Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Palin poetry

Sheer brilliance from John Lundberg of HuffingtonPost.com (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-lundberg/sarah-palin-the-anti-poet_b_237935.html) explaining that Sarah Palin's inexplicable folksy style of speaking isn't a combination of a lack of education and desire to convey programmed talking points, it's poetry. Poetry!

The scary thing is, he might be right.


Watching Sarah Palin resign the other week, I remembered how frustrating it is to listen to her speak. She uses simple words, but combines them into a fog that's hard to penetrate, out of which a few political clich├ęs like "freedom" and "reform" appear. Most politicians, of course, obfuscate to some degree, but Palin is a master, and she does it constantly. Look at how she turns a simple statement into a mind-numbing puzzle (this is from Hart Seely's terrific collection of found poems taken from actual Sarah Palin quotes):

You know,
Small mayors,
Mayors of small towns--
Quote, unquote--
They're on the front lines.

A quick analysis reveals why understanding Palin can be such a challenge. She follows a folksy "you know" with a clear misstatement--"small mayors"--which she follows with a clarification, which she then amends with the inexplicable "quote, unquote." By the time she gets to her point--that small town mayors are on the front lines (which she could have simply said)--one is too bogged down in misstatements, repetitions, poor syntax and folksiness to know what to think. This is, no doubt, why her interviewers often look a bit stunned, jaw slightly agape, when Palin finishes answering a question: they don't have a clear idea of what she said.

When you extend Palin's speaking style (if it's even a style) to a more complex issue like the bailout, it becomes a sort of verbal Armageddon. Here's another found poem by Seely called "On the Bailout":

What the bailout does
Is help those who are concerned
About the health care reform
That is needed
To help shore up our economy,
Helping the--
It's got to be all about job creation, too.

Shoring up our economy
And putting it back on the right track.
So health care reform
And reducing taxes
And reining in spending
Has got to accompany tax reductions
And tax relief for Americans.
And trade.

We've got to see trade
As opportunity
Not as a competitive, scary thing.
But one in five jobs
Being created in the trade sector today,
We've got to look at that
As more opportunity.
All those things.

Your head should be spinning at this point.

Julian Gough of the UK's Prospect Magazine opined facetiously this past December that "Palin is a poet, and a fine one at that. What the philistine media take for incoherence is, in fact, the fruitful ambiguity of verse." His example of this "fruitful ambiguity" is a found poem he termed "The Relevance of Africa:"

And the relevance to me
With that issue,
As we spoke
About Africa and some
Of the countries
There that were
Kind of the people succumbing
To the dictators
And the corruption
Of some collapsed governments
On the
The relevance
Was Alaska's.

Gough elaborated on his tongue-in-cheek theory: "A great poet needs to leave open the door between the conscious and unconscious; Sarah Palin has removed her door from its hinges. A great poet does not self-censor; Sarah Palin seems authentically innocent of what she is saying. She could be the most natural, visionary poet since William Blake." Great poets, of course, do self-censor (even the Beats), at least during the editing process.

Gough's editorial got me wondering if there's any legitimacy to viewing Palin's peculiar speech as a sort of poetry, but I can't think of a poetic movement with which Palin has much in common. Almost all poetry--regardless of its aims-- strives for clarity, precision and some sort of communication. Even if a good poem is difficult, or even surreal, it's carefully crafted to be that way, in order to facilitate a type of understanding. Palin's speech, intentionally or not, works against understanding. Her tangle of folksy obfuscation is the antithesis of poetry, and perhaps more than any other public figure today, she's something of an antipoet.

I do think there are similarities between Palin's statements and a Buddhist ko-an--a deliberately provocative and unanswerable question like "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" But whereas the ko-an aims at enlightenment, Palin offers delightenment--if that were like, you know, a word. Quote unquote. All those things. (Sigh)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

NU Pre-View: Nebraska 2009

Baseball is past the All-Star Break, so obviously it's time to be thinking about college football. Here is my far-from-definitive preview of the season. It's done in two ways. First, I break games into categories - Better Win (BW), Should Win (SW), Might Win (MW), and Won't Win (WW). Better Win games are the cupcakes, games you assume NU will win. Should Win are games which could cause problems, but generally you expect NU to win most, if not all. Might Win are games which really could go either way, and you'd expect NU to split through the season. Won't Win are games where a Nebraska win would be a huge upset and cannot reasonably be expected.

I'm also going to give a "Fearless Forecast" as to the outcome of each specific game. We'll see at the end of the season how things shake out.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC: The Owls are a respectable team, one that was bowl eligible last year and brings back a solid quarterback in Rusty Smith. Plus, this will be Zac Lee's first game at the helm of the Nebraska offense. The game is a bit of a banana peel, but the 'Huskers talent superiority should ultimately win out. SHOULD WIN

ARKANSAS STATE - Another bowl-eligible team last year (although they didn't get an invite), the Red Wolves have a respectable defense, but are likely to struggle offensively against the Blackshirts. BETTER WIN

@ VIRGINIA TECH - Don't look now, but Nebraska's most talented 2009 opponent might be the Hokies, not the Sooners. Tech's defense should be outstanding, and Tyrod Taylor has had a year to mature and become a leader. It doesn't help that Zac Lee's first road game is in Blacksburg. WON'T WIN

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE - A bit of a trap game between Virginia Tech and Missouri, but the 300th sellout celebration and the super-cool throwback uniforms NU will be sporting should keep the 'Huskers focused enough to dispatch the Ragin' Cajuns. BETTER WIN

@ MISSOURI - The first of three pivotal swing games for Nebraska this season. With the departure of Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin, this game represents NU's best opportunity to take some momentum back from the Tigers. Columbia is a tough place to win, but Missouri's talent drop and a get-well game against ULL put Nebraska in a great position for this game. SHOULD WIN

TEXAS TECH - Coach Leach, I have some bad news. Michael Crabtree ain't coming through that door this year. Of all the teams in the Big XII, the Red Raiders are poised for the biggest fall, and NU fans might be able to get a little redemption for the 70-10 game back in '04. SHOULD WIN

IOWA STATE - A few years ago, Dan McCarney had the 'Clones in a position to be the best team in the Big XII North, if only he could have recruited a kicker. After the disastrous handling of hiring and firing Gene Chizek, Iowa State is now in consideration as the worst program in the conference. This one could get ugly. BETTER WIN

@ BAYLOR - Game Two of the pivotal series of games for Nebraska this year. The Bears have a lot of speed and a lot of talent on that team, and Waco will be a hostile atmosphere second only perhaps to Lubbock. Nebraska has better overall talent, but this is a game that could get away from NU in a hurry. MIGHT WIN

OKLAHOMA - OK, we get it, Sam Bradford is good. And he's a little ticked off about the whole "getting embarrassed by Florida" thing. While the Gators showed that Bradford handles pressure poorly, the Sooners simply have too much firepower for a rebuilding 'Husker squad. WON'T WIN

@ KANSAS - This game could not come at a worse place in the schedule, as it is THE pivotal game of the season. NU's struggles in Lawrence have been things of legend lately (did KU just score again?), and this game will likely be for the out-and-out North Division championship. KU has a senior quarterback and, while I'm not sure of their overall talent level, the Jayhawks will make things very difficult for Nebraska. MIGHT WIN

KANSAS STATE - All you 'Clone fans can be thankful for the Purples. Had the soap opera in Manhattan not being transpiring, we'd all be talking about Iowa State as the joke of the North. But ISU can't hold a candle to the mess Ron Prince made of Bill Snyder's legacy. Bring the Purple Savior back was probably their best alternative, but remember that Snyder was losing a lot of games at the end of his tenure as well. Another game that could get ugly quickly. BETTER WIN

@ COLORADO - Back in '04, the Buffs brought hammers to Lincoln to put the nail in the coffin of Nebraska's consecutive bowl streak. This year, Nebraska could be bringing those same hammers for Dan Hawkins' career in Boulder. I thought he was a great hire, but his "style" simply hasn't translated into talent. Colorado should be a premier program in the conference, but Ralphie is a long way from that. SHOULD WIN

That leaves four "Better Wins," four "Should Wins," two "Might Wins," and two "Won't Wins." If we assume NU wins all the BW, almost all the SW, splits on the MW, and none of the WW, that puts NU at 9-3 for the 2009 campaign.

The Fearless Forecast is a little bolder, at 10-2. I am assuming wins at Baylor and Kansas, and when looked at individually I still go back to those picks. But both those game terrify me, and it is awfully ambitious to think NU will be able to put everything together enough to run that table.

So, my official prediction is 9-3 for the 'Huskers this year, which is more than respectable. This year's schedule is more challenging than last year's, and to improve on the regular season record with a more difficult schedule would be a real accomplishment for Nebraska.

Is it September 05 yet?

GBR, baby.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When can you assassinate?

Interesting article by Juliet Lapidos of slate.com on the legality (or lack thereof) of CIA assassinations. Presented without comment, I just thought it was interesting.


Last month, the Central Intelligence Agency canceled a secret initiative, authorized by the president in 2001, to capture or kill senior al-Qaida operatives. Although the program was never operational, its existence raises the question: Can we assassinate anyone we want?

No, but the exact regulations are murky. Gerald Ford's 1976 executive order on foreign intelligence activities (issued after the disclosure that the CIA had plans to do in Fidel Castro) explicitly prohibits government employees from engaging in "political assassination." This certainly rules out killing heads of state through covert means. It's unclear, however, who else is off limits. The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, a congressional resolution that grants the president the right to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against those who helped commit the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, arguably licenses the CIA to go after terrorists with impunity.

The way international law might apply to the secret program depends on whether the United States is technically at war with al-Qaida. If one takes the resolutions passed by Congress as declarations thereof, it would be indisputably lawful, under the Geneva Conventions, for one uniformed soldier to kill another uniformed soldier. It would also be lawful for a soldier—on the battlefield or operating a drone from afar—to target someone out of uniform who's nonetheless directly participating in the hostilities. Yet it would not be OK for nonsoldiers such as CIA agents to engage in killing of any kind, since the fact that they're not in uniforms could be interpreted as "feigning … noncombatant status." That is a violation of the laws of war.

Some proponents of international law argue, however, that the global war on terrorism is not a war in the legal sense. In that case, sending soldiers or other operatives to pick off terrorists would be an extrajudicial, paramilitary action against a private group—no different from sending the CIA to Italy to murder suspected members of the mafia—and a violation of the basic notions of state sovereignty. Of course, a neocon might argue that if the CIA kills a terrorist in a foreign country (even if that country does not condone our presence), it's kosher because it's a form of self-defense, where the "self" in question is the United States of America. It doesn't matter whether the terrorist is currently engaged in fighting—only that he's a terrorist. This reasoning adopts a classic aspect of law-enforcement philosophy to justify an otherwise blatantly criminal action.

The Israeli military regularly engages in targeted killings. That country's Supreme Court has ruled that these are legal so long as the targets are actively engaged in fighting or else work as full-time militants. Such killings would be considered illegal, however, if the target only pitched in to fire rockets from time to time and was not (at the moment of the killing) engaged in such work. It's also well-known, though not officially acknowledged, that the Mossad carries out hit jobs. For example, Canadian engineer Gerald Bull, who designed a supergun for the Iraqi government, is commonly understood to have been assassinated by the Mossad in Brussels, Belgium, in 1990. The fact that Israel does not acknowledge such episodes may be a tacit acknowledgement of their illegality.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Can't she even get quitting right?

Really interesting article by Shannyn Moore of HuffingtonPost.com (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shannyn-moore/sarah-palins-constitution_b_230390.html) explaining how soon-to-be-former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's abrupt resignation may end up causing a constitutional crisis in Alaska, due in no small part to some of the weird and petty politics Palin was a part of prior to her resignation.

It is truly astonishing that such a woman holds any position of authority, and amazing that one of the two major national political parties in this country thought she should be a John McCain heartbeat away from the Presidency. And remarkably enough, she still has a hard core following of supporters. Interestingly, her followers are a little bit like hockey fans - hard core, died-in-the-wool, but never enough to get out of the fringes.

Mmm, irony.


When Senator Bill Wielechowski came on my radio program this week, he dropped a bomb I wasn't ready for; in order for Alaska to avoid a constitutional crisis, "The real solution...is for the governor to say...'I will withhold my resignation until the legislature can meet.'"

Dead air...please explain, Senator.

Wielechowski pointed out that this was the first summer in years that the legislature was not called into a special session. Lawmakers made plans. Plans to fish, plans to visit friends and relatives Outside, plans to just enjoy an Alaskan Summer. Getting everyone together prior to July 25 (Palin's last day as governor) is almost next to impossible ("...we estimate we can (meet) first-second week in August...").

For some reason, nothing seems simple in Alaska. It would seem with the governor's resignation, the Lieutenant Governor, Sean Parnell, could simply take his seat. The appointed third-in-line would then slip into Sean's chair and we could get back to business.

Sorry. According to both parties, Alaska sits on the edge of a constitutional crisis because of the "chain of command vacuum" created by the governor's abrupt resignation.

The perfect storm of events lined up on February 6, 2008. Senate Resolution 5 passed 16 - 1. It found Todd Palin and the governor's aides guilty of contempt of the State of Alaska Senate. Their refusal to co-operate with subpoenas during the Branchflower Investigation came with no penalties; just the finding. Four days later, Attorney General Talis Colberg resigned. Colberg purportedly advised those found in contempt to ignore their subpoenas.

In February 2007, Palin appointed her AG, Talis Colberg, to serve as successor to the Lieutenant Governor. The legislative body confirmed him. His resignation called for not only a new AG, but a new successor as well.

On April 16th, the nomination of Wayne Anthony Ross for AG was defeated after a long, controversial hearing. Commissioner of Corrections, Joe Schmidt was confirmed as "third in line" in the event the governor or lieutenant governor were unable to fulfill their duties.

Hey, great, constitutional obligations met! Not so fast...

When the governor resigned, Joe Schmidt, who had lobbied for the job and sent thank you notes to those who voted for him, decided "Thanks, but no thanks." Schmidt, a high school friend of Palin's, was a controversial nomination after a 514-19 vote of "no confidence" by the Alaska Correctional Officers Association in 2008. Their lack of confidence had to do with cover up of a contagious bacterial infection, MRSA, among prisoners and guards. In May, the ACOA filed a lawsuit against Sarah Palin's administration for purposefully dragging its feet in getting the legislature to appropriate pay increases, thereby sabotaging new contract arbitration.

It's hard to know why Mr. Schmidt declined his previously sought duty, but a replacement was named by the governor quickly; Alaska National Guard Lieutenant General Craig Campbell.

Last August, just days after Sarah Palin's VP nomination, then Major General Campbell told the AP the governor had no control over the Alaska Air National Guard. He continued breaking down the meme of her experience in an interview with the Boston Globe. Two days later, on Friday, September 8th, Campbell flip-flopped on Fox news. He sang the governor's praises. The following Monday, Palin promoted him to Lieutenant General in the Alaska National Guard-a rank only recognized in Alaska. Now she has promoted him for his loyalty again; this time to Lieutenant Governor.

Here is where the constitutional crisis has a head on.

With Palin's resignation, Joe Schmidt declining the Lt. Gov job, and Mr. Campbell not being confirmed by the legislative body...we are left with one leader, Sean Parnell, and no spares. According to the Constitution we have to have a spare. The only way to get a spare is to have a special session and confirm Mr. Campbell. Palin's newest attorney general appointee, Dan Sullivan, formerly of the Bush Administration, supports the un-confimed succession of Mr. Campbell. Mr. Sullivan has yet to be approved by the legislature.

Oooh, lucky us! An oh-so-special session! Wait!

Governor Palin's $28.6 million veto of federal stimulus funds for energy assistance and weatherization is on the desk waiting for next year's session to start. The legislature has 5 days to override the governor's veto, or forfeit it. The decision was made not to have a special session to flip her decision-not for the lack of votes, but because of the expense.

As more information rolls out, Palin's excuses for leaving office become weaker. The ethics complaints were to blame. "Millions of dollars" have been sifted down to less than $300,000-$296,042.58 to be exact. The ethics complaint Palin filed on herself in a political attempt to derail the Branchflower Investigation cost the state $187,797. That means all of the other complaints combined cost the state $108,245.58. But wait, Alaskan Frank Gwartney's "travelgate" complaint forced Palin to cough up $8,143.62 back to the state coffers. So the net cost of all of the ethics complaints, excluding Palin's expensive political stunt, was $101,101.84.

On June 26, 2007, a joint special session was called to fund a program for low income seniors. The cost of the one day meeting? $103,500.

Here's the rub; Governor Palin aborting her term will end up costing Alaskans more than all of the non-Palin ethics complaints combined. Former legislators I spoke with estimated this session would cost somewhere north of $150,000. $150,000 just to sort out her mess! Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers I've talked to see this "July Surprise" as an expensive constitutional train wreck. Most are projecting the session needing at least a few days.

Let's do the math:
Branchflower Report: $75,000 (Legislative investigation that found Sarah Palin guilty of abuse of power.)
Palin's own ethics complaint: $187,245.58 (A political tactic filed in an attempt to de-rail the Branchflower Report.)
Special Session (Low estimate):$150,000
PALIN'S cost to the State of Alaska? $402,245.58
"FRIVOLOUS ETHICS COMPLAINERS" cost to the State of Alaska? $101,101.84

Maybe we need to start AlaskaPAC.

If the solution to averting a constitutional crisis is for Sarah Palin to stay on as governor for a few weeks, as one Democratic Senator suggested on my radio show, Alaska should be a reality show. "Help, I'm A Celebrity Governor, Get Me Out Of Here!"

LTG 07-08-09: What about the children?

From the Omaha City Weekly, July 08-14, 2009



Law Talking Guy
Jacko's kids... what now?

By: Patrick Runge
Issue: July 8, 2009

Never let it be said that your faithful Law-Talking Guy is afraid to follow the herd.

Yes, gentle readers, this is a Michael Jackson column, adding my voice to the thousands and thousands of others filling up copy space in newspapers and hours on television talking about the departed singer. But, hey, E! has been running this for a week straight, and I’m only doing one lousy column. So cut me a little slack here.

Actually, the circumstances surrounding Jackson’s death present a teaching moment for some interesting and important legal issues. Most pressing of these is the fate of Jackson’s children.

Jackson had three children, two from ex-wife Debbie Rowe and one from an anonymous surrogate mother. Currently, Jackson’s mother, Katherine, has temporary guardianship over all of the children pending further hearing.

Now, pay closer attention to the previous sentence. Notice that Ms. Jackson has “guardianship” over the children, not “custody” over the children, as has been frequently reported. There’s a difference, and it’s significant.

The difference comes from the fact that parents get a huge advantage over non-parents when it comes to their children in the courts. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the constitution includes within it the right to parent your own children.

(As a quick aside, if you take a browse through the constitution, you won’t see those actual words anywhere in the document. The Court read a number of different portions of the Bill of Rights together to create the “constitutional right to parent.” You may be thinking the conservative haters of “judicial activism” would be all up in arms about the Court creating a constitutional right out of whole cloth without any text in the document to support it. Yet strangely enough, the conservatives don’t complain about a judicially-created “right to parent.” Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?)

Because there is a constitutional right to parent, any dispute about children between a parent and a non-parent really isn’t a fair fight. In many states, Nebraska included, this unfair fight is called the “parental privilege” principle. It means that, unless the parent is unfit or has abandoned his or her child, a parent will win a dispute over that parent’s child over a non-parent.

That’s why the words “custody” and “guardianship” have different meanings. Parents get to have “custody” over their children, meaning a parent is the one who will make legal decisions for that child. Non-parents don’t get to have “custody.” The best a non-parent can do is get “guardianship,” meaning that a judge appoints that non-parent to make legal decisions on behalf of a child.

But, you may ask, doesn’t that end up in the same place? Well, as ESPN’s college football analyst Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. (Whom I raise primarily to point out that college football is only nine weeks away, of course.)

The difference is the stability of the order. If a parent gets custody of a child, that custody will stay in place unless another parent shows there has been a material change in circumstance since the previous order and that a change would be in the child’s best interest, or unless a non-parent shows the parent to be unfit. Conversely, a guardianship can be undone by a parent simply by that parent proving to a court that the he or she is no longer unfit.

Big difference. So the next time you see Matt Lauer on the “Today Show” talking about Jackson’s mother having “custody” of Michael’s children, you’ll know better. Lauer will still make more money and eat at better restaurants than you, but you’ll know better.

So, how will this all fit into the controversy surrounding Jackson’s children? After all, there might be a couple of bucks involved with taking care of the children of the King of Pop.

From all accounts, Rowe, the mother of the oldest two children, has had no contact with them for a number of years. As a result, Rowe is functionally a stranger to the children even though she is their biological mother. Even so, Rowe’s constitutional right to parent her children is intact, and the California court will have to return the children to Rowe unless it finds a reason sufficient to overcome that constitutional right.

I know that seems a little strange, because we’ve all come to think of decisions about children centering around the best interests of the child. And when the people disagreeing about that child are equal, that’s the test that gets used.

But when there are unequal contestants to a child, the constitution kicks in, and the court doesn’t really look at the child. Instead, it looks at the parent and bases its determination on the parent’s actions or lack thereof, not on the child’s interests.

Doesn’t sit well, does it? Well, keep in mind the chaos that could arise if anyone could try to get actual custody of anyone else’s children. People desperate for children of their own would start bringing actions against other parents as a means to end-run the adoption process.

Flawed as it is, the current system makes a lot of sense. After all, Madonna and Angelina Jolie have enough kids already.