Voter ID laws are worse than fraudulent

In case anyone needs to be convinced that the rash of Voter ID laws that have sprung up are, as so many have said, “Solutions in search of a problem”, consider this. In several countries, notably Australia and New Zealand, voting is considered a civic duty. This is reinforced by the fact that anyone eligible to vote who fails to do so must pay a fine, the equivalent of a parking or traffic ticket.

Now why can’t that be the attitude in the United States? Never mind; I think we already know the answer to that one.

Another way to defang Citizens United?

No one I know – Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc. – likes the decision in the Citizens United case. Of course, none of us know any multi-billionaires.

The normal reactions we’ve heard to combatting this are either to hope that SCOTUS somehow reverses its decision (perhaps if new justices are appointed) or that  Senator Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment will be ratified. The problem that plagues both of these is that we have to rely on certain chains of events happening and that we are looking at a minimum of eight years, in all likelihood, before either change would take place. That’s a lot of elections to give the so-called Super PACs time to change the United States into an out-and-out oligarchy.

However, I just thought of another way to defang (or, as I prefer to say, “spay”) the Super PACs. Some of you may be aware that political attacks made against candidates for public office are all but immune from libel law because, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “restraint on political speech, no matter how [vile] the speech may be, would have a chilling effect on public discourse.” You also may be aware that the most toxic political ads are all coming from the Super PACs, largely so the official campaigns themselves can keep their hands clean.

Ah, but here’s the catch: the Super PACs are by law, limited to issues-based contributions! Now, we all know that they have crossed the line many times without even getting their wrists slapped, but if they present ads that are clearly OR implicitly false, knowingly false (or that any reasonable person could easily tell was false), and have malicious intent (which is the whole motivation for the toxic ads), they would have met the standards of libel.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the Super PACs are really vulnerable to a well-crafted lawsuit. Either the courts would rule that they do not enjoy immunity from libel laws, since they are not parts of the candidates’ campaigns, or that the courts will be forced to slam the door on any of the lies told in Super PAC ads about candidates since they are, by statute, limited ONLY to ads that deal with issues and not with people.

Dodgers vs. Giants deja vu

Oh, the anticipation! The NL’s best rivalry pitting one team that has baseball’s best five-tool player, depends on power for runs, and have two top starters in their rotation, versus the other team which has baseball’s best rotation and relies on speed and defense. I am of course, talking about the Giants and Dodgers of the early 1960′s…or the Dodgers and Giants of today.

I’m not going to go out of my way to draw ridiculous coincidental comparisons, but I am really struck by how much the current Giants remind me of the 1960′s Dodgers, and how comparing them today sounds like comparing the teams during the 60′s, only with the roles reversed. Of course, I really hope that one aspect of the comparison holds true: the Dodgers were the dominant NL team of the 1960′s!

Transitioning to another baseball topic involving the Dodgers:  Hanley Ramirez. I know that Marlins’ fans are thinking, “Here we go again, another fire sale.” Three years ago, I would have reacted the same way, but since then we have seen two things happen that have changed my mind. One is the precipitous drop in production, and the other is the number of rumors circulating that Ramirez is, shall we say, not the best teammate in the clubhouse. The Marlins probably won’t make the playoffs this year, but I predict that we are not going to see a massive dismantling of the team.

Writer’s Block

I never quite understood writer’s block. True, of all the writing I’ve done in my life (papers, essays, columns), there were times when I just cranked out what I needed to do to fulfill my commitment.

Well, this has been my first experience with it. There are two things that seem to be at work here (careful…remember that the analyst who treats himself has a fool for a patient!):

1. Rather than being unable to think of what to write about, I feel overloaded. Too many things going through my mind at once for me to decide what I should tackle first.

2. Directly related to the previous problem is that, the longer I wait to write something, the more guilty I feel about not writing, and that makes me want to avoid writing.

So, to anyone reading this, dos this sound familiar? I know what I have always told students finding themselves in this spot, which is to just start writing ANYTHING. Funny how much easier it is to give advice than to take it!

Some random thoughts on “Obamacare”

1. SCOTUS got the decision right. In my opinion, they could have upheld the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause, but the Taxation Powers Clause is ironclad. By the way, I taught AP Government for 24 years and spent a lot of time on the Commerce Clause; if anyone wants an explanation, shoot me a response. It sounds incredibly boring but, believe it or not, it is the foundation for the majority of our civil rights legislation.

2. Those who voted in dissent relied primarily on “states’ rights.” We fought the bloodiest war in the history of our country over “states’ rights” and the Confederacy lost. Get over it.

3. I have noted throughout the firestorm over national health care that, when first-person pronouns are used on picket signs, those supporting national health care overwhelmingly use the word “we”, while the Tea Partiers and their ilk use the words “I” and “me.” I don’t believe this is as trivial as one might think; rather, it is a snapshot of the philosophical differences at play here. If your own personal health care is fine and dandy, anything that threatens the status quo might get your panties in a knot if you are unable to empathize with other people. If you tend to remember that a nation, by its definition, is a group of people who share a common culture and live together in the same geographic space, you are more likely to care about the other people in that nation. Does that mean that the Tea Partiers care about the USA only to the extent that it is a country, a defined piece of territory functioning under a set of laws, and that they don’t think of the USA as a nation with shared values? If so, it would explain an awfully lot about their overt hostility.

4. One final thing: one of my former students is now a Canadian citizen, but she still follows USA news better than 99% of our citizenry. She swears that she heard two of the disappointed Tea Partiers state yesterday that, “the country is ruined. That’s it. We’re moving to Canada!” Anyone need to have the irony of that explained?

Mitt Romney = Governor Romney

Here’s something as rare as John Boehner without an orange complexion: a political blog written today that has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care (we really don’t know enough until some time has passed for intelligent analysis.)

For better or worse, Mitt Romney’s central theme seems to be emphasizing his time as a businessman in the private sector and using that as his argument for why he is a better job creator than Barack Obama. That is an illegitimate argument (see earlier post on what that means.)

Without getting into the jargon of formal logic. Romney’s argument is exactly the same as if I earned a J.D., practiced law for a few years, and then applied for a job as a Family Practice physician at a local clinic based on the argument that I had earned a doctorate degree.

Regardless of what you think of Mitt Romney, his experience in the private sector is irrelevant. No less an economic conservative than Milton Friedman wrote that business and government are distinctively different institutions with different goals. The goal of a business not only is, but should be, to earn a profit. It is precisely the lack of profit motive that makes government a necessary institution. It allows businesses to operate without worrying about self-regulating, and it is uniquely positioned to create jobs during recessions because it does not have to answer to shareholders who expect dividends. Besides, it is unfair to expect businesses to hire people “out of the goodness of their hearts” during economic downturns.

An honest and legitimate campaign would have Romney campaigning as Governor Romney, especially since a governor is also a government’s chief executive. I think we all know why that hasn’t been the strategy of choice.

Viognier: a wonderful surprise in the wine world.

By way of context, I should reveal that I was in the wine profession for about 15 years as a retailer, wholesaler, and importer. The work in these fields is not nearly as glamorous as you might think, but I guarantee that I rode the glamorous stereotype for as long as I could before I got married!

I mention the context just to show how much things changed in 25 years. Back when I was in the business, no one knew what Viognier was. I ran into it a couple of times when a customer ordered Condrieu, and my natural curiosity led me to look it up. Condrieu is a tiny appellation in the Northern Rhone and, apparently, it had fallen into disfavor in other areas because it was notoriously finicky compared to other available white varieties; the window of picking Viognier is very narrow, because if you pick it too late, its acid levels tend to drop and it is a grape that requires enough acid to make its peach-apricot-honeysuckle qualities come through.

Fortunately, just when it looked like Viognier was on the road to extinction, two powerful forces came to the rescue. One was Georges DeBeouf who, so famous for his Beaujolais wines, was looking to branch out. While I have yet to see any of his Viogniers in the U.S., he has been influential throughout both France and places as far-flung as Australia.

Josh Jensen (who deserves a post of his own) showed what the wine world now knows:  a willingness to experiment and a resolute refusal to blindly follow traditions. As far as I can tell, he was the first one to bring Viognier to the United States and make commercial wine, followed shortly thereafter by the “Rhone Rangers” just to the south (another group worthy of its own post.)

Good Viognier, to me,  fills the same flavor niche that good Chenin Blanc does. It is a wonderful sipping wine on its own, but it matches well with anything in a cream-based sauce, including some dishes that are mildly spicy. What was once its curse may be its blessing; Chenin Blanc sadly fell out of favor because it could be grown in huge, bland yields that hurt the reputation of the great Chenin Blancs, but Viognier is always going to be a low-yield grape.

So, where does it grow best? Viognier loves warm to hot days, but cool nights. Josh Jensen and the Rhone Rangers of San Luis Obispo have got the right climates. So do Southern Oregon and Eastern Washington.