Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Truth Will Out, Part II: gay marriage gains acceptance in California

Three years ago, I wrote an article on my old blog (reprinted below) predicting that America was on the path to acceptance of gay marriage.

A survey released today by the Field Poll reveals that 51 percent of California voters believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, while only 42 percent say it should not. This is the first time that a majority has favored same-sex marriage in the more than three decades that the poll has been tracking the issue. Support is sharply higher among younger voters, with 68 percent of those ages 18-29 approving and only 25 percent against.

The survey comes on the heels of a California Supreme Court decision that the state constitution guarantees the fundamental right or every person to marry the partner of his or her choice, regardless of that partner's gender. Most Californians are supporting the decision. As I predicted in 2005, it was only a matter of time.

The Truth Will Out: Why Gay Marriage Will Be Accepted in America
April 1, 2005
Throughout American history, those in the majority have, through both legal and institutional means, sought to keep minorities in check. They have done this most consistently by denying rights to minorities that the majority itself enjoys, based on the idea that minorities are inferior.Consider these examples, drawn from five hundred years of American history, of times when the majority has said to the minority: "We will enjoy certain rights. You, the minority, are not our equals. Therefore, you will not enjoy the same rights."
Religious freedom: The Puritans of the 17th century tolerated no dissent from dogma.
The Federalists: Many of our Founding Fathers believed only property holders should vote.
Race in America: Whites believed first in ownership of blacks, then in the watered-down slavery of segregation and denial of voting and economic rights.
Women: First they were property, then they were citizens who couldn't vote, then they were equal citizens but legally discriminated against in the workplace.
Rights of Native Americans: Are you kidding me?
Interracial marriage: No mongrelization of the races, please.

Ask the average American today how he or she feels about these prejudices of the past, and you might get the response, "Those people in olden times, you see, they didn't know any better."
Ask a more astute American, and (especially if he's me), he might say, "Wealthy, white, heterosexual men of Protestant religion and Northern European descent have always been the power elite in America. They have always passed laws that play on peoples' prejudices to ensure that the existing power structure is maintained."
Today, the majority of Americans are against gay marriage. Why? Some believe it is immoral (and even a form of mental illness). But they are a minority themselves. More common in America is the attitude expressed by Homer Simpson. When asked by his wife Marge what he has against gays, Homer replies, "You know! It's not…usual."Americans fear the societal change of gay rights because "it's not…usual."
Legal and societal acceptance of gay marriage is a very new idea. But the same thing will happen to the idea of gay marriage in this country as has happened will all previous minority rights issues:
1. Minorities and their advocates begin an active struggle for civil rights. The forces of reaction resist the change.
2. Over time, acceptance of these rights seems less radical as their advocacy is no longer a new idea and no longer represents a new, startling change.
3. People begin to realize that they have no rational reason for their prejudices, and thus they have no reason to deny the minority the rights of the majority.
To summarize, years from now, when every other developed nation in the world and a number of U.S. states have recognized the right to gay marriage, and Americans have had the chance to observe that it is not actually harmful to our societal institutions, their opposition to the idea will wither away.Gay marriage will become the law of the land. And nearly everyone will wonder why people were ever against it. It might not happen today, or even ten years from now. But anyone who thinks it's not going to happen doesn't know much about America.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Meet Travis Childers, the man who strikes fear into Republican hearts

Who is Travis Childers? Well, he's the Democrat from Mississippi who inspired the following headlines Wednesday morning:

USA Today: Republicans fear public has lost confidence
MSNBC: GOPers stomping mad over prospects
RealClearPolitics: House GOP shifts into panic mode

Yes, Travis Childers, Chancery Clerk of Prentiss County, Mississippi has induced panic and despair in the Republican party. He accomplished this by winning the special election for Mississippi's 1st congressional district on Tuesday night by a comfortable 54-46 margin.

This is a district that the GOP should have had no trouble holding onto after it became vacant when Republican Roger Wicker was appointed to the Senate to replace retiring Republican Trent Lott. The Republican candidate, Greg Davis, raised a lot of money and was largely scandal-free yet lost badly in a district that President Bush carried by twenty five points in 2004.

This is the third Republican House seat Democrats have picked up this spring. The first two were former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert's in Illinois, and Louisiana's 6th district. At least in those races, Republicans could console themselves with the fact that those districts were only mildly Republican, and also with the fact that their nominees were carrying a lot of personal baggage that made them less than ideal candidates.

The GOP pulled out every stop to win. Governor Haley Barbour, Senators Cochran and Wicker, and even Vice President Cheney campaigned with Davis. The Party committed over $1 million it couldn't afford from its meager resources, and independent groups contributed upwards of $1 million more. Furthermore, the Party rolled out a new strategy of attempting to tie every Democratic candidate to those elitist liberals, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

None of it worked, they got slaughtered. Now Republicans are clueless as to how to change their image so as to offer some appeal to voters. Amidst all the talk of how Republicans can rebuild their brand, the Wall Street Journal has had the audacity to suggest that -GASP!- Republicans actually consider trying to run the government in a competent manner by at least pretending to be "doing something about health care, gas prices, and so on." It looks increasingly like the 2008 election will resemble the kind of tidal wave victories that Franklin Roosevelt engineered in the 1930's. Yes we can!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Predictions: Senate Races 2008

Most recent update: October 17
Two years ago I had the distinction of correctly predicting the outcome of every race in the Senate. Democrats picked up five seats and gained the majority. I expect to enjoy 2008 just as much as I did 2006.

A whopping 35 Senate seats are up for grabs this year. Both Mississippi and Wyoming will be electing TWO senators thanks to early retirements by Republicans in those states. Republican prospects this year are very bleak. The GOP will find its meager resources stretched to the limit as it attempts to defend 23 seats versus only 12 for the Democrats, and this at a time when it is also coping with a shrinking base of support among voters and attempting to manage their friend George W. Bush, the most unpopular President ever.

Here's a list of all the competitive races. I'll be updating my overviews of each race as the spirit moves me.

Rating: Likely Democratic takeover.
Republican: Ted Stevens (incumbent)
Democrat: Mark Begich
Overview: (5/11) Let's face it, Ted Stevens is Alaska. The 84-year old Senator has been part of Alaskan politics since before it became a state. So why is Stevens in trouble? For the past several years, his office has been connected to numerous scandals involving influence peddling. In 2007, the FBI and IRS raided Stevens' home as part of a broad federal investigation of political corruption in Alaska, and he is under continued scrutiny from the Justice Department for his ties to an Alaska energy services company, Veco, whose chief executive pleaded guilty in early May 2007 to a bribery scheme involving state lawmakers. Stevens faces Mark Begich, the current mayor of Anchorage. Begich has championed the fight against global warming, and will certainly give Stevens a run for his money. An indictment of Stevens would probably seal the deal for Begich. Short of that, however, Stevens will be hard to beat. He's a household name in a Republican state, and Democrats have fared quite poorly in Alaska in the last couple of election cycles.
(7/26) Upgrading this race from Leans Republican to Toss Up. The most recent poll shows Begich now holding an 8% lead over Stevens, at the same time that Alaska Republicans are now trying to cope with a scandal involving Governor Sarah Palin. Begich now has a good chance of winning.
(8/2) Upgrading this race from Toss Up to Likely Democratic Takeover. This past Tuesday, Stevens was indicted on seven counts of failing to disclose thousands of dollars in services he received from the Veco Company in return for influence. As a result, Republican chances for holding onto this seat probably just fell off the table. Stevens is still likely to win the Republican primary, as the new anti-Stevens vote will be divided among several candidates. The most recent general election poll however shows Stevens now trailing Democrat Mark Begich by 21 points.
(9/12) The picture on this race has become somewhat clouded, but Begich is still likely to win. Palin's candidacy helps Stevens, obviously. It is unclear whether Stevens' corruption trial will take place before the election, and what effect that will have on the race.
(9/20) Jury selection in Stevens' trial begins Tuesday. VECO founder Bill Allen, who plead guilty to bribery and corruption charges and who is cooperating with federal authorities, is set to testify against Stevens saying his firm intentionally gave Stevens money in violation of federal election laws. In Stevens' mind, apparently, he will be acquitted just before the election and go on to victory. This seems highly unlikely, but since Begich leads Stevens only narrowly in the polls despite Stevens' indictment, anything's possible.
(10/10) The outcome of this race will be determined by whether Stevens is found guilty in his ongoing corruption trial. The prosecution has finished making its case. The evidence presented is incredibly damning to Stevens. Unfortunately, the Justice Department's presentation has also been a comedy of errors that has already resulted in the Judge repeatedly chastising them and throwing out some of the evidence.
(10/18) A combative Ted Stevens took the stand Friday in his nearly complete trial, in which he is charged with deliberately failing to report gifts from Veco Corp's Bill Allen. Oddly, Stevens seemed to admit his own guilt, as he claimed to have repeatedly asked for bills for the things Veco gave him. I presume Stevens will be found guilty next week, but when celebrities are put on trial, one should always expect the unexpected.

Rating: Likely Democratic takeover.
Republican: Bob Schaffer (Wayne Allard retiring)
Democrat: Mark Udall
Overview: (6/12) Times have changed in Colorado. The once conservative state has been trending Democratic for the last several years, leaving Republicans at a disadvantage for this year's open seat Senate race as well as for the Presidential election. Popular Congressman Mark Udall will be facing former Congressman Bob Schaffer. Schaffer has been out of the limelight for a few years, and he brings a lot of baggage to the campaign as he has in the past been cozy with convicted felon Jack Abramoff. Recently Schaffer has become known for an embarrassing campaign commercial which accidentally showed a picture Mt. McKinley while Schaffer was talking about Colorado's Pike's Peak. Democrats will also be getting a boost in Colorado from the National Convention in Denver this August. Baring any major mistakes, both Barack Obama and Mark Udall will win in Colorado this year.
(9/12) This race is fairly close, but Schaffer's campaign is generating remarkably little enthusiasm. That's good, because it's vital that we keep Colorado Republicans as disinterested as possible, given that Colorado has become critical to Barack Obama's campaign.
(10/18) The National Republican Senatorial Committee is pulling out of this race. Game over, Udall wins.

Rating: Leans Republican hold.
Republican: Saxby Chambliss (incumbent)
Democrat: Jim Martin
Independent: Allen Buckley
Overview: (9/30) Saxby Chambliss is the Republican that Democrats love to hate. In 2002, he defeated incumbent Democratic Senator (and triple amputee) Max Cleland after running an ad showing Cleland's picture next to that of Osama bin Laden and questioning Cleland's commitment to American security. Yes, that's right, Chambliss won based on questioning the patriotism of a veteran who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. Thanks a lot, Georgia. Anyway, Chambliss was expected to be able to sleepwalk to reelection this year against likely Democratic nominee Vernon Jones. Jones however was defeated in the primary by Jim Martin, long-time member of the Georgia House of Representatives and Vietnam veteran. This race wasn't on any one's radar until recently because of Martin's low name recognition and Chambliss' huge lead in the polls. Newly released polls now show the race as a dead heat. Another headache for Chambliss comes in the form of Libertarian Allen Buckley. Buckley is running as a neo-Klansman, and he's bound to siphon off some of the white racist vote in Georgia that would otherwise go Republican. Buckley has taken a hard-line position on immigrants he doesn't like, saying, "The U.S. has a tremendous illegal immigration problem, and the projected population growth (largely Hispanic) is huge." He suggests that the United States should, "limit future immigration," and, "allow for future immigration in a manner that admits people of all races on a more proportionate basis."
(10/10) The Democratic Party is dead serious about winning this one, and Martin is quickly building support. We've got a great chance here.
(10/18) This race is tied, and both National parties are pouring in support. Republicans are counting on superior voter turnout to win this one, as John McCain still leads by 6% in the polls. Expectations are changing however, as Georgia has already begun voting and is seeing huge turnout by Obama supporters. According to one poll, "Among the 18% of Georgia voters who tell SurveyUSA they have already voted, Obama leads by 6 points." Wow.

Rating: Likely Republican hold.
Republican: Mitch McConnell (incumbent)
Democrat: Bruce Lunsford
Overview (9/30) On paper, Mitch McConnell is unbeatable. He's Senate minority leader, has a war chest of nearly $10 million, and he's running for a fifth term in red-state Kentucky. His opponent, Bruce Lunsford, has been a fixture in Kentucky state politics for 30 years, but has never held elective office. So why am I even writing about this race? Well, if two recent polls are to be believed, this race, incredibly, is now a dead heat. Lunsford has been portraying himself as a fan of John McCain, who is very popular in Kentucky, while tying McConnell closely to President Bush, who is unpopular in Kentucky (and everywhere else). I don't actually expect Lunsford to win, but he deserves credit for forcing McConnell to work hard for his reelection, and for keeping him from using his time and resources to help other Republicans in tight races.
(10/10) This race has tightened to within the margin of error. For Democrats, this would be the sweetest victory of all in the Senate, as McConnell has been the organizer of all the Republican filibusters that have kept Congress from actually doing anything useful for the last two years. This one may still be a bridge too far, but it's certainly not impossible.

Rating: Likely Democratic hold.
Democrat: Mary Landrieu (incumbent)
Republican: John Kennedy
Overview: (9/8) This race was supposed to be the Republicans' one chance to pick up their first Senate seat since 2004. The Gulf coast is the only place in the country that's shown any sign of trending Republican in the last four years, and that's only because of the population exodus from Hurricane Katrina. Democrat-turned-Republican John Kennedy, the state's Treasurer, has not been able to get any traction against the moderately popular Landrieu. I begin to wonder if 2010 will be the third election in a row where the Republicans fail to pick up any Senate seats.
(10/18) News this week from the race in Louisiana showcased the desperation and confusion of the Republican Senate Committee. First they announced that they were pulling their meager resources out of this race. Then some other Republicans got mad, so they are maybe changing their minds. Whatever. They're still going to get creamed.

Rating: Likely Republican hold.
Republican: Susan Collins (incumbent)
Democrat: Tom Allen
Overview: (6/26) Republican fortunes have been on the wane for years in New England. One of the few remaining bright spots for the GOP in the northeast has been it's success in holding down both on Maine's Senate seats for the last 14 years. This year, Susan Collins will be attempting to win a third term against Democrat Tom Allen. Allen deserves credit for giving up a safe seat in the U.S. House to challenge Collins. He's a very likable candidate and a sharp campaigner, but his battle against Collins is likely to remain uphill all the way. Incumbent senators with approval ratings above 50% rarely lose their reelection bids, and Collins currently holds a favorable rating of 65%, despite the fact that she refused to do anything whatever to investigate misconduct by contractors in Iraq while she was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. On the bright side, Allen has been slowly but steadily closing the polling gap between Collins and himself all year, and he should also benefit from Obama beating McCain in Maine by ten points or more. I expect Collins will win this one, but if she makes any major mistakes, anything goes.
(9/12) A new poll of the Presidential race in Maine shows Obama with a whopping 14 point lead. Unfortunately, Collins still leads Allen in this Senate race by a similar margin. I don't know exactly why Allen's campaign has failed so badly, but it has. This one's over.

Rating: Toss up.
Republican: Norm Coleman (incumbent)
Democrat: Al Franken
Independent: Dean Barkley
Overview: (6/26) My full post on this race can be found here.
(8/9) Post-Palin-pick polling in Minnesota shows Obama now holding a double-digit lead over McCain, and the most recent poll of this Senate race shows Franken leading by one. The stuff I'm reading on this race seems to think that Coleman still has the inside track to hold onto this seat, but if the polling numbers above continue to hold up for the next two months, Franken is well-positioned to win.
(9/20) The new monkey wrench in this race is the candidacy of Dean Barkley. Barkley is an old buddy of former Governor Jesse Ventura, and he already has high name recognition in Minnesota. Recent polls show Barkley grabbing as much as 14% of the vote. I think he will take votes away from Coleman and Franken about equally. On the one hand, his Reform Party roots appeal mostly to disaffected Republicans, on the other hand, Barkley is ardently against the war in Iraq, which appeals to progressives who don't care for Al Franken. This race is completely up in the air, and has gotten very nasty, because support for both Coleman and Franken has seemed to ebb and flow with every little scandal that comes along.
(10/3) Here's my update of this race in the context of other stuff going on in MN.
(10/10) I can't believe I get to say this, but: Al Franken is winning this race. Franken is ahead in 4 of the last 5 polls, and Coleman is being pummelled by a new lobbyist scandal. Depending on who you want to believe, Obama is ahead of McCain in Minnesota by either 18 points or by only 1 point, but I've got a good feeling about this one.

Rating: Leans Republican hold.
Republican: Roger Wicker (incumbent appointed following Trent Lott retirement)
Democrat: Ronnie Musgrove
Overview: (6/7) Trent Lott ran and won reelection in 2006 but resigned in December of last year in order to start a lucrative lobbying career. Republican congressman Roger Wicker was appointed to fill the seat, with a special election to be held this fall for the remaining four years of the term. The situation has already caused the Republicans one serious headache, as Democrat Travis Childers won the special election for the congressional seat vacated by Wicker. Now the GOP is in more trouble in Mississippi as the Democrats have nominated former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, and recent polls have shown the race to be a dead heat. Normally, Democrats wouldn't have much a chance in a race like this in Mississippi in a Presidential election year, as lopsided support for the Republican ticket would create benefits for other Republicans down the ballot. This year however, Mississippi can expect a close race for its electoral votes as African-Americans, who constitute more than one-third of the electorate in the state, turn out in huge numbers for Barack Obama. Musgrove has also won a statewide race in Mississippi, while Wicker has not. This one will be close.
(8/9) Musgrove's campaign is just not getting off the ground. This poll pretty much says it all. Wicker leads among white voters 71% to 22%. We can't even get one white person in four to support our candidate in this state? Sheesh. Changing this one from Toss up to Leans Republican hold.
(9/30) Not much has changed in this race, and if there's no big news by election day, I'll be calling this one for Wicker. There's an interesting wild card however. It's possible that Obama and Musgrove have more support than the polls indicate, simply because it's difficult to get accurate polling information from the impoverished people of Mississippi.
(10/10) The only recent poll of this race shows Wicker leading only 49-47. It's possible that the collapse of John McCain's chances might allow Musgrove to ride to victory on Obama's coattails.
(10/18) Wicker still holds a slight lead in the polls. However, the results of early voting in other Southern states is changing expectations. Georgia and North Carolina are already voting, and seeing an incredible turnout among African-Americans. If the same pattern holds in Mississippi, Musgrove will get a boost. This one's still to close to call.

New Hampshire
Rating: Likely Democratic takeover.
Republican: John Sununu
Democrat: Jean Shaheen
Overview: (8/9) has a perfect summary of this race, so I'm just going to quote it in full and leave it at that: "Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) had not really been on the radar until Nov. 7, 2006, when a political tsunami hit New Hampshire. Gov. John Lynch (D) was reelected with the largest margin in state gubernatorial history at the same time two totally unknown Democrats knocked off the state's two sitting Republican House members. The Democrats also swept to power in both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1874. In this environment, the rematch between three-time governor Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Sununu is likely to be very different than Sununu's 2002 4% victory over Shaheen. Early polling gives Shaheen a double-digit lead. Sununu has the additional burden of being a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, a highly unpopular position in New Hampshire. At this point, the seat leans strongly Democratic."
(9/30) John Sununu is unique. He's the only seriously endangered Republican Senate incumbent who's seen his polling numbers improve, rather than deteriorate, over the last month or two. McCain has also put up some good numbers recently in New Hampshire. I'm still confident Shaheen will win, but it's not in the bag yet.
(10/18) There was a time last month when Republican prospects in New Hampshire actually looked pretty good, with McCain holding a small lead in the polls. That time has passed. Looking good for Shaheen.

New Mexico
Rating: Guaranteed Democratic takeover.
Republican: Steve Pearce (Pete Dominici retiring)
Democrat: Tom Udall
Overview: (9/8) All three of New Mexico's incumbent Congresspersons jumped into this open seat race this year. Congresswoman Heather Wilson was expected to win the primary on the Republican side, but was narrowly defeated by the far more conservative and less popular Congressman Steve Pearce. The Republican Party has announced that they are pulling their ad buys in this race, which means they're conceding.
(9/12) Oh yeah, forgot to mention. This is a win-win for Democrats as the House seats Wilson and Pearce gave up to run in this race are both in play. Democrats are likely to win one and possibly both. Additionally, it's good that enthusiasm for Republicans down the ballot and Republican spending on advertising in New Mexico are both low, because New Mexico is another swing state that has become vital to Obama's strategy to win the Presidency.

North Carolina
Rating: Toss Up
Republican: Elizabeth Dole (incumbent)
Democrat: Kay Hagan
Overview: (6/7) This race is turning out to be the sleeper of 2008. Libby Dole has an extraordinary résumé, and it has been presumed that she could keep the Senate seat she won in 2002 for as long as she wants it. Unfortunately for her, politics is a game of What have you done for me lately?. And what Dole has done lately is serve as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Under her disastrous leadership, the GOP lost control of the Senate. I don't know if North Carolinians care about that or not, but they do have a long record of quickly tiring of incumbent office holders and replacing them. Dole's opponent is state Senator Kay Hagan. Hagan is a savvy politician, and a recent poll showed her actually holding a small lead over Dole. Given that Dole's name recognition is much higher that Hagan's at this stage of the game, this shows that Dole is in serious trouble.
(6/26) Downgrading this race from Toss Up to Leans Republican hold. All the polls are now showing Dole with a big lead, barring any major change in the race, she'll win.
(8/9) Maybe I spoke to soon. Hagan has been running an effective campaign that has brought her into a tie with Dole in the polls. Also of note is the Obama campaign's all-out effort to win North Carolina's 15 electoral votes, which helps Hagan as well.
(9/20) This race continues to trend in favor of Hagan. Dole is bleeding support in the polls, and if she's going to win, she needs to hope that the McCain campaign can recover from its recent slide and get Republicans energized. Changing this race from Leans Republican hold to Toss up.
(9/30) According to the polls, Hagan now leads Dole in this race. Increasingly, the Dole campaign seems demoralized. I strongly suspect that Dole surrounds herself with old folks that she and Bob have known for decades, and not the kind of young go-getters needed to sustain a energetic campaign. Obama is now tied with McCain in North Carolina, and Democrats are fired up.
(10/10) The McCain campaign says that Dole is "virturally certain to lose." now gives Hagan a 63% chance of winning. We've almost sealed the deal on this one.

Rating: Toss up.
Republican: Gordon Smith (incumbent)
Democrat: Jeff Merkley
Independent: Dave Brownlow
Overview: (8/2) Gordon Smith is in trouble and he knows it. His favorability ratings are weak, and in order to be relected this fall he would need plenty of crossover voters as Obama is sure to defeat McCain in Oregon. His best bet would have been if the Democrats had difficulty rallying around a candidate. Earlier this year it looked like that might happen, as Oregon Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley managed only a narrow win over activist Steve Novick for the Democratic nomination. Since then however, the Merkley campaign has made great strides. The most recent polling shows Merkley now in the lead, and Smith is clearly getting desperate. How desperate? Incredibly, he's running to the left, trying to remind voters how close he is to Obama and John Kerry and how he (supposedly) has criticized President Bush. During the 1990's and early 2000's, I saw a lot of Democrats run to the right, too scared of their own shadows to stick to their principles. But as Harry Truman said, "Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like one, the people will vote for the real Republican every time." On that same note, I think Smith's jump to the left will hurt him more with his conservative base than it will bring some Democrats to his cause.
(9/12) Who is Dave Brownlow, and why is he polling at 6% in the Oregon Senate race? Brownlow is the nominee of the right-wing Constitution Party, and his support is not really a surprise. With both the Republican and the Democrat in this race embracing Barack Obama, conservatives need somewhere to go. Ironically, although Brownlow is the far-right candidate in the race, he happens to be against the war in Iraq. Three candidates from three different parties, and not one of them supports Bush's war. Sorry, George. If this Democratic-commissioned poll is to be believed, Smith's approval numbers are sinking fast, and Merkley now holds a small lead in this race. Older polls are less sanguine about Merkley's chances. Some good news however can be found in the first poll of the Presidential race since in Oregon since the conventions, which suggests that Obama still has a healthy lead. Possibly Obama can help Merkley win. This one is very, very close.
(9/20) The hits just keep on coming for Gordon Smith. It was revealed this week that Smith's frozen food business has been employing undocumented immigrants, despite Smith's denials. Smith has long taken a hard-line stance against illegal immigration. I'm not yet ready to predict that Merkley will win. However if nothing changes in this race by November, I will be predicting a Democratic victory.
(10/18) Merkley leads by 5 in the polls. Barring major news in this race, it's over.

Rating: Guaranteed Democratic takeover.
Republican: Jim Gilmore (John Warner retiring)
Democrat: Mark Warner
Overview: (9/8) Warner and Gilmore are both former Governors, and Virginia is a highly-competitive swing-state. Warner, however, is a popular rising star for the Democrats while Gilmore is the unpopular symbol of a party in disarray. Warner leads in the polls by roughly a two-to-one margin.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Woman of La Mancha

Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.” – Don Quixote

The combination of a crushing loss in North Carolina and a squeaker win in Indiana last night has buried any argument the Clinton campaign can make that the tide is turning in her favor. Very late on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton’s campaign made the announcement that the candidate had cancelled all her scheduled events for Wednesday. The media’s reaction to this was swift: when a candidate cancels events after a key loss, that means the campaign is coming to and end.

Alas, Clinton is not quitting. The event schedule was quickly rewritten to include a campaign stop in West Virginia today. The question Hillary now needs to ask herself is, “Do I want to be Dennis Kucinich?”

In the 2004 Democratic contest, John Kerry wrapped up the nomination in early March, and the DNC began referring to him as the nominee. This however didn’t stop Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich from continuing to campaign for the nomination for another three months, right up until the Convention. Now, Dennis is a fine man. If he wants to continue to make appearances and talk about things he considers important, that’s just dandy. Sometimes a person who refuses to accept defeat can also be seen as brave and tenacious. After all, everyone, absolutely everyone, told Harry Truman in 1948 that he could not win the Presidency.

Unfortunately for Dennis, people weren’t too sure that he was simply refusing to be defeated so much as he was refusing to accept, or possibly to comprehend, reality. His continued bid for the nomination reminded people more of Don Quixote than it did Truman. The adjective quixotic is defined as, “Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.” Yep, that’s Dennis all right. And if Hillary refuses to quit very soon, people will also be describing her candidacy in terms of tilting at windmills. That’s not where she wants to be if she wants to continue to be taken seriously on the American political stage.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Download this: recording industry loses key decision in file sharing case

An Arizona Court delivered a key ruling this week that undercuts the Recording Industry Association of America's legal tactics in pursuing action against those it accuses of illegally sharing digital recordings.

First, a little background. Ask the average person on the street how the recording industry pursues legal action against people who share copyrighted files, and that person will probably say, "They sue people who download illegally." However, this is not what the RIAA does. They have no way of finding out who is downloading files illegally.

The RIAA instead locates persons they believe are opening certain directories on their computers to file sharing by others, and then suing them if the shared directories contain copyrighted files, under the idea that said persons are illegally "distributing" said files. Keep in mind also that the RIAA, having no idea who might actually own the computer in question, or any idea who might have saved the incriminating files to a shared directory, is simply choosing to sue the person who paid for the internet service for the computer, under the assumption that said person is completely responsible for the computer's use.

For the most part, the RIAA has not seemed overly eager in the past few years to have their dubious legal theories validated in America's court rooms. Instead, it has largely been content to frighten the public by filing huge lawsuits against the individuals it accuses, only to turn around and immediately settle the same cases out of court for tiny sums.

The RIAA has actually won such a case in court exactly once.
In 2007, the RIAA successfully sued Jammie Thomas, a single mother of two from Minnesota, for making copyrighted songs available on a peer-to-peer system. Thomas was found guilty, although there was indication that the jury was swayed principally by the fact the Thomas had deliberately destroyed key evidence and because she had not told the truth during the trial. However, the RIAA's strategy was seemingly vindicated by jury instructions stating that Thomas could be found guilty for "making available" copyrighted files as this sufficed to constitute an infringement of the plaintiffs' distribution rights.

So it was a shock this week for the recording industry when Judge Neil V. Wake, presiding over Atlantic vs. Pamela and Jeffrey Howell, denied the RIAA's motion for summary judgment in that case, in which Jeffrey Howell was accused of illegally distributing files by, once again, simply making them available to others in a shared directory. The judge ruled instead that "infringement of [the distribution right] requires an actual dissemination of either copies or phonorecords," and that there was no proof that the defendant had distributed copyrighted songs to anyone.

Thinking about Judge Wake's decision (of which I approve), I chanced to ask myself how the RIAA's legal tactics would work if copyright holders attempted to apply them to non-electronic media.

Suppose that someone parked a car in a public garage, and taped to the outside of that car were all the pages from the most recent Harry Potter novel. It is theoretically possible that anyone could come along and either photograph or hand-copy all the pages, thus illegally obtaining a "copy" of the novel. Then the copyright holder, having no idea who owns the car, no idea whether the owner was even aware of the taped pages, and no idea whether anyone ever saw the taped pages, files a lawsuit against the person who paid for the parking space.

People are going to keep downloading movies and music, and the RIAA's strategy of bogus litigation is not going to solve the problem.