Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Post-Triptophan Randomness

OK, as usual to get back into blogging mode, I need something easy, something trivial, something . . . random.

Ran across this from xkcd in my Reader:

Which also frequently depicts the Random Ten experience for me. Take, for example, the current list:

  1. Raconteurs, “Old Enough”
  2. 3D, “Listen to the Radio”
  3. Sixpence None the Richer, “Breathe Your Name”
  4. AC DC, “Hell’s Bells”
  5. Beck, “Peaches and Cream”
  6. Social Distortion, “Cold Feelings”
  7. The Jam, “Precious”
  8. Five for Fighting, “Maybe I”
  9. Dwight Yoakum, “Throughout All Time”
  10. Alison Krauss and Union Station, “I’m Gone”
OK, yea, so I kinda like Sixpence None the Richer. I know I'm not supposed to. No doubt some of you are tuning up: they are bland MOR adult-pop that straddles the mainstream and Contemporary Christian markets. What's your deal Pho? Personally Leigh Nash's voice appeals and they come up with crazy good pop hooks.

Probably I wouldn't pay for it, but their weird crossover "Breathe Your Name" was a free promo download. It's exactly the sort of Christian pop song South Park sent up -- it sounds like a deeply romantic uptempo ballad until you dig into the lyrics.

Anyway. I've never liked it better than as a lead-in to "Hell's Bells."

Some thoughts on stuff:

I missed blogging on the lead up, but much thanks and kudos to both Akron City Council and Summit County Council for their votes for ordinances banning sexual orientation discrimination.

The big news today of course is the President's speech outlining the revised strategy for the Afghanistan war. I part ways with many of my compatriots on the left on this one -- and increasingly with Americans generally. Failure in Afghanistan would be devastating. I'm happy the President is willing to continue to pursue a successful resolution, notwithstanding the popular sentiment. More later.

In tomorrow's Legal News column I take on Stupak-Pitts. Again, more to follow.

I have an early start tomorrow, so that will have to do for tonight.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In Which a Tone Deaf Rock Fan Takes in the Worlds Best Orchestra

The offer came in this week -- get comp tickets to a Cleveland Orchestra performance and "blog about the experience." When our schedule cleared up for Friday night, I accepted the offer and took Kid Z along. I assume the offer came to me because I participated in a similar outreach by Opera Cleveland last summer, which in turn happened as a result of knowing that organizations communications director through her blog. These things can happen when you blog.

Despite being mostly a rock fan, I've seen quite a bit of the Cleveland Orchestra. In fact before we became parents Prof. W and I had a Severance Hall subscription. Not to say I can tell you why the orchestra is generally acknowledges as among the three or four best in the world. I just know they are and that they sound great.

Let's think a bit about Cleveland being home to one of the best orchestras in the world. Face it, one reason we are collectively gripping about the possibility of LeBron James leaving town is what it says about Northeast Ohio. He grew up here following the team and has been embraced as a hometown hero, and the team will be able to match whatever another team will pay him. And yet he might leave. If he does we are left with yet another bit of evidence that this is just not a place where people of excellence wish to live.

We're concerned that if he leave, the team will suck; we're really scared that if he leaves, it means we suck.

But we do have our pockets of excellence, and few if any are more excellent that the orchestra. It seems almost impossible that lowly, perennial joke-butt Cleveland could have anything, much less a highbrow cultural institution that ranks so highly.

Of course once you go you are reminded where you are. We have a world class cultural institution, a jewel of a venue in Severance, and perfectly abysmal parking. So the first part of the experience was getting there just in time, which meant that everything was parked up and we would be late.

Very Cleveland.

So we followed winding roads to, I think, Parma, laid in provisions for the trek back to Severance and set out. As a result we got there midway through the first movement of Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B Minor. Watching from the wings was nonetheless impressive. Again I know tiny bits about string playing (mostly from watching my kids take lessons) but soloist Alisa Weilerstein gets truly impressive sounds out of her instrument.

Once that piece was over, we were seated. The Orchestra apparently likes bloggers as they gave us seats on the floor three or four rows back. Viewing and listening from this distance is a whole new experience. First off you see things. Like everyone dresses in all black, but up close you see that some men wear tuxedo pants, some where regular dress slacks and one of the first violins wore ratty black cargoes. Who knew?

But more than that, the sound is stunning. Premium seats at the orchestra won't set you back much more than nosebleed seats at an aging rocker's Retirement Villa Tour at Quicken. But instead of muddy sound and dubiously tuned instruments you can hear what precision playing sounds like. I still listen to mostly rock and jazz at home, but increasingly classical is what I want to see live.

From that vantage we listened to Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra." You know the first section better as:

The piece starts with basses rumbling so low they set up vibrations in your diaphram before you hear them. And of course the piece has far more to it than the now-cliche opening.

After the orchestra's performance internationally renouned percussionist Jamey Haddad set up shop in the lobby with a band of his students from Cleveland Institute of Music and Oberlin Conservatory, playing polyrhythmic jazz pieces deep into the night. The real treat of that portion was Ms. Wallerstein sitting in.

Like everyone else, the orchestra is hurting economically. And as noted, it is a can't miss gig. They never show up half in the bag and play half a set. And they won't turn free agent at the end of the season. Check them out. And if you can get away tonight, they are playing the Dvořák, which you really want to see.


The orchestra has a blog with tons of pics from last night. The PeeDee's review of the concert is up.

(Image from the Cleveland Orchestra)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hubbard High School and Why We Have a First Amendment

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.
-Justice Robert Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

The Vindy (h/t ABJ) reports today about an Ohio high school student who was disciplined for not standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:

    Roxanne Westover, 17, of Elmwood Drive, had been reprimanded by the school for refusing to stand during the pledge, which is recited each morning. She said it contradicts her beliefs and she elected not to participate.

    “I’m an atheist, and I believe the pledge isn’t something toward our nation,” she said. “It’s more like a religious oath, and I believe that if I stand I’m still participating in it.”

    Westover said she had been written up and sent to the principal’s office multiple times for her refusal over the course of the past few weeks. The ACLU sent a letter requesting the school to stop requiring students to say the pledge.

In fact the question of compelling students to recite the Pledge was resolved back in 1943 in the Barnette case cited up top. The school is listening to the ACLU and in fact have discovered that school policy says students aren't required to recite.

All of which points up why civil libertarians work so hard to hold a strict line on attempts to introduce anything religious into schools. The pro-school prayer folks wonder ingenuously what could possibly wrong with a voluntary teacher-led prayer. This is what could -- and almost certainly would -- go wrong. Here is a school violating not only a decades-old Supreme Court precedent, but their own school policy. But we are supposed to trust that teacher-lead school prayer would never coerce non- or different believers.

Conservative Christians who pen thumb suckers about being oppressed. In fact they are angry that they can't use the mechanisms of the state to evangelize. That's not oppression. The plaintiffs in the Barnette case were Jehovah's Witnesses. Their children were expelled from school and their homes picketed. In other communities Witnesses were assaulted for their beliefs. That's oppression.

What Roxanne Westover experienced is hardly comparable to some of the outrages Americans past have experienced, but she did suffer real consequences just for believing something different than the majority. Happily we have a First Amendment to protect Roxanne -- and the rest of us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today in the Akron Legal News -- Low Power FM

What with the health care death match moving into the Senate and ongoing dramas over the budget, it's easy to miss the small bills floating around Congress. For today's column I flag one such bill, HR 1147, the Local Community Radio Act. The LCRA expands the authority of the FCC to issue licenses to non-profit low-power FM radio stations.

These 10-100 watt stations essentially cover a neighborhood -- imagine a radio station for Highland Square. Um, one not run by the Highland Square Neighborhood Association, preferably. In one article about low power FM the range of a rural station is described as having a 20 mile radius -- city clutter would cut that down.

Both commercial broadcasters and NPR have been lobbying against the proposed new rules for fear that the signals form low power stations would interfere with there signals. Given the current state of corporate radio, that sounds like an advantage. But in fact the FCC commissioned a study that indicates that the expanding LPFM will not interfere with extant radio stations.

Despite the technical reassurances and despite bipartisan co-sponsorship versions of the LCRA have failed in two Congresses so far. The House version is supposed to be heading for a floor vote in the next month or so.

Blogging is a big deal because a diversity of people were able to gain wide exposure with essentially no entry costs. LPFM isn't that good, but the entry costs are a fraction of starting up a traditional radio station. The effect of blogging on traditional news gathering has been undeniable. The effect of LPFM on commercial radio is likely to be slower and more subtle, but then commercial radio can't go anywhere but up.


I heard about the issue from getting on Free Press's email list. Here's their take on it. Free Press also lobbies for net neutrality.

One of the lead players in the lobbying effort is the Prometheus Radio Project. Here is a HuffPo piece from a Prometheus spokes person.

A map I reference showing LPFM stations in the U.S. is here.

The FCC is pretty much pro-low power. Here for example is a fact sheet from the agency answering a bunch of the objections. And this page contains links to a number of publications the FCC has put out as the controversy has worn on.

The essence of the Act is to allow third adjacent channel stations -- that is stations that are three channels away from an extant station. Here's a more detailed explanation of that.

If you are interested in following the progress of the bill, check out the Open Congress page.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Akron's New Transparency (By Request)

Jill asks about the back story of this ABJ story last week. The city of Akron is posting regular daily updates of income tax receipts. I have some things to say about a few comments from the interweb now that I'm back on top of things. Might as well start with a friendly one.

This is happening because of a) the fiscal crisis every city is experiencing b) the deep distrust of the Mayor on the part of the public safety unions and c) the highly vocal anti-Plusquellic minority.

It goes like this. Because tax receipts are way down, the city has to make deep cuts. Ultimately those cuts include laying off a number of firefighters. No one is happy about this. We who live in the city really want to have confidence that our houses won't burn down. But a deficit is a deficit.

As unhappy as the residents are, the firefighters are extremely unhappy, and they accuse the administration of not doing everything they can to prevent the layoffs. The antipathy between the Mayor and union leadership cannot be exaggerated. They actually believe he would endanger residents in order to screw over the union.

The debate has taken on a surreal turn as the Mayor's various antagonists have claimed that the administration isn't forthcoming about the city's finances. This echoes the debate throughout the recall effort. Every time the Mayor would answer a charge about city finances, his critics would move the goal posts again.

Jill ventures into the dark place of madness and despair that is the Trollhio.com comments section. Needless to say the denizens are unimpressed. Jill is right about the limited capacity of regular folks to objectively interpret information like that being posted. What the posting does offer is the Mayor's critics the opportunity to find someone who does have the chops and have at it.

Not that they will. It's far more enjoyable to just sit back and bitch. Hell, a certain Akron attorney has practically made a career of it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Public Option Annie

Work of a guerrilla musical theater group that infiltrated a national conference of the health insurance trade group AHIP. Thanks to the friend who passed this along. Enjoy.

Apologies for any Ohio bloggers who may have hit this first. I have, as noted, been out of the loop.

Tom Ganley in Akron

Tom Ganley spoke before the Akron Press Club in early October and, yes, I'm just getting to it now. It's been a trying semester. Sue me.

Anyway, with Ganley running the first ad in what looks like a media-heavy campaign and the ODP increasingly working to pump up the NY23-ness of the Republican primary, it's worth revisiting that appearance. In a separate post I'll offer my views on what threat, if any, he is in the race.

The first thing we learned about Tom Ganley is that he's sufficiently interested in the race to spend money recklessly. He hired a crew to assemble a stage for his presentation -- raised platform, blue drapery background, teleprompters, all for an audience of maybe forty.

The second thing we learned was that Ganley fancies himself a populist. A thin line exists between conservative populism and ugly xenophobic nativism, but it doesn't matter how thin because Ganley vaults himself well into nativist territory.

For much of his 15 minutes or so of prepared remarks Ganley hit on traditional economic conservative themes -- lower spending, lower taxes, smaller government. But he hit on some odd themes as well, particularly decrying the loss of manufacturing jobs in Ohio. Since most of those jobs have gone overseas and pro-business conservatives don't necessarily see that as a bad thing.

Ganley's one specific policy proposal is a job creation tax credit, given for recalling laid off workers, creating new jobs or repatriating jobs that have gone overseas. Hmm. There it is again.

The other strong theme in his brief stump speech is that Tom Ganley is a businessman. That he is a successful businessman cannot be denied. He started with a Rambler dealership when he was twenty something and has built that into the highest volume dealership group in the state. Recalling the Rambler my parents had when I was wee, parlaying that dealership into anything better than Chapter 11 is a significant accomplishment.

But Ganley oversells the business angle. Why does everyone who runs for Congress as a successful business person think he/she is the first to do so? In Ganley's mind, no one in Washington understands business and everyone who understands business can understand government. He says that when he is elected he will bring eight or so Senators together and teach them all there is to know about running a business. Then charge those eight Senators with teaching their colleagues. And that will fix things in Washington.

No really, he said all this. Like a freshman Senator will be in a position to "teach" senior Senators anything. It's so darn cute you just want to hug him. It might be worth sending him to Washington just to see the inevitable hazing.

If you haven't been to a Press Club event, the usual drill is a half hour or so speeh, followed by Q&A from the audience. Among other things we're trying to fill the one hour slot we have for cable rebroadcasts. Ganley's people knew this, but nonetheless he gave his fifteen minute stump and looked increasingly uncomfortable as the questioned dragged on. He derides "professional politicians," but the sooner he learns there is an actual skill set to appearing before and adapting to a crowd, the fewer days like this he will have.

It was in the Q&A that we really get that populist, er, nativist streak in Ganley's thought. When pressed to differentiate himself with Portman specifically on trade, he made overtly protectionist noises. He said as a threshold matter that he would not have voted for a trade deal with China, and that he does not believe in negotiating trade deals generally. He also had favorable things to say about recent measures to protect the domestic tire industry.

But of all his positions, none got him more animated that illegal immigration. To his credit, he would "come down hard" on the executives on companies that hire illegals. But he also made ugly noises about the "millions who don't belong here." He's clearly not in favor of any reform that would involve a path to citizenship. And when asked a tricky question -- what should we do upon finding an undocumented family with a child sick with H1N1 -- he said indignantly that if they are illegal, deport 'em.

So while populism generally aims at channeling grassroots energy at challenging the power of establishment institutions, Ganley seems more interested in channeling it at alien others. Depending on where he goes with it, this could devolve into a nasty, shower-necessitating campaign. And that bit about deporting a sick kid for one will make a nice sound bite against him.

Grumpy Abe has been attending and writing up the Senate events as well. You can read his take on Ganley here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scientific Evidence that the Republican Base Is Crazy

Some weeks ago I argued that the vituperative criticism of Obama from the right was not, as some suggested, driven by racism but was the result of the right wing being nuts. Not nuts in the sense that they disagree with me, but nuts in that they increasingly subscribe to paranoid fantasies untethered to the real world as anyone else perceives it.

During my long illness I got an email from Democracy Corps, the polling firm co-owned by James Carville, linking to a report that reaches the same conclusion based on at least semi-scientific investigation. They ran focus groups of older white non-college educated conservative Republicans in Georgia, asking about Obama, health care, the economy and other basic issues. And as a control they ran similar focus groups with independents with similar demographics in suburban Cleveland. This second group they identify as the most conservative swing voter bloc.

The first finding they emphasize is that the participants persuaded them that race is not the basis for their nearly universal loathing of Obama. You can question this study based on the bias of the investigators, but this is a hard conclusion to dispute. After all, the easy and advantageous (for Dems) conclusion would be that anti-Obama conservatives are just a bunch of unreconstructed bigots. That they find the opposite certainly is a credible finding and gives extra credence to the project generally.

The more significant finding is that the ultraconservative Republicans live in a different world from the rest of us -- even from the conservative independents from Cleveland:

    The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barack Obama to be sure – which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush – but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.
From there the specifics get positively surreal. Obama is controlled by some real power -- most likely George Soros. They want to kill Glenn Beck. Their ultimate goal is the end of civil liberties.

My personal favorite -- because it's so counterfactual -- that Obama started the road to socialism by bailing out the banks. Yes Obama is so diabolical that he orchestrated the bank bailout before he even took office!. Scary.

As I said in my previous post, it's a manifestly bad thing that some twenty percent of the electorate is bonkers. Additionally, I think its incumbent on us non-crazy, reality-based folk to continually point this out.

The media coverage of the ravings from the right repeatedly falls into the false equivalency trap -- let's find someone nutty on the left for balance. (The occasional blogger will fall into this as well.) But the nutty left doesn't affect the course of the Democratic party. Hell, we're lucky if they vote.

The hardcore right described in the report comprise the grassroots foot soldiers of the Republican party. They are the ones who do things like run party moderate out of elections -- and the party. As such, the crazies in the Republican party have real influence on one of the only two real parties in our democracy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Twenty Years Ago

In 1984 I was on a study abroad program in Yugoslavia. One night we met up with some German students and sampled a great deal of the local malt beverage and got talking about politics. I (clumsily) brought up the idea of reunification and they shrugged it off. A pipe dream, they said. Maybe in our lifetimes, but there's no sign of even a glimmer of possibility.

Five years later, and twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down, and the dominoes fell in reverse. Having visited Czechoslovakia, I confidently predicted to my friends that whatever happened elsewhere in the Warsaw Pact, Czechoslovakia would remain stubbornly communist. Then the Velvet Revolution happened. (I related this story to an international law prof who told me he said the same thing. Took a little of the sting out.)

Today I teach young men and women who have never lived in a world with a Communist bloc. Perhaps one reason political adversaries are so careless with charges of communism is that it's been so long since we've seen the real thing.

A dance club we frequented back in Yugoslavia played David Bowie's "Heroes" pretty much every night. It is to this day one of my favorite pop culture indictments of Soviet totalitarianism. The song is about lovers trysting by the Berlin Wall, but Bowies singing transcends the specific narrative to capture the universal yearning for freedom.

ODP Talking Junk about the Republican Senate Primary

The tasteful graphic above is from the Ohio Democratic Party website today. The link leads to a release riffing on an ABC News story about the Republican Senate Campaign Committee assuming a neutral posture in contested primaries in 2010. The presser notes:

    COLUMBUS - National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Senator John Cornyn pledged yesterday that his committee would not spend a cent in a contested Republican Senate primaries or open seats as part of an effort to "ease some of the anger being directed at the party establishment."

    By making this statement, Cornyn declared that national Republicans will not interfere in the contested U.S. Senate Republican Primary between architect of the Bush economy Rob Portman and wealthy Cleveland-area businessman Tom Ganley.
The original story in fact does not mention the Ohio race. And as of now the race isn't much of a contest with Ganley stuck in single digits. ODP may be rooting for a fight on the Republican side, but are unlikely to get one.

Still and all it's fun to see the party trying to stir up trouble. And with this I declare this week Senate Campaign Week here at the Pages. Which is to say, I am hoping to finally write up my impressions of the three candidates who have thus far appeared at the Akron Press Club (Ganley, Portman and Brunner) and prognosticate a bit about the race.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Randomosity: Resurfacing Edition

So, kids, you know how the public health folks are saying that you can get reinfected with H1N1. Well, they speak the truth. Happily the second time through has been shorter. And BTW I took the kids in for Akron's free immunizations yesterday. A well run operation and the kids have shown no ill effects.

Of course I could be part of the Obama-led conspiracy to overclaim the pandemic. You never know.

A few things I've been watching in between naps:

The courts considering the Rifqa Bary case have done what I consider the right thing. She is back in Ohio in CSB custody and living in foster care. Needless to say, the nutters watching the case are not pleased. In fact they have scheduled a rally in Columbus for next Saturday. If you want to see the minds behind Atlas Shrugs and Jihad Watch live on on day passes, there you are.

Buckeye State has been going through some interesting changes. I've had more than my share of disagreements with various proprietors of the blog (though not much with current head BSer David Potts), but I can't imagine the Ohio lefty sphere without it. I'm glad David is carrying on and ask that you continue to patronize his bloggage.

There are a lot of navel-gazing pieces like this about Whatever Shall the Republican Party Do? around -- have been since 06, really. And most of them follow the WMD logic that the thing that got Republicans into trouble is that they stopped being defined exclusively by orthodox conservatism. As a Democrat I should be happy to see such stuff, but as someone who believes first and foremost in political pluralism, I'm not. If Republicans define themselves solely in terms of conservative dogma they will remain a regional minority party. As such they will not provide much of a check on the inevitable excesses of liberalism. That's not good for anyone.

Oh, and they will be that much more destructive when they do take power.

I thought Akron had the gayest election ever last Tuesday, what with an out Lesbian city council person and an out gay muni judge elected. But apparently we were just part of a broader trend. Though the vote in Maine didn't go as well as hoped, it's pretty amazing that sexual identity was essentially a non-issue for so many candidates.

While I was out the crew at CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) dropped an email about their state-by-state database of government corruption. Here's Ohio's page.

I enjoyed the spectacle of Minority Leader John Boener (R-Darque Zone) claiming he was reading the preamble of the Constitution when in fact he was reading from the Declaration of Independence. OK, yea people make mistakes. But. 1) He hasn't sworn and oath to uphold the Declaration. 2) He has freely accused Obama of subverting the Constitution despite his apparntly limited familiarity with the document. And 3) If he HAD read the the preamble of the Constitution in the course of criticizing the health care bill, he likely would have choked on the part about promoting the general welfare.

OK, a few tabs closed. Now here's your moment of ten:

  1. Alison Krauss and Union Station, "Bright Sunny South"
  2. Dwight Yoakum, "Please Please Baby"
  3. Bjork, "It Is Oh So Quiet"
  4. The Beatles, "Lovely Rita"
  5. Cibo Matto, "White Pepper Ice Cream"
  6. Gorillaz, "Double Bass"
  7. Matthew Sweet, "Winona"
  8. Horace Silver, "Nica's Dream"
  9. U2, "Desire"
  10. Lucinda Williams, "Words"

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Today in the Akron Legal News -- 2010, It's On

Today's Akron Legal News column hooks on the Wednesday after Election Day being, for us politics junkies, the official beginning of the 2010 election cycle. From that I take on a personal bugbear.

Based on what we're hearing from Republican candidates, the narrative is likely to be 1) Strickland has dithered on the economy, hence the lousy economy, and 2) the Republican's positive, innovative, not-just-hatin' proposal is to update Ohio's antiquated business tax system. Rob Portman, for one, was talking up these themes (with a dose of Obama criticism of course) when he visited the Press Club last week. He said that Ohio's tax system was designed for a traditional heavy manufacturing economy with little competition from elsewhere.

So this is what really pisses me off. That was a compelling argument six years ago, and in response Ohio revamped the system. This under a Republican administration and with Republicans in charge of both houses of the legislature. And now Republicans pretend it never happened. Drives me right out of my tree every time I hear it.

So if I have one wish for the coming election season, it is that Republicans who continue to mine this trope get called on it. Specifically I'd like to see a reporter, at least once in a while, ask why we should Candidate R's tax reform to solve all of Ohio's economic challenges when the last reform was sold the same way. And needless to say, economic utopia has not arrived in Ohio.

Of course advocates for tax reform could argue that it worked. For example, Ohio keeps going up in the Site Selection ratings. But that would obviate the rationale for a new reform. But if you argue that the old reform didn't work, your back to square one. What's a tax cutter to do? Apparently pretend that the past reform didn't happen.


Here's the pdf Fact Sheet on what's left of the corporate franchise tax from Ohio Dept of Taxation. Another pdf from Ohio Tax, this one showing how the old taxes are being phased out (09 is the last tax year for both the business personal property tax and corporate franchise.)

Brunner in Town Tomorrow

Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Jennifer Brunner will make her case to Akron tomorrow, with a series of events. Tomorrow morning she is appearing on the Ray Horner Show on WAKR at 8:30.

Then at 11:45 she appears at the Akron Press Club. I am scheduled to introduce her because the usual guy is out of town. Spaces are still available. Check the website for the reservations email.

Immediately after, at 1:30, she meets with Students for Brunner at the University of Akron Student Union, 303 Carroll Street.

I'll try to get some thoughts up, though I still have stuff from the Ganley and Portman events in the queue.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Election Day Tomorrow

Yes it's mid-term, but that means you will be in and out quickly. So first and foremost, VOTE!

Since this blog is based on the increasingly tenuous assumption that people care about my opinions, a few thoughts/recommendation about the ballot.

Of course I will be voting for Sandra Kurt for City Council Ward 8 tomorrow. I'm not wild about a one-party monopoly on Council. But Sandra is such a good candidate I'll happily pull the lever fill in the oval for her.

For School Board I'm having trouble getting excited about any candidates other than Jason Haas and Lisa Mansfield. There are some OK people in the race, but none have distinguished themselves. I may vote only for Jason and Lisa just to strengthen those votes.

For Akron Muni I will be voting straight Dem ticket which I don't usually do in judicial races. Steve Fallis is a family friend and a smart guy. Jerry Larson is well thought of and has run an impressive campaign. I've expressed my doubts about Orlando Williams in the past, but have expressed far graver doubts about Katarina Cook. On second thought I don't really have any doubts -- she's just not judge material.

As for the issues. I'm voting down the three Ohio issues. I've covered 2 and 3 already. Not good ideas in their own right with bonus idea badness adding political flotsam to the Constitution.

As for Issue 1, I'm annoyed. If the thing is so rightfully popular, why don't we vote in a tax to pay for it now as opposed to adding to the debt load.

Closer to home we have Issue 4 which would convert the Engineer's office to an appointed position. I don't know about you, but I have no idea who should be the County Engineer. As such, I always feel a bit guilty about voting for the office. The issue has generated ungodly levels of handwringing in the name of democracy. Well, Summit County has appointed a medical examiner for years and democracy has survived.

On a blog/personal level, it appears that my health issues have abated, so hopefully this marks something close to a full-time return to blogging.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Today (Thursday) in the Akron Legal News

For the handful of folks who read both this blog and my column in Akron Legal News, an announcement: This week's column appears in today's paper, not the usual Wednesday. There were some absences at the paper due to, yes, the flu again and things got moved around as a result. "Cases and Controversies" will return to its usual Wednesday spot in two weeks.

This week's column takes on Issue 2. Issue 2 would set up an Ohio Livestock Standards Board, has been endorsed by pretty much everyone who matters on either side of the aisle and for the most part 2 has slipped under the radar. It's not the worst idea ever, but it's not a good idea. The board is set up in a way that goofs around with the usual constitutional system of separation of powers for no good reason.

What's more, the particular not-good reason at work here is fear of direct democracy. The backers of Issue 2 explicitly say that they have put it together because of the possibility that animal rights activists (of the relatively sane Humane Society variety, not the PETA crazies) might introduce a ballot issue establishing a few minimum standards for livestock care. Reflect on that. Voters might have to opportunity to consider livestock standards, so we need amend the constitution to establish a new bureaucracy.

Further reading:

Here is the official Issue 2 website. You can also find lots of pro talk at Ohio Farm Bureau. The anti- forces have styled themselves Ohioans Against Constitutional Takeover. The particular potential ballot issue that has given people the fantods is California Proposition 2. Here's some background from Wiki and thumb-sucking reaction from a Wisconsin ag paper. And here, for grins, is a piece in The Hill by Ohio's own Jean Schmidt about the issue.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mostly Non-Viral Return Post

As you may have noted from my Twitter feed, I've been battling the flu for nigh on two weeks now. Don't know if it was swine or regular, but it certainly felt like the usual My head is finally clear enough for me to think about writing for public consumption again.

While I was sick I kept myself going in part by visualizing the anti-vaccine right wing yappers getting this thing. Because anyone engaging in that level of irresponsible asshattery deserves to suffer at least as much as I did. Of course I didn't pry the time out of my schedule to get the flu shot myself, but I won't parade that misstep as some great poltical statement.

To get things moving again, a quick random ten:

  1. Yo La Tengo, "You Can Have It All"
  2. Clint Black, "Muddy Water"
  3. Elvis Costello, "Jump Up"
  4. Duke Ellington, "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)
  5. The Decemberists, "The Sporting Life"
  6. Billie Holiday, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"
  7. Traveling Wilburys, "Dirty World"
  8. Mountain Goats, "Lion's Teeth"
  9. Akron/Family, "Creatures"
  10. Mates of State, "My Only Offer"

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

McDonald v. Chicago; Another Attempt to Explain 2nd Amendment Incorporation

Yesterday was the First Monday in October, meaning that the season has begun for Supreme Court watchers. One of the more interesting cases to watch will be McDonald v. Chicago -- another go-round for the new improved Second Amendment.

Recall that in Heller v. DC, the Supreme Court found for the first time in constitutional history that the Second Amendment includes a personal right to have weapons and that an outright ban on handguns violates that right. But the District of Columbia is Federal territory. We still don't know if this freshly invigorated right applies to the states.

I've referenced this before when Sotomayor was getting NRA hateburgers thrown her way by a certain failed gubernatorial candidate, and again referencing my Akron Legal News column about nunchucks. The feedback was my drive by treatment of the issue left some of my non-lawyer readers confused. But that they really liked seeing Bruce Lee play ping pong with nunchucks.

So here again is an attempt to explain the background of the case. I'll have more specific thoughts on the case and some of the strange bedfellowships it has inspired.

In the beginning, there was the Bill of Rights. And it was good. But it was only good against the Federal Government. Recall that the first words in the First Amendment are "Congress shall make no law." The Constitution wasn't about creating rights, it was about creating a newly powerful national government after the disaster that was the Articles of Confederation. Not everyone was comfortable with a national government with real power. The original purpose of the Bill of Rights was to secure individual rights against this new government.

Not to say that states could do whatever they wanted. Each state had a constitution with some version of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights. But for the first several decades of the nation, states were not under Federal Constitutional constraints.

That changed after the Civil War. In light of all that had just happened, the Northern states thought that just maybe states had a wee bit too much freedom under the Constitution. And so the Restoration Amendments were passed -- the 13th, 14th and 15th. The purpose of these amendments was to codify certain results of the war (the 13th abolished slavery; the 15th guarnateed voting rights to freed slaves), and more generally to guarantee freedoms against state intrusion.

Nestled in the 14th amendment is the Due Process clause, which says that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Starting in the early 20th Century, the Supreme Court began reading the clause as incorporating Bill of Rights guarantees against the states. What does due process mean? Look to the process guarantees in the Bill. What "liberty" cannot be denied? Look to the substantive rights in the first ten amendments.

The Court rejected calls to simply incorporate the whole Bill in one fell swoop. Instead it adopted an approach called selective incorporation. Selective incorporation says that only fundamental rights are incorporated. Fundamental rights are those that are "essential" for "ordered liberty" or are rights out of which all other rights flow. Not a rigorous standard, to be sure.

For a number of reasons to be saved for later posts, I (along with most anyone paying attention) expect the Supremes to incorporate the Second Amendment in McDonald. But how they go about it will be interesting, and will have implications for future decisions about the metes and bounds of the right to bear arms.

In the meantime, you can read up on McDonald on SCOTUSwiki and Wikipedia if you wish.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Charter Schools and Unlikely Ally for Strickland

Interesting post last week on Flypaper, the blog of the Fordham Foundation, a free-market oriented, pro-charters think tank with roots in Dayton. They propose some logrolling regarding Gov. Strickland's proposal to freeze the tax cut for a year. As FP correctly notes, a ten percent cut in ed. funding would devastate Ohio charters.

The proposal is to get charter backing for the tax plan in exchange for passing/signing a Husted bill poking holes in the current charter moratorium. FB says it would allow sponsors of "high-performing" charter schools to set up new schools.

To the extent this is a real trial balloon it's something worth considering. Recall that the charter industry ran attack ads against certain legislators deemed unfriendly during the budget battle. Having the charter industry as an ally, however temporary, would be a help at a time when friends are hard to come by.

I'd be all for a little legislative logrolling, but the Husted bill has serious flaws. First off, in addition to allowing new brick-and-mortar charters the bill would also lift the lid on more e-schools. Just because. Of course the fact that eschools make tons of money despite poor performance might have something to do with it.

As for the brick-and-mortar provisions, they need to be tightened up. The current language would set the threshold at having schools in continuous improvement. That's hardly high performing. And a sponsor can open new schools for each schoolin continuious improvement, regardless of the shape of its overall portfolio. 100 school in Academic Watch and 2 in continuous improvement? No problem, open two more. Much better would be to allow only those sponsors with a generally clean bill to open new schools.

But the thought by Fordham is a nice one. The post as a whole has predictable snark coming from a Republican-leaning outfit -- it's not a tax hike if taxes don't go up and saying the fiscal crisis is Strickland's fault is laughable. But all that said, Strickland will need all the help he can get to make this work. If the charter honks are willing to reach across the aisle, it's at least worth a listen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Strickland's Big Blink

Governor Ted Strickland announced today that he will seek to postpone the last installment of personal income tax cuts to plug the budget gap now that the video slots idea is in danger. Modern has a liveblog of the press conference and some reax. Some thoughts.

Republicans immediately fell upon the governor like hyeanas on a rancid zebra carcass, calling this a tax increase. Leaving the tax rate where it is does not constitute an increase. They will continue to say it's an increase because it's what they do, and every time they do it will kill brain cells in every sentient being within earshot. But please try to remember that no matter how loud they scream that 2+2=5, it's not an increase.

This is the probably least worst of a number bad choices -- including the video slots. The State, local governments and schools are already cut to the bone. Cutting more would fall on schools and could do long term irreparable harm. Plus more cuts means more unemployment -- another term for a government job is a job.

Of the possible tax changes, it certainly is the best. Strickland is right that raising the CAT would renege on the agreement hammered out with the business community during the tax reform debate that brought us to this point.

And a sales tax increase would be doubly bad. For one thing, sales taxes disproportionately affect working and lower class people. For another, state income taxes are more easily deducted against Federal income taxes. That means that funding through income taxes keeps more money in the state -- for every dollar the state takes in, Ohioans pay some fraction like 70-80 cents. The Feds absorb the rest in lower tax revenue. One legacy of the Taft years is that we bumped the sales tax up a half penny, then dropped the income tax. We increased relative taxes on those least able to pay them and sent more Ohio money to Washington. Brilliant.

Anyway, I have issues with how Strickland has handled the spending side of the budget crisis (about which more anon), but he's right that something needed done on the revenue side. It took a while, but he has made the right choice.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In re Rifqa

Later this month judges in Ohio and Florida will step into the culture war skirmish that is the Rifqa Bary case. If you haven't heard about the case, the facts outline as follows. A teenage girl of immigrant parents gets involved with things the parents aren't wild about. The parents find out, harsh words are exchanged and the child thinks she's been threatened.

So far this is a case I saw more than once in my days as a prosecutor. I've seen cases where I sympathized with the parents (child acting sexually precocious, running with a criminal element) and with the child (child dating someone of a different race.) The Bary case worked its way into a national story of sorts because in this case Rifqa's means of pissing off her parents was converting from Islam to Christianity.

One of the few facts in the case which everyone agrees on is that Rifqa got interested in Christianity by meeting Christians at school and online, converted and kept it hidden from her parents. She claims that when her father found out, he picked up a laptop, threatened to hit her with it and threatened to kill her. She left home and somehow got a bus to Florida where she was sheltered by a Christian pastor and his wife.

So far a difficult but still less than Earth-shattering case. Enter the right wing blogosphere. Righty bloggers have elevated the case to no less than a referendum on America's willingness to stand up to the apocolyptic threat that Islam poses. They say.

The conservative attorneys on Rifqa's side argue that Rifqa's life is in danger if she is returned to her parents and to the Muslim community in suburban Columbus. They base the claim on the alleged threat from her father and the alleged ties of the mosque they attend to radical Islamists. They also note the thread of Islamic thought calling for death to apostates, and the threat of honor killings.

The stance of the right wing bloggers (and the more nutty elements of the right-wing media that have picked up the story) is remarkably -- but not surprisingly -- anti-family. If the term pro-family means something other than code for anti-gay, it presumably means that policies favoring keeping families intact are better than those that don't. But the pro-Rifqa side of the debate has argued consistently that she should be kept in Florida, well away from her parents.

To be sure, one does not need to be a right wing Islamaphobe to have concerns about the case. Regardless of whether killing apostates is a core belief of Islam, it certainly is true that a fair number of Muslims believe it. Similarly, honor killings are a real phenomenon. (Though I must ask here whether they are a real phenomenon in Sri Lanka where the family originates. My understanding is that honor killings are more a matter of custom among Arabic tribes than a feature of Islam. The custom extend to Sri Lanka -- I just don't know.) And frankly the apologists on the left go too far in pretending such threats do not exist.

But the rightysphere allows for no grey in this story. The parents are Muslim and have attended a mosque in which people have spoken who associate with people who associate with people in the Muslim Brotherhood, so case closed. The parents claim, in the first instance, that they aren't all that devout and only attend the mosque infrequently. While we can question the extent to which a threat assessment should take into account the associations of a parent's place of worship, we really should be concerned if the parents are the equivalent of C&E Muslims.

Voices in the right in this debate are -- OK I've said it once, so let's not mince words -- are mostly whack jobs. For example, one of the lead bloggers on the story is Pamela Gellar from Atlas Shrugs. Check out this piece she did on Obama's speech before the NAACP, contrasted with the actual speech. You can't argue with a piece like that. Either her perception of reality is hopelessly skewed or mine is. I prefer to assume my own sanity.

The customary procedure for a case like this is to put the child in foster care and begin a series of supervised visitations to a) try to reunify the family and b) continue to assess the threat to the child. The best first step would be transferring the case (and Rifqa) to Ohio. Hopefully the judges will put the holy war nonsense aside and do what's best for this girl and her family.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tom Ganley Leads Off APC Senate Candidate Programs

The Akron Press Club will host all four major candidates for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat this fall. This Thursday, Oct. 1st auto dealer and candidate Tom Ganley will speak. Details and reservation info here.

OK, some may argue about whether Ganley is a major candidate. But hey, Bay Buchanan has endorsed him. So now he has that going for him. Which is nice.

The rest of the fall schedule goes as follows:

Oct. 29, Ambassador Rob Portman
Nov. 5, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner
Dec. 8, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher

Sunday, September 27, 2009

RIP William Safire

Former Nixon speechwriter and op-ed columnist William Safire died of pancreatic cancer at 79. As the obits are noting, Safire was the first conservative columnist employed by the New York Times (Reasonable Right holdout David Brooks now holds what could be called the William Safire chair.)

After last week's rant about the craziness of the modern Right, it's worth remembering how Safire went about his business. Early in the Clinton years, Safire wrote a column complimenting the administrations dialogue on race. During the fallout of the Bush warrantless wiretapping revelations while much of the conservative commentariat condemned the Times for publishing them, Safire condemned the wiretapping. His column was personal -- he had been wiretapped while in the Nixon White House.

Safire both cast the mold of conservative commentators and deviated from it whenever moved to. In today's conservative movement, such deviation from orthodoxy wouldn't be tolerated. But Safire's willingness to deviate from the party line made him more credible to those of us who didn't share his views. Safire, along with contemporaries like Jack Kilpatrick and (before he sold his soul) George Will challenged me. Sometimes I had to think about why I believed differently. Sometimes I was persuaded to change my views.

In contrast, today's conservative "commentary" is easily dismissed cant. The conservatives are right that it does no service to the country when only half the political spectrum is represented in the media. It's a similarly bad thing that half the spectrum has no credibility outside of its core believers.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I'm trying to blog daily but it's Friday night and I'm tired. So I'll let the MP3s do the talking tonight.

  1. New Pornographers, "All for Swinging You Around"
  2. Charles Mingus, "Open Letter to Duke"
  3. Yo La Tengo, "The Story of Jazz"
  4. Elvis Costello, "Less than Zero"
  5. Shelby Lynn, "Life Is Hard"
  6. Bela Fleck, "Blue Mountain Hop"
  7. Jimmy Cliff, "The Harder They Come"
  8. Bright Eyes, "Poison Oak"
  9. Modest Mouse, "Bukowski"
  10. Lucinda Williams, "Concrete and Barbed Wire"

See you tomorrow. Hopefully.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Not Racist So Much As. . .

Professional Chatterers and bloggers have been going on for a couple of weeks now about whether attacks on President Obama are motivated by race. Pretty much every news1 story about opposition to Obama includes the question now, though the answer varies. Obama in a show of sportsmanship says it's not about race. Liberals are unmollified. Etc.

I submit that the venom directed at Obama is related to race in the same way that the full political contact directed at Hillary Clinton in the primary and the derision of Sarah Palin in the general are related to sexism. Which is to say that, all other things being equal, a whole lot of that negativity would have been directed against its subjects regardless of group identification, BUT that the passions involved allow various unpretty isms to come to the surface as well.

If, for example, Bill Clinton had an accomplished, RFK-type brother who ran as the establishment favorite against Obama, the Obama faithful would have pushed back. Hard. If John McCain had picked a half-term governor from a small western state who exhibited a Palinesqe difficulty with putting together a diagrammable sentence, that running mate would have been fodder for lefty bloggers and late night comics. In both cases the pushback/sport occaisionally crossed the line into sexist ugliness, but it wasn't initially caused by sexism.

That sound you hear is your False Moral Equivalency alarm going off, and rightly so. I don't mean to suggest that the opposition to Obama is the same as that of opposition to Sec. Clinton and it certainly is nothing like the criticism of Palin.2. The flaying of Obama by the right wing is far more venomous, delusional and histrionic than anything that happened in the campaign. My point, rather, is that a white President as liberal as Obama who made the same policy choices as Obama would face a nearly identically venomous, delusional and histrionic flaying. Obama's race didn't drive the far right crazy. They have been that crazy for a while and Obama just walked into it.

A couple of weeks ago during the usual All Things Considered Friday tete-a-tete between David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, Brooks implored Dionne to distinguish between "the responsible right and the Death Panel Right." Sadly, Dionne let him get away with it, failing point out that the Death Panel Right has all but entirely subsumed the right wing in American politics. Serial nut job Glennnn Beccckk hosts the highest-rated show on Fox. Conservative talk radio and conservative media are overrun with birthers, deathers and adherents to every other wack job paranoia. As far as I can tell, the Responsible Right currently consists of Brooks, Joe Scarborough and a nice kid in my Judicial Process class.

I can't claim to have predicted all of this, but none of it has surprised me. Recall that long before he was impeached, conservative mainstays were pushing the most outrageous fictions about Bill Clinton. In the age of Limbaugh, it's not enough to win and argument; a political foe must be destroyed utterly. The Limbaugh construct is that Liberals are not merely wrong, they are corrupt, disloyal, conniving, and evil. They want to take your guns, tax you into poverty, convert your son to Islam and send your daughter's rapist to midnight basketball.

That rising strain of right wing thought took over entirely during the Bush Administrations. Writers and talkers like Michael Savage and Ann Coulter trafficked in such bile with nary of rebuke from anyone on the increasingly marginalized Responsible Right. While many factors account for the re-emergence of a Democratic majority -- scandals, fatigue and the sheer incompetence of George W. Bush among them -- the fact that so many self-proclaimed standard bearers for the political right are patently wet-hen, March-hare, batshit crazy.

While the bulk of the electorate has turned away from it all, decades-long loyal consumers have been primed to lose their minds if ever a Democrat won the Presidency again. In a way it's a little silly to imagine racism as a dominant factor in all of this. The Limbaugh Nation has been eating double helpings of CrazyFlakes for breakfast every day for decades now, and we're brought up short that they seem a tad unbalanced? Really? And think it's because of race? Really?

Raising race as a prime motivator offers an implied false sense of hope; if only we can get past this race thing, we will smooth out some of these harsh divisions. In fact, what we are seeing is the inevitable result of a generation of conservatives brought up on the belief that politics is a death sport and political power is their divine right. It's bad for the country, and it's not going away any time soon.

1I'm not including Fox here; an unnecessary clarification unless you are one of those misbegotten souls who mistakes things on Fox for "news." In which case you may have wandered into the wrong blog by mistake.

2I expect this view would be shared by all but the most rabid Palinistas. If this describes you, please see note 1 infra.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2010 and the Budget

Yesterday's papers reported two stories that lay out much of the discussion for next year's gubernatorial election. In the first, social service advocates and providers and union officials are expressing dissatisfaction with the Strickland administration (from the Dispatch).

    Some of the Democratic governor's staunchest supporters, particularly leaders of social-service agencies, said their view of Strickland has been altered by the two-year, $50.5 billion budget he signed into law July 17. They concede that their enthusiasm for his re-election has waned.
Which is a worry in the sense that these folks may not go all out in the next election. It's unlikely any of these core constituencies will defect to Kasich. And he's not exactly throwing open the flaps of a big tent:
    Kasich said he has a record during his 18 years in Congress of being willing to work with advocates. But he also warned that Ohio needs major reforms, including in the social services.

    "We can't let people who are vulnerable end up in the ditch," he said. "But I also have to tell you that we face a crisis, and we're going to have to stabilize things and there'll be nobody that is going to be a favored son."
This is less a play for those constituencies than reassuring the Republican base. Translation: You can vote for me and maybe not be completely shut out of the process, but remember that I'll answer to my actual business/social conservative/small government ideologue constituencies first and foremost.

And what does that base want? That brings us to the second story. House Republicans spent yesterday rolling out their version of an economic development package (from the PD).
    The Republicans offered up bills that would establish new tax credits, create a low-interest loan program for small businesses, allow local governments to put ballot issues up that would chop estate taxes and track exactly why exiting businesses are leaving Ohio.

    But Republicans were short on details, refusing to offer a ballpark estimate for the cost of their tax credit packages. House Minority Leader Bill Batchelder, a Medina Republican, said in an interview that most of the tax credits would pay for themselves through job creation. He also said a government reorganization plan touted by Republicans could fund the initiatives.
We have heard this before. In 2005 the General Assembly overhauled the tax code, scrapping the business personal property tax, replacing the mess of a business franchise tax with a dubious but undeniably simpler Commercial Activities Tax and setting down a schedule of personal income tax cuts. And they said that this would solve all of Ohio's economic problems. And would pay for itself with all the growth it would generate.

Kasich's vague mention of "reforms" on the spending side offers help if you ignore the vagueness. It's true that Strickland has disappointingly wasted the budget crisis. He could have used it as an impetus to push through some much needed reforms and didn't. But those battles are tough on either side, and it's unlikely the Republicans would be willing or able to institute reforms now that they didn't accomplish during their decade plus of hegemony.

And this is the dilemma facing Kasich. The dissatisfaction directed at the Governor is real. But the only policies his party would allow would only deepen that dissatisfaction.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Deeper Meaning in Akron Primary Results: Ward 8

Ward 8

First off, since posting last night I've been confronted with evidence that my assessment of Sandra Kurt's volunteer corps was off. I was out of town over the weekend and apparently they made themselves known with canvassing and live calling. Hers was the only campaign we got a live call from. She also had plenty of money and hit the mail hard as Redhorse notes in comments to my last post. On the other hand, I could have papered a room with the mailers from Bolden and Padilla as well. In the end, an appealing message plus lots of shoe leather worked.

And the result was an overwhelming victory. In a five-way race (OK, one candidate managed 37 votes, but still) she garnered almost half the total votes.

In a way Sandra's victory is a victory for identity politics. In the post-racial age of Obama, we're supposedly beyond voting based on group identification. But Sandra wasn't afraid to say that she is part of constituency that is very important in Akron politics but long neglected on Council.

I'm talking, of course, about engineers. Sandra's victory is a victory for Engineering-Americans everywhere.

OK seriously. Her identification of her profession with her problem-solving approach was a nice bit of messaging. It also had the happy effect of making her candidacy about her being a good candidate, not about prospectively being the first openly gay member of Council. This could be the way identity plays in politics. Identity motivates a base and members of the community rightly take pride in milestones. But the candidacy itself is judged on merits, not trail-blazing. Identity is more of a sidebar than the story.

Not to say this will be a seamless transition. For example, the picture accompanying the Ohio.com story is captioned "Sandra Kurt (right) laughs with volunteer Tina Jarosch (left) and campaign manager Shelley McConnell as they celebrate Kurt's victory" Well, OK Tina certainly volunteered, but she is also Sandra's spouse -- at least in eyes of the State of Iowa. Did the ABJ just miss that? Hard to imagine the paper not learning the spouse of a straight candidate to avoid a similar mistake. Did they take into account the fact that the State of Ohio doesn't recognize the marriage? And if so, is that a proper stance for the paper to take?

I don't mean to say that ABJ is bad, bad, bad. Just acknowledging that the media will have a learning curve when covering officials who are not only out, but also either married or civilly united.

Meanwhile, there were other candidates in the field. I hope we haven't heard the last of Bruce Bolden and Will Padilla. Both are good guys with solid credentials and a real desire for public service. Unfortunately, there was room for only one at the top.

I also hope that Raymond House will take from his experience some knowledge or real-world governance. His time on Council was pretty much a rumor to those of us living in the ward. If he had reached out to constituents early and maintained contact during the campaign, he likely would have gotten the nomination -- he certainly wouldn't have finished third out of five. It's hard for academics to appreciate the importance of retail politics. Hopefully Cox has learned it, if too late.

Linkage: WKSU story here. ANN, including interview w/Sandra here. Official canvass at BoE here.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Rambling Thoughts on Primary Night

Here in Akron we have primaries going for City Council races. While flocks of candidates crowd the ballot, the election actually made only moderate noise, at least in my ward. Raymond Cox sent out a couple of mailers -- and that's pretty much it. A commenter some time ago went off on what a great asset he is to Council. In terms of knowledge, sure. In terms of any kind of constituent contact whatsoever, not so much. Three other candidates burned plenty of shoe leather canvassing. There have been no Ray Cox sightings, at least not by reliable witnesses.

Incumbency certainly means something, but the race I think comes down to Sandra Kurt vs. Bruce Bolden vs. Will Padilla. All three have great qualifications and any one would be a fine representative for the ward. (For that matter, Cox isn't bad, it's just that he doesn't do much and he certainly won't let us know if he does.) I expected a bigger canvassing push from Sandra. She did plenty of work, but I expected more volunteers. Padilla and Bolden did the same. I have no idea how this will turn out.

Unlike Ward 8, the At Large race results will Mean Something. This race, more than the recall, will measure the continuing viability of the Mayor's brand. The lopsided recall result was certainly in part a vote against recalling a mayor absent malfeasance. With three candidates running on a pro-Mayor slate and two competing slates promising to be less Plusquellic-friendly, this race is much more of a test. The administration took some grief when they announced budget shortfalls just after the recall election. Tonight will tell just how badly the Mayor's stock has slipped as a result.

The real surprise this cycle has been the pretty much stillborn campaign of Kelly Mendenhall -- no signs, no mailers, no voter contact I've heard of). Recall that Joe Finley spoke out against the recall, so his slate isn't necessarily alligned with the recall folks (though Citizens for Akron would have you believe differently.) Kelly Mendenhall therefore is the only candidate running under the Team Mulligan banner. Her lackluster campaign suggests that she attracted as much donor interest as the recall did.

Turnout is reported to be light, which isn't a surprise. Things were very quiet at my polling place which houses four precincts.

will be the best place for up-to-date results, though I'm disappointed they aren't streaming video tonight.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What Kind of Democracy, Indeed?

Some time ago, in response to my post endorsing Sandra Kurt for City Council, a commenter posted:

    What kind of a Democracy is it that allows 15 Democrat PC's win the endorsement of the entire Democratic Party?
Wayne in Akron revisted the point with a link to an Eric Mansfield post.

Not for want of trying, I'm having a tough time getting lathered about this. And I think it's not just because a friend of mine has benefited from the process.

The question presented is what sort of criteria the party should have for endorsing a candidate. It shouldn't be a big surprise that at least one criterion is service to the party. As an organization the party wants people who will be loyal soldiers. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. It's like saying "OMG, the Dem House Caucus endorsed all the incumbents!!"

I'm no stranger to criticizing the local party and it's leadership. But in a way I think the fact that Precinct Chairs have gotten endorsements is a potentially more democratic result, given that the Chairs themselves are elected unless no one runs in which case they are appointed. SCPD caused a stir some years back by running in as many PC races as they could. The party establishment wasn't exactly thrilled when a bunch of them won. They didn't take over, but it did highlight at least one way regular folks could demand change within the party.

And by the way it was her involvement in that sort of grassroots insurgency that brough Sandra Kurt to the attention of the party leadership. To their credit they embraced her, her energy and the important constituency she represents. Given some of the other, very fine candidates in Ward 8, Sandra certainly wasn't the "safest" choice, PC or not.

At any rate, in response to the question posed, what kind of democracy is it? A representative one. If you don't like what elected representatives do, you vote them out. But it's rarely a direct democracy. Happily, it's only an endorsement. What really matters is who gets the votes next week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tomorrow in the Akron Legal News

First off, insert the usual self-recriminations and apologies about not posting here. Suffice it to say that my estimate of the time it would take to get back up to speed after vacation, then get myself and the kids ready for school to begin this week for the lot of us was uproariously low.

And in all of that syllabus-revising, class-preparing, orientation-attending chaos I wrote this week's column. I took on the Obama=Hitler trope that has infested our politics. Actually I dialed back to the first round of comparisons during the election. I'm not going to link to any of the idiots that made those arguments, but here is a convenient list.

Back in the day, the nuttier of the wingnuts wrote laughable thumbsuckers about how Obama may be the next Hitler because his supporters like him so much. And he writes books. And stuff. My slant on this is that one of the many many many ways in which the argument is dead flat busted wrong is that it assumes that Hitler looked perfectly alright until he took power. This is, I believe a fairly widespread misconception across the land. The perception seems to be that Hitler was this charismatic guy that people liked because of the charisma and they supported him without really knowing what he was about.

In fact, Hitler's public record made pretty clear that he was that guy all along. He made clear all along that he was an anti-Semite with expansionist plans and dictatorial ambitions. To really draw a parallel, you would have to find a chapter in Audacity of Hope where Obama argues for monoxide for septigenarians.

It irks me in the first instance because people who believe stuff that's demonstrably untrue always irk me. It's why, for example, that I can never walk away from the fight when Troothers show up at the party.

But beyond that, there are real consequences to all this nonsence. If we do allow totalitarianism to take hold in this country, it's far more likely to be in response to some real or perceived threat from an identifiable group. But if someone try to just gently suggest that sweeping generalizations against the Muslim world are not just unseemly but represent the potential first step down a very ugly road, the rightysphere erupts in recrimination about how un-American he/she is.

This is a tricky argument, btw. I'm not arguing either that radical Islam poses no threat or that we shouldn't address that threat. And I'm certainly not arguing that any frank talk about terrorism is analogous to Hitlerism. But if one is realistic about how Hitler used fear of the Other to rise to power, it's clear that we have to be careful about striking a narrow balance.

Anyway, for those with ready access to the News, that's what you'll find tomorrow. And for those of you who don't, feel free to let them know how much you'd like to be able to access my column online and would certainly surf by every other Wednesday to do so it and that by the way you are the type of person who tends to pay outsized attention to internet ads and frequently click though them just in case the sponsors of the fine journalism you are enjoying for free happen to have a good/service that you may want to purchase..

Can't hurt is what I'm thinking.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

City Council Website Updates

While I was out a number of campaign websites went live. OK Kelli Crawford's has been up awhile, but I'm just getting around to updating the sidebar. Anyway, the sidebar is up to date with respect to the campaigns that have contacted me, plus some candidates I have run across. I'm including Facebook groups for those candidates for whom such a group is the only web presence.

I have to say that the project has been made more difficult by the surprising number of candidates who share names with people just that much more famous that Akron politicians.

Search for Joe Finley and the results are swamped by coverage of an NHL hopeful from the University of North Dakota. Ward 8 candidate Bruce Bolden (who still doesn't have a web presence, apparently) shares a name with an Australian basketball player. Search for John Conti and you get lots of hits for John Conti Coffee.

Happily Kelli Crawford is holding her own against Australian kid show performer and mens mag model (!?) Kellie Crawford. And happily I found Mike Williams before needing to Google him.

I'll keep picking at this, but needless to say, if you are working on a campaign with a website, the best way to make sure the site is on the roll is to drop me an email. (Thanks, e.g. to the DiLauro campaign who hit me today.)

I would note that I haven't heard from any Republican candidates and have only found one so far. I'd especially like to see/hear from any R's making a run to break the current hegemony on Council.

Vacation's Over

I didn't have that week of good blogging before heading out of town for two weeks, but we did have a fine vacation. We revisted Chincoteague Island again after going elsewhere last summer.

As is custom, I've brought something for you all. Here's the Chincoteague drawbridge at dusk:

And I shot this lovely couple on the beach:

I have much to catch up on, and so forward.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today in the Akron Legal News -- Nunchucks!

Today's column in the Legal News takes on the nunchuck colloquy during the Sotomayor hearings. If you missed it, the Second Circuit case regarding Second Amendment incorporation considered a New York State ban on nunchucks.

OK, once more in English. The Bill of Rights as written limits only the power of the national government (thus the "Congress shall make no law" language opening the First Amendment.) That changed after the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The 14th, which among other things says that no state can deny life, liberty or property without due process of law, is read as incorporating fundamental rights against the states.

Which is to say, the Due Process Clause doesn't incorporate all of the Bill of Rights. After a certain amount of judicial back and forth (which is virtually impossible to teach coherently to undergrads, thanks very much) the Court worked up a fundamental rights test to determine whether a given right is incorporated. Fundamental rights are those from which all other rights flow, and/or those essential to the concept of ordered liberty. Yes, that's not the most definitive test in the history of American jurisprudence, but it's what we've got.

The newly discovered individual Second Amendment right has yet to be incorporated. Heller v. DC overturned a District of Columbia law which is functionally a Federal law given the special status of the District.

So, back to nunchucks. The 1970s saw a martial arts craze during which nunchucks acquired an inflated reputation as some kind of super weapon. Nunchucks can indeed be effective in hand-to-hand combat, but only in the hands of someone well-schooled in their use. In the column I draw on my own martial arts experience which has taught me little other than how easy it is to ding yourself in the face as you try to learn how to control these things.

Anyway, during the 70s martial arts fad, apparently some gansta types started rocking nunchucks and the New York Assembly responded by banning. The sponsor of the legislation said that they serve no purpose other than to maim or kill. Obviously he never saw this:

Anyway, the New York law was challenged in Maloney v. Cuomo and the Second Circuit held that Heller doesn't apply. In doing so, the court followed a Supreme Court precedent saying that the Second Amendment doesn't apply against the States. My guess is that the precedent will be overturned when an incorporation case comes before the Court, but the Second Circuit's position was that until it is, the precedent controls.

Wingers and Gunnutistanis on the Judiciary Committee tried to make the case that Sotomayor is anti-gun. Which she may or may not be, but in following precedent she was the opposite of the activist judge the Republicans made her out to be.

My point in writing up the nunchucks case is that a) the New York law is foolish and misbegotten and bases on false assumptions about the overwhelming power of nunchucks, but b) the way Heller pegs the Second Amendment right to weapons traditionally used for self-defense makes it hard to argue that the law violates the Second Amendment. We'll see what the Court does, but ruling against the state in Maloney would be an expansion of Heller that could make the right far broader and more unwieldy than Scalia seemed to be bargaining for.

So if you have a chance to pick up the Legal News, that's what you get today. I'll continue to lobby for some online reproduction and continue to occasionally post summaries here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Limited Return Engagement

This week is the week before our annual family summer vacation. Generally I have access to The Internets during vacation, but utilize it sparingly. We're in one of those unplanned and unannounced periods of blog silence which I'm ending now so as not to extend it to further absurd dimensions. As usual I don't have much explanation except that if I get out of the blogging groove for a few days it's hard to get back in. And it's really easy to get out of that groove in the kid-intensive summer months.

So I'm back for the time being. Of course I don't have much to talk about tonight. But starting tomorrow I'll get something substantive down.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Akron Candidates Roll Is Up

As promised I've added a list of candidates with websites at left (third list down.) After my last post about the races I've been contacted by Will Padilla who is running in the crowded Ward 8 primary (site of the House of Pho) and Lisa Mansfield who is running for school board.

Will Padilla has a nice site up and a fine looking resume. It will be hard to make headway in such a crowded field, but he will be someone to watch in the future.

Lisa Mansfield also has a Friends of group on Facebook and is twittering -- you can find those links on the website/blog which is a work in progress.

As the season wears on and sites go live I'll add to the list. I check every once in a while but someone who wants to be added should drop a line to be sure.

R.I.P Judge Linda Kersker

Linda Kersker passed away last evening in Cleveland Clinic after falling ill at a judicial fundraiser Tuesday night.

I had gotten to know Linda when she was on the School Board and I was doing the public education advocacy thing. She could have given my little group of community advocates a cold shoulder -- after all she was a School Board member and a big firm partner. But she welcomed us to the cause, offering help and encouragement as we did what we could.

She was all energy, flying in every direction. If you got her going on one of her passions, she would start talking a mile a minute, pausing only to congratulate a passing friend on a great (though unsuccessful) campaign.

She lent her passion and intelligence to the Akron School Board for 16 years at no small professional cost -- her firm could not take cases involving APS during that time. Her community service continued this past spring when Gov. Strickland appointed her to one of the vacant seats on the Municipal Court. Sadly she was able to enjoy the new chapter only briefly.

Thoughts and prayers to her friends and family.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why the Marburger Plan to Save Newspapers Won't Actually Save Newspapers

Yesterday we looked over the so-called Marburger proposal to allow newspapers (and presumably other content providers) to sue news aggregators for unjust enrichment. Since that post I've seen a couple others talking about monopoly of information, so I say again -- the Marburger plan would only protect reporter work product, not the information itself. If a reporter can obtain the same information independently, the cause of action should fail. (Accent on should -- the Marburgers do not entertain the possibility that the cause of action will drift and morph beyond what they envision, but that's another post.)

Before we get started on the problems with the proposal, a couple of caveats. First off, what I know about the newspaper business is what I read. Same with some internet use patterns. The difference between what lies below and what the Marburgers have done is that I have paid attention to things they haven't. Again I restate my central objection -- the Marburgers prove propositions with thought experiments that should be tested with data.

Finally a couple of links that got left off of yesterday's post. First off, Editor and Publisher covers the proposal, but with no critical comment. New media guy Marc Cantor weighs in with ideas about what the newspapers themselves can do to maintain an audience. (h/t Brewed Fresh.) A piece from the UK looks at the Marburger plan in the context of the far more draconian proposal from Judge Richard Posner to give papers intellectual property rights over their links. And if you really wanna get geeky wit it, here's a Coase Theorem treatment of the Posner idea. There has also been more dogpiling on Connie Schultz from various blogs. You can look through the links in yesterday's post and extrapolate if you really want to see more of that sort of thing.

Now on to the show.

Marburger Cures the Wrong Disease.

My biggest objection to Marburger (for want of another name, this is what we'll call it) is that it assumes that the gravest threat to newspapers is losing readers. While papers have lost readers steadily throughout the Twentieth Century due to competing media (radio was killing off papers long before the internets) the precipitous drop in revenues has happened on the advertising side.

Advertisers have been migrating steadily to online sources that have nothing to do with newspapers. This is particularly true of classified advertising which has traditionally been an indespensible revenue stream for newspapers -- up to 70% of profits. Craigslist has done the most damage, but Monster, Cars.com and for that matter Ebay have all taken away business that newspapers once dominated. As a result, classified revenues have dropped by half since 2000. Analysts like Lauren Rich Fine (that's the source of the 70% figure) have been warning for years that newspapers cannot survive ad revenue losses of this magnitude.

Online classified services offer advantages that newspapers cannot match. If you are paying for a newspaper classified, you are subsidizing that news gathering operation whose expense the Marburgers so persuasively described. Your cost is based on total circulation, despite the fact that only a tiny percentage of those readers are likely to have any interest in your ad. With online classifieds, on the other hand, every pair of eyes that wanders into the site is at least in the market for something along the lines of what you want to advertise. No one goes onto Cars.com to read about Michael Jackson's kids. They go to buy a car.

(By the way I have a theory that computer-based advertizing is a general danger to both content providers and content consumers. Advertizing is generally really inefficient. Again only a tiny percentage of whoever sees an ad has an interest in the subject of the ad. As computerization allows greater targeting, advertizing becomes more efficient. The more efficient it is, the less businesses have to buy it.)

Marburger does nothing about the loss of classified advertising. By their admission, they are talking about marginal increases in traffic. But traffic doesn't matter if it doesn't attract advertizing.

Curing the Wrong Disease, Part 2 -- Problems in Monitizing Websites.

The Marburgers would no doubt object that online ad pricing is dictated by traffic, which is true. But its not like newspaper website advertising was profitable, then the profits started to erode due to unfair competition from aggregators.

The fact is that it's really difficult to sell enough advertising to support web-based journalism. There isn't as much real estate on a web page (versus print where, among other things, you have facing pages that don't have an analog online). And people can block ads. And web advertising is still working to overcome a past rife with charlatans (remember the commercial about the poor sap who shot the duck in the banner ad?)

And of course news organizations are competing with sites that allow better targeting (see above.)

Over time, changes in technology may make monitizing online content easier (the rise in video allows commercials that you can't fwd past) or harder (written content on mobile web allows pretty much no space for ads). But between the loss of advertizing to other providers and the basic difficulty of paying for journalism with online ads, the newspapers are facing an inevitable decline that tinkering with intellectual property will not fix.

That said, the free rider effect that the Marburgers identify is the sort of thing that lawyers should seek a remedy for. Whether the Marburgers have correctly identified that effect and whether their proposal would provide an adequate remedy is another question.