Sunday, December 19, 2010

Last Call

I wouldn't call the shift of six electoral college seats from Obama to McCain in the new census a "dramatic shift" towards GOP dominance, but at the state level it's going to make things harder for Democrats for the next decade.

The biggest gainer will be Texas, a GOP-dominated state expected to gain up to four new House seats, for a total of 36. The chief losers — New York and Ohio, each projected by nongovernment analysts to lose two seats — were carried by Obama in 2008 and are typical of states in the Northeast and Midwest that are declining in political influence.

Democrats' problems don't end there.

November's elections put Republicans in control of dozens of state legislatures and governorships, just as states prepare to redraw their congressional and legislative district maps. It's often a brutally partisan process, and Republicans' control in those states will enable them to create new districts to their liking.

The combination of population shifts and the recent election results could make Obama's re-election campaign more difficult. Each House seat represents an electoral vote in the presidential election process, giving more weight to states Obama probably will lose in 2012. The states he carried in 2008 are projected to lose, on balance, six electoral votes to states that his GOP challenger, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, won. That sets a higher bar for Obama before his re-election campaign even starts.

"The way the maps have shifted have made Obama's route to success much more difficult," said Republican Party spokesman Doug Heye. He said the GOP takeover of several state governments on the eve of redistricting efforts was "a dramatic shift."

Republicans now control the governor's offices and both legislative chambers in competitive presidential states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Maine and Wisconsin. They hold the governors' chairs in other crucial states, including Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and Iowa.

When Obama carried those states in 2008, most had Democratic governors happy to lend their political operations to his cause. Now he will run where governors can bend their powers against his administration's policies and his campaign's strategies.

Democratic Party spokesman Brad Woodhouse said his colleagues are aware of the challenges they face, "but we are putting a plan in place to maximize our opportunities, minimize potential setbacks and ensure that the process in each state is fair and done in accordance with the law."

In other words, expect Democrats to put up some resistance to the redistricting plans in blood red states.  The bad news?  In states like Texas and Florida, the GOP has a supermajority in the state legislature, meaning that Democrats may not be able to do a damn thing about it.

It's going to be a hard road.  We're going to see some crazy legislation come out of Florida, Texas, and other Southern and Southwestern states.  Something tells me not everyone there is going to be particularly happy with one-party rule and it's very possible that the Republicans will go way over the line.

But they will push the political debate further to the right in America as they do it, and will continue to do so.  And it's going to be extremely difficult to push back.

I Fight For The Users

Got to see Tron Legacy today.

Good times if you're a Tron fan. Maybe a bit too much effort to rope in all the references possible to the original film, but its heart is in the right place, and it's a beautiful movie visually.

The original film, well back in 1982 Zandardad was five years younger than I am now when he saw it. Made a geek out of him, and when I saw it (and nearly wore out the new VHS recorder and the tape of it as a result) he noticed how my eyes lit up and knew I was going to be a geek too.

Pop was a pretty fair lightcycle driver back in the day too. Never passed up an opportunity to play the Tron arcade game when he could. I was a Marble Madness and Mappy man myself at the tender age of 7, but Pop? Tron was his game, and he was good. We'd go with my younger brother and hit the arcade at the mall on weekends. Pop's specialties were Hat Trick and Tron.

Didn't take long for the family to end up with a C64 and me with a Basic For Kids workbook and a subscription to Compute's Gazette in 1984, and the rest was history.

"I fight for the users" pretty much sums up Zandardad. More than a little Kevin Flynn in him, always wanting to help the little guy. The older Kevin Flynn, still played by Jeff Bridges in the movie, is a somewhat more of a Zen hippie than my practical father, but Flynn's gray beard is identical to the one my father sports. The older Flynn's motto, "Remove your self from the equation" is more than a bit of my father as well.

Flynn's son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), well there are more than a couple similarities. Painfully intelligent but a slacker more worried about the idea than the execution, not quite ready to be in his father's impressive shadow, Sam and Kevin Flynn along with program Quorra (Olivia Wilde) are searching for a way to take back the digital world from Flynn's creation, Clu (a younger, digitized Bridges) whose quest for perfection has of course turned him into the very tyrant he and Flynn set out to stop.

Will the film create a new generation of computer geeks? Maybe. It's a good film, but tries too hard, the Windows Vista to Tron's dependable, legendary Windows 2000. It doesn't quite get it right, but it's still pretty nice and worth giving it a look.

Your inner 7 year old geek kid will enjoy it. The older you? Well, let the kid enjoy themselves and you'll be okay.

A Gay Old Time At The White House

MoDo The Red sobers up enough to ask Rep. Barney Frank if America's ready for a gay President.  The running joke is we've already had at least one.  As far as an openly gay President?  Let's just say I agree with Frank that I wouldn't count on that happening as a Republican.

I called Barney Frank, assuming the gay pioneer would be optimistic. He wasn’t. “It’s one thing to have a gay person in the abstract,” he said. “It’s another to see that person as part of a living, breathing couple. How would a gay presidential candidate have a celebratory kiss with his partner after winning the New Hampshire primary? The sight of two women kissing has not been as distressful to people as the sight of two men kissing.”
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, he added, “it’s not clear that a gay president could use federal funds to buy his husband dinner. Would his partner have to pay rent in the White House? There would be no Secret Service protection for the paramour.”
Frank noted that we’ve “clearly had one gay president already, James Buchanan. If I had to pick one, it wouldn’t be him.” (The Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan aims higher, citing Abe Lincoln, who sometimes bundled with his military bodyguard in bed when his wife was away.)
Frank said that although most Republicans now acknowledge that sexual orientation is not a choice, they still can’t handle their pols’ coming out. “There are Republicans here who are gay,” he said of Congress, “but as long as they don’t acknowledge it, it’s O.K. Republicans only tolerate you being gay as long as you don’t seem proud of it. You’ve got to be apologetic.” 

The four openly gay members of Congress are all Democratic House members (Jared Polis will be sworn in in January as #4).  Rumor has it there are at least that many closeted members on the GOP side (I leave that speculation to Howie Klein) but Frank has a point:  no gay President would be tolerated by today's Republicans.

I don't think it's a matter of if America's ready, but if Republicans are...and the answer to that is "not for at least another generation."  Having said that...we did just elect the nation's first non-white President.

I don't think it will happen in my lifetime, unfortunately.

Ebony And Ivory Coast

Meanwhile in other world news, the country of Ivory Coast is just the latest in a long string of African nations embroiled in conflict and misery.  The UN is reporting thousands are fleeing the country ahead of a looming larger war.

The disputed presidential election outcome between opposition leader Alassane Ouattara and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has threatened to derail a fragile peace process in the west African nation.

The renewed refugee flow has also put neighboring Liberia and Guinea on high alert.

"In my village the majority voted massively for President Laurent Gbagbo, and [the New Forces soldiers] threatened us because of that. They came to our houses and started to harass us, to mistreat us," said Jean-Jacques Issignate, 19, from Nyale, an Ivorian village along the Guinea border. "We fled to the forest ... I spent one week in the forest."

Provisional results from a November presidential runoff intended to end more than 10 years of civil war showed Ouattara as the winner with a nearly eight-point margin.

Earlier this month, the nation's highest court, headed by an ally of Gbagbo, canceled thousands of votes from the north -- Ouattara's stronghold -- and declared Gbagbo the winner with 51 percent of the vote.

Oldest story in the book it seems:  the not-so-peaceful transition of power.   The international community is backing Ouattara's bid for the country's presidency, but Gbagbo isn't going to give up without a fight, and that's why everyone's getting out of the way before the inevitable UN action puts yet another fire zone on the map.  No doubt the conflict will draw the usual mercs and warlords looking to make a name for themselves, and these days who knows what private military companies may get involved here as we head into 2011.

What I do know is that most likely, things are going to get a lot bloodier here and soon.

Korean-ing Off The Rails, Part 3

The UN Security Council is finally getting around to talking about the scary prospect of the resumption of hostilities between the two Koreas, and what the rest of the international community can do (IE, the US and China) to stop that from happening.  The problem is South Korea's live fire exercise drills this weekend, with North Korea promising retaliation if the South goes through with them.

As the U.N. Security Council prepared to convene Sunday morning to hold an emergency session concerning tensions on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea reiterated that it will go forward with live-fire military drills this week.

The drills will take place Monday or Tuesday in the Yellow Sea off Yeonpyeong Island, the state-run Yonhap news agency reported, citing a military official. Tensions between the two Koreas have been high since the North fired upon the island last month, killing two marines and two civilians.
"The planned firing drill is part of the usual exercises conducted by our troops based on Yeonpyeong Island. The drill can be justifiable, as it will occur within our territorial waters," the official said.
The military said Thursday that the exercises would take place in the seas southwest of the island between December 18 and 21, but adverse weather forced a delay Saturday.
North Korea has warned of serious consequences if the drill goes on as planned, but it won't deter the South Koreans, the official said. China and Russia have asked South Korea to reconsider.
"We won't take into consideration North Korean threats and diplomatic situations before holding the live-fire drill. If weather permits, it will be held as scheduled," the military official said.
In response to the South's decision, Russia called for the emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, set for Sunday morning. The meeting was slated to begin at 11 a.m. ET.

South Korea is definitely the aggrieved party here in this mess, and asking them to play nice isn't going to work unless they can show some sort of game face.  It's clear there's a real problem here, and North Korea isn't exactly the most stable of nations.  South Korea will go ahead, hence the meeting about what will be next.

If anyone is interested in keeping this mess from blowing up, it's China.  You'd figure they'd be taking the lead on this, but it looks like Russia and the US are the most active nations on the Korean front right now.  We'll see how it goes.

The Business Of The Roberts Court Is Business

No Supreme Court in history it seems has been as beholden to the business community as the Roberts Court.  The NY Times' Adam Liptak takes a look at the relationship between the court and the most influential filer of amicus briefs as of late:  the US Chamber of Commerce.  Indeed, more and more corporate law is ending up before SCOTUS, and that means more and more corporate legal teams are including veteran litigants who have gone before the court before and know how to play the game.  It's a game they are winning.

The chamber now files briefs in most major business cases. The side it supported in the last term won 13 of 16 cases. Six of those were decided with a majority vote of five justices, and five of those decisions favored the chamber’s side. One of the them was Citizens United, in which the chamber successfully urged the court to guarantee what it called “free corporate speech” by lifting restrictions on campaign spending.

The chamber’s success rate is but one indication of the Roberts court’s leanings on business issues. A new study, prepared for The New York Times by scholars at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, analyzed some 1,450 decisions since 1953. It showed that the percentage of business cases on the Supreme Court docket has grown in the Roberts years, as has the percentage of cases won by business interests.

The Roberts court, which has completed five terms, ruled for business interests 61 percent of the time, compared with 46 percent in the last five years of the court led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who died in 2005, and 42 percent by all courts since 1953.

Those differences are statistically significant, the study found. It was prepared by Lee Epstein, a political scientist at Northwestern’s law school; William M. Landes, an economist at the University of Chicago; and Judge Richard A. Posner, who serves on the federal appeals court in Chicago and teaches law at the University of Chicago.

The Roberts court’s engagement with business issues has risen along with the emergence of a breed of lawyers specializing in Supreme Court advocacy, many of them veterans of the United States solicitor general’s office, which represents the federal government in the court.

These specialists have been extraordinarily successful, both in persuading the court to hear business cases and to rule in favor of their clients. The Supreme Court’s business docket has stayed active in the current term, which began in October. In a single week this month, the court heard arguments in a case brought by the chamber challenging an Arizona law that imposes penalties on companies that hire illegal workers, and it agreed to hear two cases that could reshape class-action and environmental law.

This relationship, business law through the Supreme Court, has been the core of Roberts Court precedent.  Never before has the corporate community been given such a powerful voice in the judicial.  It's one of the main reasons I actually think the insurance mandate will pass constitutional muster:  the health insurance companies and the Chamber want it.  At the same time, we've already seen the price that the country s paying for decisions like Citizens United.

This court has repeatedly come down in favor of business over people, and it will continue to reshape America in that image for decades to come.
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