clintons. As we all know, the Clintons are still extremely powerful in Democratic circles, and lining up against Hillary could easily be seen as bridge-burning. Who wants to do that until they have to? Secondly, there may be those who want to support Hillary but don't want to betray the likely winning Obama camp. And finally, there are those who just want to be on the winning side, no matter which it is. Until the race has been decided, they won't go for either candidate.

Don't be surprised if you hear the drumbeat going more and more toward the idea that a superdelegate should follow his or her constituents. Nancy Pelosi offered it in this article, and it will provide a way for the superdelegates to give their support to Obama without spurning the Clinton campaign. They can pledge their undying loyalty to Bill and Hillary, but, well . . . ah . . . um, the people have spoken. As Obama's lead becomes more and more insurmountable, the uncommitted superdelegates will start to head his way--after all, what else can they do? If that's what the people want, who are they to stand in the way?

And that's when we can finally start focusing on John McCain.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Delegate Fun

Blogger has been acting up horribly this evening, so we'll see whether this actually shows up online or not. Hillary, of course, is working desperately hard to come up with extra delegates, but it's Obama who's actually raising the number of delegates in his column. Iowa held county conventions today, a step closer to selecting the delegates who will actually attend the Democratic convention in August. Eight of John Edwards's elected delegates have shifted over to Obama, as has one of Hillary's so that actually provides Obama with a net gain of ten delegates over Hillary. The same Washington Post linked to above also reveals that a final count of delegates in California provides Hillary with a gain of two and Obama with a gain of five. Put all of that together, and Obama ends up with 14 new delegates while Hillary gets only one, meaning that Obama increases his lead by 13 delegates. All--or at least most--of the caucus states have a similar system--the delegates aren't firmly in place, and they may change their allegiance in county and state caucuses. It'll pay to keep watch over these caucus states as they progress through each level. The number called on caucus nights is not necessarily the same number who will show up at the Democratic convention, so it looks like there's an oportunity there for somebody.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Closer to a Happy Ending?

Good stuff coming from the House of Representatives today. The Democrats kept their wits about them under pressure of a Republican-demanded secret sessions and voted for the FISA bill without telecom immunity. Yeah, we've had our hopes raised before, and we're not all the way there yet, but this is closer than we've been. Over at Daily Kos, Kagro X, who was writing yesterday before the vote was held, explains some of the parliamentary maneuvering between the House and the Senate that's been in the works for a while and that makes it difficult for the Republicans to undermine the measures when they go back to the Senate. We've had the House approve a bill, the Senate approve a totally different bill, the House--in today's action--respond to the Senate bill; now the bill goes back to the Senate, but it will be more difficult for the Republicans to bring telecom immunity back into it. Not impossible, of course, so don't get over-confident, but they'll have to go through the front door to do it rather than just being able to kill it on the sly.

And that secret session? Well, no one knows what was discussed because, y'know, it's secret. Members of Congress can't talk about what was discussed whether it's government-protected information or not. Dana Milbank called it "It was the pinnacle of a day of pointlessness on both sides of the Capitol." Whatever was discussed, though, it clearly wasn't enough to make the necessary number of Democrats switch their votes to bring the legislation down. Better luck next time.

One more thing to note. Last week there was a special election in the suburban Chicago area to fill the Congressional seat abandoned when Denny Hastert abandoned his office only half way through his term. It was won by Democrat Bill Foster,, who today added his voice to those voting to put forward a surveillance bill that takes telecom immunity out of the picture. Congratulations, Bill!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cozy Relationships

Last week the media in Washington indulged in one of those clubby, elitist, members-only moments that they seem to enjoy from time to time. The Gridiron Club, a prestigious and storied journalistic organization in Washington (John Philip Sousa was the first musical director--I didn't even know he was a journalist). They put on one of their fairly regular shows last week, and they got one surprise performance: The Prez stepped up with a musical number. It flaunted his various controversies and scandals, but typical of the Gridiron Club, it was all in good fun.

Not everybody was amused, though (and I don't just mean those of us with no senses of humor who didn't even find his no WMDs in the Oval Office comedy routine from a few years back the least bit chuckle worthy). Chris Matthews was up in arms that journalists would deign to rub elbows and share a laugh with Washington's movers and shakers (as if they don't always). Media Matters has the details from after Matthews watched the video:

MATTHEWS: Well, that was quite a hoot. All that joking by the president about Brownie, the guy in charge of the New Orleans disaster, and, of course, Scooter Libby, the guy involved in a CIA cover-up. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's reporters -- the best of them -- laughing at events and political acts that warrant anything -- I mean anything -- but laughter.

There is nothing, nothing funny about Bush's reference to Brownie, that disastrous appointment followed by that catastrophic handling of the Katrina horror in New Orleans. Nothing funny about a war fought for bad intelligence and a top aide, Scooter Libby, who committed perjury and obstruction of justice to cover it up. Nothing funny about a president who commuted that sentence to keep the cover-up protected. Otherwise, I'm sure it was an enjoyable get-together between journalists and the people they're charged with covering.

Okay, it appears to me that one of two things is going on here.

1) Matthews, and probably the rest of the mainstream media, has finally realized that John McCain might not walk away with the election in the fall. Therefore, with control of the White House moving from Republican to Democratic control, they're starting to move the pendulum back toward an adversarial relationship with the president. Or,

2) Matthews's application for membership in the Gridiron Club has been turned down again.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

If Obama's Not Qualified, Then Who Is?

I've just got time for a quick question, tonight. We know that Hillary's said a number of times that, unlike herself and John McCain, Barack Obama has just not had enough tough foreign policy experience to be qualified as Commander-in-Chief. There's been a spirited debate over that in various places (all of which you can find yourself if you bother to do a little Googling--don't look to me to make everything easy for you), but whichever side you come down on that point, it still leaves open the question of who, besides herself and John McCain, does live up to the standard.

The answer, of course, is none other than Sinbad! Sinbad accompanied Hillary (and Chelsea and Sheryl Crow) to Bosnia to entertain the troops. Mary Anne Akers of The Washington Post talked to him recently. And whatever else you might have to say about Sinbad, the man has nerves of steel:

Harrowing? Not that Sinbad recalls. He just remembers it being a USO tour to buck up the troops amid a much worse situation than he had imagined between the Bosnians and Serbs.

In an interview with the Sleuth Monday, he said the "scariest" part of the trip was wondering where he'd eat next. "I think the only 'red-phone' moment was: 'Do we eat here or at the next place.'"

Clinton, during a late December campaign appearance in Iowa, described a hair-raising corkscrew landing in war-torn Bosnia, a trip she took with her then-teenage daughter, Chelsea. "They said there might be sniper fire," Clinton said.

Threat of bullets? Sinbad doesn't remember that, either.

"I never felt that I was in a dangerous position. I never felt being in a sense of peril, or 'Oh, God, I hope I'm going to be OK when I get out of this helicopter or when I get out of his tank.'"

Yeah, sure, Sinbad's got that same problem with the Middle-Eastern name, and I can only presume that the original Sinbad was Muslim, so I don't know if the current Sinbad would get smeared with the same kind of madrassa rumors that have been dogging Obama. But at least he'd have appropriate foreign policy experience.

By the way, Sinbad also weighed in on another statement Hillary's made that always seemed a bit off:

In her Iowa stump speech, Clinton also said, "We used to say in the White House that if a place is too dangerous, too small or too poor, send the First Lady."

Say what? As Sinbad put it: "What kind of president would say, 'Hey, man, I can't go 'cause I might get shot so I'm going to send my wife...oh, and take a guitar player and a comedian with you.'"

Oh, go ahead. The jokes just write themselves.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another Primary, Another Obama Win

According to CNN, Obama has (unsurprisingly) won the Mississippi primary. He's making up six delegates on Hillary's win last week (unless he's making up nine, as CNN says on this page, but, it's too bad he's not doing it in a state that actually matters. As for superdelegates, everybody has a different count, but CNN also says that, right now, Obama is only 32 behind Hillary in pledged superdelegates. That's not very many. Most people have suggested that the superdelegates should stay out of the contest so we can see how the remaining voters are going to go before they step in and decide the contest. Over at TAPPED, The American Prospect blog, Mori Dinauer (via Kevin Drum) asks, "What are they waiting for?" Certainly, some superdelegates are waiting for the right offer--probably from the candidate they already intend to endorse--before they commit. Others don't want to go out on a limb and are waiting for the other superdelegates to choose so they can be sure to get on the winning bandwagon. But if they're waiting to see how the elected delegates play out, it sure doesn't look like there are any surprises in the offing. Obama has a lead in delegates from the various contests so far, and even based on Jonathan Alter's very generous results in Hillary's favor for future contests (which has already proven too rosy, as Hillary didn't take Obama 53-47 in Wyoming or 52-48 today in Mississippi), there's no way Hillary can catch up. So no matter what, barring an airplane going down somewhere or something, when all the votes are counted, Obama will have the most popularly elected delegates. The only question left is what will be the margin of victory. If superdelegates want to follow the popular vote, they know where it'll be. If they want to vote specifically for Obama or Hillary no matter what the popular vote is, there's no reason not to commit now.

Of course, maybe there is a reason. It's common wisdom that Hillary is the candidate most connected with the Democratic party structure. Maybe she and Bill are even more powerful than we realize (and I, at least, already suspect that they're pretty darn powerful). Is it possible that no one is in a hurry to squeeze Hillary out of the race until she's ready to go? Maybe nobody wants to be the one who gives her the bad news that it's over. The uncommitted superdelegates may be just as happy to continue to enable her campaign for the time being.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pure Prurient Interest

All right, all right, I'll jump on the Eliot Spitzer bandwagon, too. The obvious question, of course, is What could he possible be thinking? He's the crusading attorney general who busts up prostitution rings, not the stupid john who gets caught with his fingers in the cookie jar (so to speak). I'm not sure he can claim that he's on an undercover mission, either. He copped to the charges of buying prostitutes (or do you just rent them?) pretty quickly, so there was never a chance to question whether the charges are valid or not. But Jane Hamsher has some interesting questions about how and why the investigation was undertaken in the first place. ABC News and The New York Times have some of that back story. And even without that, there's no question that Eliot Spitzer has made a number of powerful enemies over the years. You don't prosecute Wall Street without somebody vowing to take you down. People are going to be watching for a misstep, an error that can make a whole career unravel.

Still, no matter what else might be going on around this investigation, there's no question that Spitzer was just stupid for thinking he could get away with anything like this. He's governor now, but his entire career up until his election was based on catching and prosecuting other people doing exactly this kind of thing! And doing it very successfully. Maybe that's part of it. Could he have figured that nobody out there was as clever as he was? Sure, he can catch others, but who's cunning enough to catch the master? Well, apparently, a number of people.

Is he going to resign? Right now it looks probable, though it's not a done deal yet. It's worth pointing out, though, that Louisiana Senator David Vitter remains in office, as does Idaho Senator Larry Craig. Perhaps Spitzer can likewise surf the wave of shame until it dies down and plays itself out.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

I Hate Springing Forward for Daylight Savings Time

That is all.

Oberweis: The O stands for O for 4

It was a good day for Illinois Democrats. Obama got his winning groove back in Wyoming, racking up a 23-point lead. That's not enough to impress Chris Cillizza, who pointed out that it doesn't compare to the 70-some-point percentages had racked up a couple of weeks back. That's true enough, but I imagine Obama and his supporters prefer it to the scores he was getting in the 40s earlier this week. And while it's good not to raise expectations too high, Mississippi is coming up on Tuesday, and it's got all the hallmarks of an even larger win.

In another race that may not have gotten a lot of national attention up to now but is certain to blow open today, Democrat Bill Foster won the congressional seat former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert abandoned earlier this year. The district went 55 percent for Bush in 2004 and 50 percent for Hastert in 2006, but today it was 53 percent for the Democrats. Of course, Foster was running against Jim Oberweis, who's now lost four major elections in just a few years. This is the first time he's made it through the primaries to the regular election, though. He ran for Senate in 2002 and 2004, and then he ran for governor in 2006. It's not clear how much he's just an unappealing candidate. In 2004, when Republican Senate candidate Jack Ryan was forced out of the race by unexpected disclosures in his personal life, Illinois Republicans could've brought Oberweis, who'd run second in the primary, in to face Obama in the general, but they thought they'd prefer to bring in Allan Keyes from out of state to run on their ticket, instead.

Although Democrats are painting this race as a portent for the fall, Republicans are predictably playing the whole thing down. Despite the fact that the Republican National Congressional Committee put roughly a fifth of their available cash in hand into this race, they're telling people to move along, nothing to see here.

The one message coming out of 2008 so far is that what happens today is not a bellwether of what happens this fall.

In other words, pay no attention to the embarrassing loss behind the curtain. Of course, it's hard to say how much of that is the fact that voters don't want Republicans at the moment and how much that they don't want Oberweis. We'll get another chance to find out, though. This was a special election to serve out the remainder of Hastert's term. There'll be another election in the fall when all the congressional representatives are voted in. We'll be seeing a rematch--Oberweiss has already signed on in the hopes of dodging loss number five.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Power Shift

The whole Samantha Power thing moved very quickly today. I'm not sure when the original story from The Scotsman, broke, but I saw a reference to it sometime in the mid- to late evening yesterday. Even being jet-lagged and exhausted is not a good enough excuse for an Obama advisor to call Hillary a "monster." I saw an apology from her before I left for work this morning, but I'm not sure if it was actually before or after participants in a Hillary conference called for her to resign from the Obama campaign. In what's probably the most surprising aspect of the whole thing, that's exactly what she did late this morning.

The reactions to this have been interesting. Some (such as Matt Yglesias and Josh Marshall) think the whole thing makes Obama and his campaign look reactive and weak. While I can see that point of view, it also makes sense that, since Obama is desperately trying to come across as taking the high road in his campaign, Power had to go. By all accounts, she is Obama's preeminent foreign policy advisor, and there's no reason that she can't continue to do just that. Power should keep a low profile, of course, but she doesn't have to disappear altogether.

It's also interesting that the Clinton campaign seems to be portrayed as having the upper hand in this. It's only a sense I've got, but it feels to me like they need to be careful not to overplay themselves. Sure, they seem to be winning in having Power pay the price of her "monster" comment, but still hanging in the air are Howard Wolfson's comparison of Obama to Ken Starr (just because you give the monster a name doesn't make it any less of a monster) and Hillary's continued insistence that McCain is better qualified to be president than Obama. Wolfson, at least, is trying to back away from his comments, though I have to admit that I'm not sophisticated enough to recognize a qualitative difference between what Wolfson said, implying Obama was "imitating Ken Starr," with what he claims he didn't say, "that Sen. Obama was like Ken Starr." The Clinton camp is playing pretty fast and loose, and if they're not careful, something's going to come loose when they can least afford it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Song and Dance Man

The secret is finally out. We now know what George W. Bush intends to do when he finishes up his stint in the Oval Office. He's going to go on the road as a song and dance man. John McCain kept him waiting yesterday when the Prez was going to endorse him at the White House, and when you're the leader of the free world, I guess you don't necessarily have anything better to do. So there he was at the White House portico, vamping and killing time. The campaign blog at The Washington Post has the play by play, and there's video at Think Progress. Starting out not quite a year from now, keep an eye out for him at a dinner theater near you.

Just Asking

Does anybody know if Corner Bakery is paying a licensing fee to Avery Schreiber's heirs?

The Avery Schreiber photo comes from Mark Evanier's POVOnline site. I don't know where he got it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Although everything allegedly changed last night, it doesn't really feel like much is different. The Democrats are still bickering, Obama still has a decent-size delegate lead (even if I heard NPR news call it a "slight lead" earlier this afternoon--it certainly seems like "slight" shouldn't be nearly as close to 100 is this is), and McCain is promising little more than an extension of the Bush administration.

One thing that is a bit changed today is the fact that Hillary seems to be far too willing to hitch a ride on the McCain bandwagon. Yesterday, we mentioned that Hillary seemed to be making the point that McCain would be preferable to Obama if that's what our choice boiled down to. The charitable explanation might have been that she was just tired out and misspoke, comparing McCain's experience favorably to Obama's. But that went right out the window when she did it again (twice). James Fallows heard it today live on CNN. The only reasonable explanation I've got is that Hillary has indeed done the math and realizes that the Democratic nomination is out of her reach, so she's reaching across the aisle in an attempt to join the Republican ticket as vice presidential candidate, making it into a true unity ticket. It's not as silly as it sounds. If he were to win, McCain would be the oldest incoming president of all time. Will he survive his first term? Maybe, maybe not. But if not, then Hillary would step right into the breach as president. If she played her cards right, she could serve for up to ten years. But while you're over reading Fallows, make sure you read the whole thing. He's got a great reminiscence of how Bill Clinton, 46 at the time, swatted aside the "experience" issue when running against the uber-experienced George H. W. Bush.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It's Still Not Over

Anybody who thought tonight would wrap up the Democratic presidential nomination was always subject to wishful thinking. Obama would've had to have completely blown Hillary out of the water for her to have gone home, and that never looked to have been likely in the least. In fact, tonight has worked out pretty much like it was billed. Except for a couple of days on Zogby, Hillary was always in the lead in Ohio. Rhode Island was tracked less closely, but it was always expected to go to Hillary. On the other hand, Vermont, also lightly tracked, was expected to go heavily toward Obama, just as it did. Texas always appeared to be neck and neck and--hey, look!--it is. We're where we always should've thought we'd be, at least if we were paying attention. This day doesn't really change much of anything.

A lot has been written today in Greater Blogsylvania about Jonathan Alter's piece online at Newsweek explaining about how Hillary can do marvelously well and still fall short of a majority of pledged delegates. While that's true as far as it goes, I'm not sure that matters at all. At this point, Hillary's not going for a knock out. She wants a brokered convention. If she can survive the first vote or two at the convention itself, all delegates become free to vote their consciences, and then who knows what can happen. Hillary doesn't care if she catches up to Obama. She just wants to keep her candidacy alive--and to keep Obama from collecting enough delegates to clinch it himself--and tonight is a big step in that direction. She's not ready to go anywhere just yet.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Goodness Graciousness

I'm working on a longer post that I'll get up in a little while, but I just had to mention that I've been watching Nightline, and in response to Mike Huckabee's concession speech tonight, he wondered whether the losing Democratic candidate--whoever it may end up to be--would be nearly as gracious in defeat.

Of course not! Democrats are barbarians. Whoever wins the nomination will be vicious in victory and will be met with viciousness in return. Poor winners and poor losers. That's the media spin, and we're stuck with it.

Osama bin Laden Doesn't Even Have a 2002 Speech Going for Him

Not that it comes as a terrible shock, but we're beginning to see that Hillary Clinton doesn't respond well when something she considers rightfully hers is taken away. Although I've been leaning toward Obama, I've always said that I thought Hillary would be a strong candidate in the fall if she won the nomination, and that I'd have no problem supporting her.

I'm having second thoughts.

There's no question that the right-wing smear against Barack Obama will be far worse than whatever the Clinton campaign is (so far, at least) willing to dish out, but I see no reason that the Clintonistas need to give it a test drive. We've already seen the John McCain talking points, and now the Chicago Tribune's political blog, The Swamp, is reporting that Hillary's phone bank can't quite tell Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden apart. Jim Oliphant quotes a Cleveland lawyer:

[The Hillary phone bank caller] then launches into a two-minute spiel on all the very specific initiatives and proposals Hillary has put forth on health care, the war in Iraq, etc., etc. At the end of her spiel, she says, "And we haven't heard anything that specific from Osama bin Laden."

I say, "You did not just say that." She replies, "I'm sorry . . . just a slip of the tongue." She then thanks me for my time and encourages me to vote for Hillary on Tuesday.

Oliphant's summation points out the high wire on which newspaper blogs are trying to inch along. He's a newspaper journalist who shouldn't be offering opinion in a news story (not that this story doesn't speak eloquently for itself), but surely he can do better than this: "Are the dirty tricks ramping up as we get down to the wire?"

I don't know. Ya think?

New Evidence for the Bad Judgment Argument

I'd intended to write something looking forward to Tuesday's primary contests, but it's just too late. Still, I can't go to bed before I pass this along. You may or may not think that Obama's argument about Hillary's lack of judgment has been getting traction over the last few weeks, but here's some new evidence that seems pretty hard to ignore. She's apparently coming up with sound bites that John McCain can use in the fall if Obama pulls off the nomination. This is what she had to say on Monday:

I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.

And, hey look! There's video, too.

The Washington Post Breaks the Time Barrier

Speaking of things that appeared in The Washington Post yesterday, here's something that might as well be from several yesterdays. It's the 1950s, or maybe even the teens, before we had to give in and give women the vote. Remember when we used to think that women were adorable but not too bright? Charlotte Allen does. In fact, she thinks it's still true today. Of course, at some point it becomes a circular, self-defeating argument, but I guess that's how it goes in the hot-shot world of national journalism.

Of course, commissioning the piece in the first place is bad enough, but the Post seemed to take a special glee in promoting it. Via Atrios, we can see the progression of links on the Outlook page at feministing, which moves from ridiculously offensive to merely annoyingly offensive. Laura Rozen has a number of posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here) on various aspects of the issue, but my favorite comment is this piece of self-flagellation from Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review's The Corner: "Charlotte Allen [Kathryn Jean Lopez] eviscerates women. I love it." You go, girl.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Clarity at Last, But Not Soon Enough?

It may be too little too late, but it seems like a few people are starting to catch on to the real dynamics of the telecom immunity debate. We talked about it a couple of weeks ago, but now some of the big boys are getting into the act. Yesterday, The Washington Post spelled out some of the details, although in a very weird construction:

President Bush said last week that telecommunications companies that helped government wiretapping efforts need protection from "class-action plaintiff attorneys" who see a "financial gravy train" ahead. Democrats and privacy groups responded by accusing the Bush administration of trying to shut down the lawsuits to hide evidence of illegal acts.

But in the bitter Washington dispute over whether to give the companies legal immunity, there is one thing on which both sides agree: If the lawsuits go forward, sensitive details about the scope and methods of the Bush administration's surveillance efforts could be divulged for the first time.

I can't say I understand why there's a but at the beginning of the second paragraph. Is there a contradiction between the idea that the Bushies are "trying to shut down the lawsuits to hide evidence of illegal acts" and "if the lawsuits go forward, sensitive details about the scope and methods of the Bush administration's surveillance efforts could be divulged for the first time"? That sounds like two sides of the same coin, to me.

Today in the Post, Dan Froomkin went into a fair amount of detail on the topic and pretty much explains anything we want to know. He also links to Kevin Drum, who pointed out that the telecoms themselves don't seem too worried about all this because they're almost certainly indemnified against damages by the government who enlisted them to perform the surveillance in the first place. Just more evidence adding to the Bush adminstration's true motive of cover up, preventing us from trying to open strange doors that we'll never close again. Scary monsters, indeed.

And speaking for the people who may (or may not) have been surveilled, Studs Terkel, et al., wrote in the Chicago Tribune yesterday to explain why they filed a telecom lawsuit in the first place. They provide a good explanation, but it all adds up to this:

Amnesty not only lets the companies off the hook without answering any questions, it assures that the American people will never learn about the breadth and extent of the lawless program. Some seem to suggest that we should not have our day in court because a select few members of Congress have been able to review documents about the spy program operated by the White House. The judgment of a few Washington insiders is not a substitute for the careful scrutiny of a federal court.

Congress is supposed to act to protect the rights of American citizens, not sacrifice those rights to large corporate entities. The House and Senate should resist the bullying tactics of the Bush White House and ensure that we have our day in court to vindicate our rights and reveal any illegality engaged in by the telecoms. We need to know about the Bush White House's secret program.

So all of this must mean that the Democrats have all the more reason to prevent telecom immunity, right? Well, it might, if we weren't actually talking about the Democrats. But since we are talking about the Democrats, clearly that's not the case. In fact, just like we've known in our hearts (or in the pits of our stomachs) all along, they've just been waiting for the right moment to cave. It had to come. It was never realistic to believe that the opposition party would ever actually stand up to George W. Bush.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Nineties Nostalgia

Remember back in the days when we batted around fun phrases such as "rule of law"? When it was frequently stated that the United States is a "nation of laws, not men"? Those were good times.

If only Bill Clinton had realized it was so easy. He didn't need to have so many problems with investigations and impeachment. He could've just told his aides to stay at home rather than go to testify before Congress. Who knows, it might even have worked for Special Prosecutor Ken Starr. As George W. Bush seems to be proving, all that presidential aides need to avoid going before Congress for oversight hearings is, apparently, a "get out of Congress free" card. A while back, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers declined to honor congressional subpoenas during the House's investigation of the U.S. attorney scandals. It would've been one thing if they'd showed up and refused to answer questions because of executive privilege--I'm not sure I'd accept the claim, but I'd recognize that there could be an argument about it. But they didn't even bother to appear at all.

Although it took the House a while to get around to it, they finally issued contempt citations against the two, but this week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused to refer those citations to a grand jury, stating that Miers and Bolton's refusal to honor the subpoenas "did not constitute a crime." Assuming that this would be the response, the House leadership followed up with a civil suit. What will come of that is still anybody's guess. The AP had a disappointing take on the situation yesterday:

The reasons for the Democrats' two-pronged approach were about much more than the balance of power. They were unmistakably political, a point the White House highlighted in its response.

Democrats did not even spend much energy denying it.

Democratic aides involved in the progression of the contempt citation acknowledged its political benefits, notably cheering up a base demoralized by Pelosi's inability to get the caucus to force Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

While the political aspects are undeniable, balance of power is a vital key to the equation, as well. By making this into nothing more than a political fight, Congress undermines its own authority. Too bad Bill Clinton didn't catch on to this ten years ago.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Pay What You Can

The local Chicago public radio station is going through their fundraising drive, and I suppose that means the rest of the stations are going through theirs, too (and sure, go ahead and give, if you feel like it; it's a worthy cause). But this idea of listeners volunteering to give however much they want to (or not) has been going on for a long time--as long as I remember public radio and public TV. But it's very similar to something that a lot of theaters do. If they're trying to fill seats at a performance at which they're expecting a reviewer, they'll sometimes offer the deal to their friends or other people they might be able to bring into the theater. A few companies even build the opportunity into their schedule, calling it, "Pay what you can."

That's a loaded phrase, if you ask me. Part of it has an idealistic framing: Someone who couldn't otherwise afford to attend can pay a lesser amount--or, if they're truly hard up, they don't have to pay anything. That potentially broadens the show's audience, as well as the audience for the arts in general. Further, it leaves open the possibility that some sort of benefactor might want to pay above and beyond what a ticket would cost under normal circumstances. Of course, that brings up the question of if these people want to support the arts in such a way, why aren't they just donating in the first place.

But what does "pay what you can" really mean? I do OK, so I can afford to pay full price. But what if I'm short on cash when I'm going to a show? If tickets normally cost $15 but I've only got a five in my pocket and there's not time to go to an ATM, does that mean that I can short the production ten bucks? And what if I just don't feel like paying? If I'm going to a show I don't especially want to see but have been guilted into it because a friend of mine is in the cast, can I just go on a "pay what you can" day without any cash in my pocket and pay nothing? I shouldn't do it that way, of course, but that's a whole different question. And before you think that's an unlikely course of action, I have to relate something I saw more than once when we lived in LA. There are a lot of charitable benefits out that way, and many of them feature popular performers who people want to see. If you had enough clout (which by default also means that you had enough money), you could get comps to the benefit to see the performer you wanted to see. That's the ultimate "pay what you can"--if you can get away with paying nothing, you very well might.

I'm curious if anybody has any experience, successful or otherwise, with pay what you can. Public radio has traditionally reported that they get contributions from about 10 percent of their listeners. It was reported that 40 percent of people downloading Radiohead's recent In Rainbows experiment in "pay what you choose" distribution offered some amount of money (the average was under $6.00) which means 60 percent paid nothing. (Radiohead disputes those numbers, but they've offered nothing in their place.) Theater companies can't afford to take money from only 40 percent--or 10 percent--of theatergoers. Does "pay what you can" work better than that?