Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What the Republican Party Did Wrong

I got involved in yet another political discussion on Facebook with a friend who was a Romney supporter and is a libertarian, and strangely enough my comments, even without the posts they are responding to, will make for what I think is a fairly interesting blog entry, so here it is after the jump (with some minor amendments for clarity):

Thursday, June 28, 2012

America is Not the Greatest Nation in the World

"So when you ask me what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the $%*@ you’re talking about; Yosemite? . . . It sure used to be.  We stood up for what was right.  We fought for moral reasons; we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons; we waged wars on poverty, not poor people.  We sacrificed; we cared about our neighbors; we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.  We built great, big things; made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy.  We reached for the stars; acted like men.  We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it.  It didn’t make us feel inferior.  We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t…we didn’t scare so easy.  We were able to be all these things and do these things because we were informed, by great men; men who were revered.  The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one.  America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.  Enough?"

Before I elaborate, I must attribute.  This quote comes from the new HBO series "The Newsroom," which premiered Sunday.  You can watch the first episode here for free (note that the episode is no longer available for free), and you absolutely should.  Now.  It's okay, I'll wait. When you get back, I'll talk more about this after the jump:

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Blast From the Past: Retro Blog Posting (June 29, 2006)

I was wandering around my old MySpace page, and I stumbled on a blog I used to keep before law school. I discovered an interesting post from 2006, that I'd like to share with you after the jump:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is Car Manufacturing Moving West?

Tesla Motors handed over the first of its Model S luxury sedans yesterday. These first ones cost a pretty penny, of course, coming in at around $100,000 apiece, but the mainstream Model S, while still pricey, will be slightly lower in cost, and they're planning on putting out a $30,000 car very soon.

I've been following Tesla Motors since I heard about the Tesla Roadster, which is an absolutely beautiful sports car that costs less than my law degree, so doesn't seem all that expensive. Frankly, very little (except housing) seems expensive to me these days, which may or may not be a bad thing.

Anyway, I'm glad that we're getting fully-electric cars on the road. They're no panacaea for the environment, of course, because most of our electricity currently comes from environmentally-damaging sources, but they are an important first step. It is so much easier to change the environmental impact of the energy production at the source rather than at the consumption end.

Now all we need is for the market pressure to build to the point where we can erect a nationwide electrical infrastructure that will allow these vehicles to leave California effectively. Something like this, only in a country much larger than Israel.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cheers to you, Debbe Ebben.

This article about the winner of the Miss Alaska contest really shows us that beauty is beauty, and it is expressed more in deeds than in words, style, or fashion choices. Say what you want about the Miss America pageant, but you can't deny that the dedication to public service these women show is truly inspiring. I have the pleasure of knowing a former Miss America contestant personally, and I can say with no exaggeration that she is more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside.

An Open Letter to Senator John Thune

I just read Senator Thune's opinion post on which is basically just a campaign advertisement for Mitt Romney and Republican candidates for Congress. For background, Thune is a Senator from South Dakota, and is the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

"It doesn't take an economist to realize the president's economic policies have spectacularly failed to make things better." - John Thune

But, Senator Thune, it probably does take an economist to realize whether the President's economic policies have succeeded in preventing things from getting worse. Let's hear from one.

I don't think it's fair to lay the blame for the nation's economic woes on any President, though. The President is just one of many actors in the complex web of the American government, a system that is specifically designed to make meaningful changes impossible. Obama took office pledging to change things in Washington, and I don't think anyone can reasonably argue that he hasn't failed at least a little bit on that front, but one person (or even an entire party) cannot change the nature of the debate on Capitol Hill unilaterally.

So okay, he hasn't changed the nature of the debate on Capitol Hill. Fine. But that doesn't mean his Presidency has been a failure. Democratic policies have been opposed almost unanimously by Republicans in Congress from the very beginning of 2009. It's not surprising that they haven't succeeded in everything they set out to do.

That being said, Obama has a pretty decent track record when it comes to his campaign promises. According to this Pulitzer prize-winning website, out of 508 campaign promises, Obama has only broken 71, or roughly 14%. He has affirmatively kept 187, or roughly 37%, and has compromised with his opponents with respect to 62, or roughly 12%. The remaining 188 are either currently stalled in Congress or in the works. And, of course, not all the broken promises are the result of a failure on the part of the President, unless failing to convince Congress or the public that it is a good idea is a failure on the part of the President.

But okay, that's fine. Senator Thune is expressing his opinion. His opinion is that the Obama Presidency has been a failure. So naturally, "It's time to try something new." Great. I like new things. What would you suggest, Senator?

Senator Thune: "First, we need to ensure businesses are confident enough to expand and hire more workers. That means stopping the job-killing regulations that are strangling small businesses and reforming our burdensome and complicated tax code to fuel economic growth. It also means stopping a large tax increase, which is scheduled to hit next year unless Congress acts. The threat of this massive tax hike is creating serious economic uncertainty and discouraging companies from hiring more workers."

But Senator, isn't that what we were doing at the beginning of this century? This isn't new...this is more of the same. It's just more of the same Republican BS instead of the Democratic BS. You don't want something new. You want your old policies back. What else have you got, Senator?

Senator Thune: "We can create tens of thousands of new American jobs by encouraging the development of America's vast energy resources and supporting truly shovel-ready projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, which would create an estimated 20,000 jobs, according to TransCanada, while boosting domestic energy production."

Oh, cool. So you're going to support wind and solar production in the Southwest? How about upgrades to our electrical infrastructure so we can move the production of energy away from the consumption of energy and make everyone safer and healthier? Oh, I just saw the last half of your sentence. You just want to drill for more oil, huh? Okay Sarah Palin. So that's just more old stuff from 2008 again, huh? Anything else?

Senator Thune: "We also need to protect jobs by repealing the president's health care law, which is driving up health care costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire workers. The director of the Congressional Budget Office testified that the health care law will mean 800,000 fewer jobs over the next decade. Those are jobs Americans can't afford to lose."

You don't want businesses to have to bear the burden of health care for their employees? Me neither! You think that'll encourage more employee hiring? You're probably right. But who's going to pay the bills for all the uninsured people, then? Surely you have a plan whereby all of those bills are covered by an entity with vast market power to allow strong negotiation with the healthcare industry regarding costs and expenses? What did I have in mind? I don't companies could do it if everyone had insurance, but you want to repeal that part. Okay, how about the government? Single payer has always been the liberal goal anyway. I'm glad you recognize that the compromise we made to get Republicans to sign on doesn't work. Any other ideas?

Senator Thune: "Finally, we need to cut reckless government spending and tackle the mounting debt crisis. America's brightest days are ahead. But if we don't take action soon, our country could end up in the kind of financial disaster Greece and Spain are facing. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay for Washington's inability to stick to a budget. We owe it to the next generation to leave the country better than we found it."

Umm, Senator Thune, maybe you need to see this article again.

As an afterthought, I figured I'd mention that neither side of the political argument has everything right about what's wrong with the country and how to fix it. Here's a good crash course. The trick is figuring out how we get the lumbering behemoth that is the United States government to make this happen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Japanese Pensioners, I Salute You

I was recently directed to a series of pictures (with descriptions) intended to restore faith in humanity. This series of pictures was very effective, in large part because of this story about a group of Japanese engineers over the age of 60 who volunteered to go into the reactors that were damaged by the earthquakes to make the necessary repairs, in order to prevent younger engineers from having to be exposed to deadly doses of radiation.

It just goes to show you that there is still good in the world, and it comes to the forefront when it is most needed. Here's to you, Japanese pensioners!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Is Barack Obama a Native-Born Citizen of the United States?

Obviously this is a hot topic these days. Voters in Georgia challenged Obama's qualification to run for office earlier this year and, despite the fact that Obama submitted no evidence whatsoever in his case and, in fact, refused to appear at the hearing, their challenge was dismissed. And with good reason. Here is an interesting article about the subject, which I will tear apart in the remainder of this posting.

So that article cites "Top constitutional expert Herb Titus" in support of its proposed definition of "natural-born citizen" to mean someone who is born of two parents who are U.S. citizens. He also claims that a Supreme Court case has definitively held in his favor. This one. As you can see from this brief description (which is an accurate summary of the decision), it holds simply that the Fourteenth Amendment does not guarantee women the right to vote.

Anyone familiar with the Constitution already knows that, though, because if the Fourteenth Amendment did guarantee women the right to vote, there would have been no Nineteenth Amendment. Following is the excerpt from the case that Titus uses (though I have included the entire paragraph, instead of just the sentences I like):

“The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their *168 parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as to the first. For the purposes of this case it is not necessary to solve these doubts. It is sufficient for everything we have now to consider that all children born of citizen parents within the jurisdiction are themselves citizens. The words ‘all children’ are certainly as comprehensive, when used in this connection, as ‘all persons,’ and if females are included in the last they must be in the first. That they are included in the last is not denied. In fact the whole argument of the plaintiffs proceeds upon that idea.” 88 U.S. 162, 168 (Full text, if you're interested)

As you can see, the Court did not actually DECIDE what exactly it takes to be a natural-born citizen. All they decided was that a white woman born within the United States at some point before 1851 was a natural-born citizen because she had been born in the United States to parents who were, themselves, citizens of the United States. This decision was drafted by the Chief Justice at the time, who was not known for being a particularly liberal or expansive legal thinker. If he had intended to limit the scope of natural-born citizenship to only the first class of people discussed, why would he have even brought up other definitions that some experts support?

Specifically, the Court acknowledged that under the common law (which, for clarity, was the judge-made law of England predating the founding of the United States on which much of U.S. law is modeled), “some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference of their parents.” As you know, this is how U.S. citizenship works since the Fourteenth Amendment, which said: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Notwithstanding the fact that Titus is wrong on the law and the case brought in support, let’s look at the implications of his definition of natural-born citizen. If one is not a natural-born citizen unless one is born within the United States to parents who are both citizens of the United States, then it stands to reason that nobody born before 1776 was a natural-born citizen. That means George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison were not natural-born citizens. If that list looks familiar, it should: Those are eight out of the nine first Presidents of the United States. If we define it based on the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, then Martin Van Buren, our eighth President, also fails.

Now, obviously, their Presidencies are saved by that subclause “or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution,” but still, it begs an interesting question: How is it that two people can grant their child a citizenship status that they don’t have themselves? The answer is simple: it's because whether or not a person is a natural-born citizen has nothing to do with his or her parents' citizenship: not inherently, anyway. A child’s citizenship isn’t just the average of his or her parents’ citizenship. A child is a natural-born citizen if he or she is a citizen of the United States upon his or her birth. No other definition makes any sense.

So the Fourteenth Amendment makes it clear that Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen, because he is a “person born . . . in the United States.” John McCain, who was not born in the United States, is also a natural-born citizen, because he was born to two citizen parents. But it isn’t the Constitution that makes him a natural-born citizen; it is federal law, which declares that the child of two citizens, wherever born, is a citizen of the United States unless he or she renounces that citizenship.

If Congress were to pass a law tomorrow declaring that every person born is a citizen of the United States, they could do so, and then in the 2048 election, a 36 year-old up and comer from China, India, or Brazil could storm into the American consciousness and be elected President. Assuming she could garner the votes. Such a decision about citizenship in the United States would have huge political implications for the legislators who passed it, obviously, and it would require a complete restructuring of our tax system (no more taxing foreign income of citizens living abroad), but it's not constitutionally prohibited.

Ultimately, we can't govern ourselves based off what the Founding Fathers wanted. All we can do is look at what they said, and take it for what it is: wise advice from people who were a hell of a lot smarter than most of us.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Future Will Be Spectacular!

Robert Guillaume's character uttered words similar to these in an episode of Sports Night anticipating the Millennium Bug. The rest of the speech was kind of hyperbolic and historically inaccurate, but there's no reason to go into that here.

In 2000, IBM had a fun advertisement with Avery Brooks railing about the fact that it was the year 2000 and the flying cars he had been promised by technologists when he was a child had never materialized. You can watch it here, if you're interested. Ultimately, I think we all understand that flying cars would be much more of a novelty than an actual valuable contribution to society, despite what the Jetsons may have led us to believe, but that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't look at new innovations and products with enthusiasm and optimism.

This article is what inspired me to write this entry, because I think that the grounded approach that John Silence took to predicting future innovations was spot-on then and remains so today. I do think, however, that it's vitally important that we keep in mind the fact that our advances in technology are never going to replace people. Not completely. If they did, it would be the end of humanity; not in a robot apocalypse sense, but rather simply because people need to have a purpose in their lives.

So that's where I'm at now...The future will be spectacular! Once I get there...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Your Session is No Longer Valid

"Your Session is No Longer Valid."  I've been seeing that message a lot the past few days.  It comes from trying to use BarBri's  exam prep software while also playing on the internet and getting distracted for a long time.  Which basically sort of sums up my life, doesn't it?  I spend so much time getting distracted from the things I should be doing, and the distractions aren't even all that entertaining.  I need to work on that.

So the other day, I went to see The Avengers, and while I really enjoyed the film, my favorite part of the entire theater experience that day was the guy sitting in the back who called out at full volume exactly what he thought of each preview.  Most of them received a, "Dude, we totally have to go see that!  Did you see that preview?"  The first time, it was just sort of ridiculous, and I chuckled a little and exchange knowing glances with my friend.  You know, that glance that says, "Get a load of that ridiculous person!"  But then he continued, through each and every preview, until the entire theater (including myself) was laughing with him.  And it all quieted down when the movie actually started, so all in all it was a great experience.

My bar exam prep course starts on Tuesday.  I've begun doing some of the stuff to get started preparing, mostly because the fun things I want to do cost money and I'm trying to save.  I spent a couple hours yesterday sitting on a bench at Grand Army Plaza reading through the material.  It's a little frustrating to be "done with school" and yet still need to spend a couple months studying and preparing for yet another exam...possibly the most important exam of my life (certainly one I'm treating as more important than any other exam I've taken).  But I can see the horizon, and it is fast-approaching.

Oh, and I won a caption contest in a forum game, so that's pretty cool, too.

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Musings on Thirty-Three Months in New York

This summer I find myself having come full-circle.  I came to New York with barely two pennies to scrape together (and really, why would you want to scrape together pennies, anyway?), and now I find myself in a similar situation.

The difference now is that I have two things now that I didn't have then: a law degree (well, almost - grades for graduates are due Friday, and graduation is in two weeks) and six figures of student loan debt (my student loan debt increased by an order of magnitude over the last three years).

I left a comfortable (though hardly lucrative) position at a popular restaurant in my home town to move to New York to find something better.  And now I see myself contemplating applying for similar positions here.  They'd probably pay more than I was getting back home, but everything is so much more expensive here, I doubt that my position would be any more secure than it was then.

Hopefully after the bar exam (which I intend to pass on the first try), things will start looking up, but right now the horizon is cloudy and storms are brewing.

Wish me luck!

This blog will be updated at least twice weekly, and will consist of personal stories, reviews of restaurants and shows, and political commentary.  I'll think about splitting  the different parts into different blogs if I have enough to say, and we'll see how things go from here.