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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Ed. note: The following my opinions only and do not reflect the opinions of Rhonda, Reese, Finn, Ollie or Sarah.

Buh bye.

Since American forces killed Osama bin Laden over the weekend, seemingly everyone I know and their brother has asked me what I think about it. Well, I don’t think about it much, but when I do these are my thoughts, in no particular order:

  • First, I’m glad he’s dead. Not dancing-in-the-streets-glad as I would have been had Hitler been killed in 1944 (and had I been alive). Hitler’s death would have meant something — in all likelihood, the end of a war. Unless it turns out that bin Laden has remained active in al Qaeda all these years we thought he’d been holed up in a cave, his death, while making the world a slightly better place, probably doesn’t mean much in our overall war against radical Muslims.
  • Reports that bin Laden “resisted” may as well say “tongue in cheek.” He was reportedly unarmed and used one of his wives as a human shield — how much resistance could he have offered? My hunch is that President Obama’s order was to kill, and that is exactly what happened. Why not be honest about it? I can only imagine the bloody murder Democrats would be crying right now had this “he resisted” story come out of the Bush Administration. Congressional “investigations” anyone?
  • All this celebrating about bin Laden’s death is a bit unseemly. Again, it would have been appropriate with Hitler but, inasmuch as it really doesn’t mean much, it is a bit much here. Feels like an excuse to party. We have another one of those coming up soon — Cinco de Mayo.
  • So far President Obama has given not a shred of credit to the Bush Administration its role in finding bin Laden. It deserves some (more) — after all, without President Bush, the special forces that killed bin Laden wouldn’t have been in Pakistan in the first place. The honorable thing to do would have been to note this was a joint effort of both administrations but mostly one of the forces on the ground. That Obama has shared no credit for Osama confirms for me what I’ve thought all along — that all his talk about “hope” and “change” nothwithstanding, President Obama is a partisan political hack. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • By far the element of the story that baffles me most was the decision to dump bin Laden’s body at sea. Bone-headed at best — and after a reported forty-minute religious ceremony, no less. Dumping OBL with the fishes all but guaranteed that he will take his place alongside Elvis among the undead in Conspiracyworld. The idea that giving him a religious burial would placate America’s haters is, at best, silly. My guess is that they’ll be plenty mad that we killed him in the first place. I cannot imagine who made that decision, but whoever it was needs a new day job.
  • Speaking of stupid arguments, this idea that OBL’s death will only create 1,000 new bin Laden’s to take his place is pure claptrap. If there are a thousand Muslims out there thinking about becoming terrorists, they’re going to do it, anyway. It is also possible, I might add, that they’ll have second thoughts about their career paths. I just don’t see a thousand young Muslims sitting in huts out there saying “Mom, I was thinking about becoming a Holy Warrior, and now that OBL is dead I’m decided to make that my life’s work.” C’mon.
  • Those are my thoughts, and I’m sticking to them.

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    It’s no secret – I’m no fan of government. As a general rule, government actors work in their self interest, not the people’s. Government officials are no more here to “serve the people” than the prison guards are there to serve the prisoners. Government officials act to protect government first and foremost — even if it means trampling on the rule of law, as the Washington State Supreme Court’s justices did in their jaw-dropping Betcha.com decision.

    But every so often the government does work. The City of Seattle’s handling of the proposed new driving range at West Seattle Golf Course is a good example. I’ve been playing WSGC for a long time – before I could drive my grandma used to drop me there; she picked me up when I called her from something called a pay phone. I remember when WSGC used to have a driving range, and as a current member of WSGC’s fine men’s club and the owner of an apartment complex adjacent to the eighteenth hole, I have a vested interest in how the project turns out.

    The initial idea of putting a range back where the old one was proved a no go. So did a Plan B which, as I understand it, would have put the range on the eighteenth hole, directly in front of my apartment building (read: a very bad idea). Last week, the Parks Department Powers That Be presented a Plan C at a public meeting at the WSGC clubhouse. I was in attendance. Course architect Todd Schoeder’s plan called for changing the current eighth and ninth holes into a massive par 5 and medium-length par 3 respectively, with the range going where much of nine used to be. The idea met with mixed reviews from the meeting’s attendees. Not a bad idea, but not a good one, either: it would leave golfers with a two-hundred-plus-yard uphill walk from the eighth green to the ninth tee and the ninth hole would be isolated from the rest of the golf course, a routing no no if ever there was one.

    The City of Seattle's plan to drop a driving range in to West Seattle Golf Course seems to be a good example of government working with, not against, the public.

    The reason I’m banging the keyboard on all this is what happened next. I e-mailed Garrett Farrell, the Parks Department official in charge of the project, to voice my concerns about Plan C and to suggest solutions that would remedy the problems. Basically my idea was to turn the par 3 ninth into an uphill par 4 with a blind uphill tee shot a la the eighth at Pebble Beach. This would not only eliminate the death march between eight and nine, it would create a monster par four on a course desperately in need of difficult holes. To a large extent my e-mail was cathartic – it made me feel better to know I’d said everything I had to say. To my great surprise, Mr. Farrell actually responded – and not with a form letter. No, the Parks Department official wrote back with a full six paragraphs — six — and referenced several of the points I’d made in my e-mail. This government official actually read and thought about what I had to say. That’s a heck of a lot more than I can say about the “justices” on the Washington State Supreme Court.

    The process is by no means perfect. At the aforementioned public meeting, for example, about ten times more words were spoken about “the process” than was necessary. This member of the audience was more concerned about results than process. And truth be told, we still don’t have a final plan for putting a driving range on the property without fundamentally messing up one of the best municipal golf courses around. But if what I’m seeing and reading so far is any indication, I’m confident we’ll get there. No stone is being left unturned, and it’s clear that the government team is listening to what the public has to say. Wisdom of Crowds, indeed.

    Government working with the people and for the people. Now isn’t that refreshing.

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    This is the second of a two-part entry on Betcha.com. (The first.) It was not easy to write.

    Life’s a waste if you’re not learning lessons along the way. And with the Betcha.com matter, I learned many, none of which were good:

    1. The promise of blind justice is an empty one — at least in Washington State.
    At every level of the Betcha litigation, at least one judge went out of his/her way to rule against us, making up law, facts or both without even the State’s urging. Judge Gary Tabor ruled that the rule of strict construction did not apply to our case because it was, at the time, a civil proceeding. The State’s silence on this point wasn’t surprising: every court in the nation that had ever considered the argument had rejected it — including the United States Supreme Court. Judge Tabor came up with this argument on his own, with no legal authority whatsoever. He actually committed about seven errors of law in his verbal ruling — no easy feat, that.

    Washington courts may not be as notorious as Roland Freisler’s infamous Nazi courts, but in terms of their willingness to pick the winner and reason backwards, they are every bit as unfair.

    Appellate Judge Elaine Houghton dissented in our win because, inter alia, we hosted our servers in Vancouver, BC. How the location of our servers has any bearing on the meaning of criminal statutes is beyond me. (More.)

    The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that I was a “professional gambler” even though no one was actually gambling. In doing so, it literally rewrote the definition of “bookmaking” by changing “accepting bets … in which a fee is charged” to “charg(ing) fees for the opportunity to place bets”; made up facts that the State did not allege and that weren’t in the record; and ignored entire chunks of our briefing if not all our briefing altogether. (More here and here.)

    It would be easy to chalk this up to bad judging, and while there was some of that going on, it was actually worse. Bad judges misapply fact to law and don’t consider the parties’ arguments. They don’t make up facts and law without the parties’ invitation and rewrite statutes to include words that aren’t there. That’s the sign of judging where the winner is picked first, regardless of the law. That’s not how blind justice is supposed to work.

    An anomoly? Perhaps. The Betcha case was in the news and had the State lost, lots of folks in Olympia, including Governor Chris Gregoire, would have had some ‘splaining to do. Embarrassing or not, judges are supposed to apply fact to law and the judges involved in the Betcha case clearly did not.

    2. All the constitutional rights in the world are basically worthless unless you’re willing to litigate.
    No doubt we’re supposed to have constitutional rights. But they are basically worthless unless you’re willing to litigate. For example, the First Amendment clearly gives us the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. That right includes the right to stand up to the government and, if need be, take it to court. That didn’t stop the Washington State Gambling Commission from retaliating against me by calling in their buddies from Louisiana when I stood up to them. That cost me a bundle, and my only redress was to file a subsequent civil rights action years later which, in turn, invited even more retaliation. In other words, rights are well and good, but they aren’t worth a hill of beans when you actually need them.

    All well and good in theory — but that’s about it.

    3. Don’t stand up to the government. REPEAT: do not stand up to the government.
    In the Betcha case the government treated our constitutional rights like toilet paper. The judges had their back. When we sued we were greeted with a body of law that says government officials cannot be held financially liable for their mistakes. What constitutes a “mistake” is, of course, open to debate, but that body of law alone gives government officials at least somewhat of a license to do whatever they want: judges are notoriously reluctant to make government pay, especially when that government already has multi-billion dollar budgetary shortfalls. In other words, if you want to stand up to the government, watch out. Which brings me to my next lesson:


    4. Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.

    What the bureaucrats did in response to Betcha is well chronicled in this blog (most thoroughly here), and with the judges having their backs, who can blame them? But bureaucrats really have no shame — at one point in 2009, the Washington State Gambling Commission actually tried to change the law to cover Betcha.com via the state budget — while we were still litigating the very same law! I gave myself an “A” for my willingness to stand up and fight. Gotta give the bureaucrats the same mark.

    Celebrating an empty promise? As of now, I think so.

    All of these lessons are hard ones to learn for a guy who believed, above all, in standing up for what’s right, and who used to be the only one on his block who flew an American flag. But these are the lessons I learned. Above all, the Betcha matter taught me that the foundation of America — the rule of law — is a big fat lie, at least in Washington state. I always thought that the rule of law mattered, and that at the end of the day, no matter how long it would take to get to that day, I’d get a fair shake in a court of law.

    It never got it. And if the judging in the Betcha case is even remotely indicative of judging in Washington generally, I doubt I’m the only one.

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    Think it’s unfair for “the rich” to get the lion’s share of tax breaks? Think again.
    I get my fair share of random e-mails. Every so often one makes some sense. This one does a great job of explaining our tax system generally and tax cuts specifically:

    Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

    The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
    The fifth would pay $1.
    The sixth would pay $3.
    The seventh would pay $7.
    The eighth would pay $12.
    The ninth would pay $18.
    The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

    So, that’s what they decided to do.

    The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until on day, the owner threw them a curve. “Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.”Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

    The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they
    divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his ‘fair share?’ They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

    And so:

    The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
    The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings).
    The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28% savings).
    The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
    The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
    The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

    Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

    “I only got a dollar out of the $20,”declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,” but he got $10!”

    “Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved a dollar, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I!”

    “That’s true!!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

    “Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison. “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

    The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

    The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

    And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction, (still the smallest amount saved by percentage paid).

    Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking someplace where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

    For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible

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    I think I can strike another sumpin sumpin off my bucket list. I said I wanted to come up with a cool quote and I just found one in one of my old columns. Writing about the propensity of those in Washington to govern their actions by what the media is saying, I came up with the following:

    America may not be a paper tiger, but she is a tiger run by her papers.

    Or the variation:

    America is not a paper tiger. She is a tiger run by her papers.

    Not the best, I admit, but good enough to cross off the list.

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    President Obama just signed the health care reform bill into law a few hours ago and already people are wondering what’ll happen next. My predictions:

  • The lawsuit filed by thirteen state attorneys general challenging large swaths of the health care bill will be a loser. I’ve perused the complaint (click here for a link) and it reads like a gripe-fest. The AG’s are basically ticked off that the states will be forced to foot much of the bill for the federal government’s folly. But that happens all the time. The states’ strongest argument is a Tenth Amendment one — namely, that the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to require people to purchase a good or service. Big problem there is that the Tenth Amendment is basically a dead letter. The states’ best hope is that Justice Anthony Kennedy — who will likely be the deciding vote if/when this case makes it to the Supreme Court — will be sufficiently PO’ed about President Obama’s less-than-tactful criticism of the Supremes at the State of the Union that he’ll side with Alito, Roberts and company just to send a message.
  • Republicans will not win either the House or the Senate in the ’10 elections. That’s because most premium changes don’t happen until the beginning of the year, so people won’t be feeling the effects of Obamacare when they cast their ballots. The Republicans will pick up several seats in both chambers, but not enough to take charge.
  • When insurance companies adjust their rates next year, they’re going to adjust them upward, and way upward. That’s so for two reasons. First, millions of people will be required by law to purchase their product. Second, the cost of coverage will go up as insurance companies will now be required to insure the heretofore uninsurable. Given both, it should hardly be surprising that carriers will increase their rates.
  • Increased insurance rates will provide the impetus Democrats need to take Obamacare to the next level. You can almost hear President Obama now: “We (in Washington) passed the greatest insurance reform package in history. We helped cut medical costs for the American people. The insurance companies took advantage of our hard work by sticking it to American businesses and families, yada yada yada.” A Democratic Congress will then go to work on another health insurance reform bill, but this one will go where President Obama wanted to go in the first place — single payer health care or, at the very least, the nationalization of the health care industry.
  • Some of this may not happen immediately. The nationalization of the health care industry, for example, may have to wait until after President Obama gets reelected in 2012 (a very safe bet, that). But rest assured it will happen.

    Change is coming -- big time.

    I predicted in 2008 that America as we know it was done for. After this last week, I’m pretty sure I’m right.

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    Sometime this spring or fall, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral argument in two gambling-related cases — the Betcha case and the dormant Commerce Clause challenge brought by Seattle lawyer Lee Rousso. In both cases, the State’s lawyers are going to argue that the State should win, inter alia, because of its historical interest in regulating gambling.

    According to Professor I. Nelson Rose, the state is more concerned with protecting its share than its citizens when it comes to regulating gambling.

    I’ve always wondered why the State cares so much about clamping down on gambling, especially when it pushes so much of its own (see the Washington State Lottery). Today I received an e-mail newsletter from Professor I. Nelson Rose that speaks to that very issue. Professor Rose’s column was about a casino in Missouri that regulators are shutting down not because it’s crooked, but because it doesn’t make enough money. In the column he shed some light on just why it is that states are so concerned about regulating gambling, and it ain’t all about protecting players from organized crime:

    Why do we regulate casinos?

    Historically, the main – if not only – reason was to keep out organized crime.

    Although the laws include grand statements about protecting the general public, we don’t really need background checks and fingerprinting of a corporate C.E.O. to prevent a dealer from cheating a player.

    The state does have a financial interest in keeping out the bad guys. “O.C.” (organized crime), as they call themselves, like legal gambling because it is primarily a cash business, ripe for skimming – money that is supposed to go for tax revenue. And tourists might stop coming to casino resorts if gaming’s reputation dropped from merely risqué to patently corrupt.

    But taxes and jobs were always secondary reasons for states regulating casinos like nuclear power plants, and not, say, like used car dealers.

    …..

    Public safety is still job number one. But regulators, and the market, have driven O.C. so far away that regulators can now focus on income.

    So according to Professor Rose, the State’s interest isn’t so much in protecting players from cheating casino operatives as it is protecting the State from skimmers, lest it lose part of its take.

    Regrettably the state legislature didn’t get Professor Rose’s memo. As late as last week a state legislator was lecturing me on the state’s interest in protecting citizens from the mob’s influence in the gambling industry. The state’s interest was so great according to Rep. Steve Conway that the state must change the very definition of gambling to cover conduct that, according to the Washington Court of Appeals, lacks gambling’s “essence.” (That’s the Betcha case.)

    Anyone wonder why the state is running a $2.8 billion annual deficit?

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