Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happy Beatles Day!

With the launch of The Beatles Rock Band, as well as the release of remastered Beatles music, I thought I'd take a break from the usual blog fodder for a countdown of my personal favorite Beatles' songs.

"Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup." So begins Across the Universe, a beautiful and hauntingly poetic song written by John Lennon in the late 60's. There is no question that Lennon had a gift with words, but here he paired his lyric imagery with a melody that was both hypnotic and seductive.

There is probably no song that has affected me more than A Day in the Life. This time Lennon's lyrics are straight forward as he tells three separate stories. He seems to be reaching his hand out through the speakers, to take you to a new place where you would see and feel things you'd never experienced before. Brilliantly broken up by a change in tempo and tone with Paul McCartney's brief interlude, the song builds musically to a literal crescendo (created by playing an orchestra's warm-up backwards).

For No One was written by McCartney, but no reason to hold that against a song with a musical hook that still gets me forty years later. First released on one of my favorite Beatles' albums, Revolver, the song is a gem. The descending notes of the clavichord, the French horn solo, the sweet, unadulterated sound of Paul's voice, combines for a sad, beautiful song.

Beginning with the most memorable starting chord in all of music, how can you not love A Hard Day's Night? Putting aside the lyric simplicity (rhyming dog and log was not one of Lennon's crowning achievements), the song nevertheless epitomizes the excitement, energy and vibrancy of the Beatles. It's fast-paced, easily memorable, and a true collaboration (unlike most Lennon/McCartney songs, this one really was written with the help of both). Just the sound of Lennon's voice moaning "ahhh" before repeating the title is enough to make this a favorite. But the story of the title's derivation -- coming from one of Ringo Starr's malapropisms -- makes the song even more endearing. And enduring.

Another song that is also the title of a Beatles' movie, Help! also deserves inclusion on this list. The vocal overdubbing created a layered and intense sound that gave more intensity to the desperate lyrics. "And now my life has changed in oh so many ways," was probably the understatement of the year. And to have the ultimate supergroup convey feelings the rest of us ordinary folk felt (echoing insecurity and doubt) was both liberating and disconcerting.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I like I Will. It's a sweet, sappy love song, written by McCartney for Linda. But unlike his truly awful Silly Love Songs written post-Beatles, this is actually a wonderful, pure admission of devotion. Who wouldn't want a song like that to be written for them? Lennon wrote a similarly "madly in love" song for Yoko years later, Oh Yoko, which I'd include as a favorite were it not a solo effort. And I'll give a nod to George Harrison for his similarly themed, Byrds-esque If I Needed Someone.

"There are places I remember, all my life though some have changed." In My Life. Is there another song that both grabs you by the throat and touches your heart as much as this song? It is a reminiscence, it is a love song, it is a plaint, it is a celebration. It is Lennon laid bare.

George Harrison's guitar introduces an urgently paced, buoyant I've Just Seen a Face. Falling? Yes, Paul, we were falling every time we heard your happy, heavily-Liverpudlian-accented voice go almost country as you professed your love.

By contrast, Julia is almost a dirge. A love song to his dead mother, Lennon again did what he did best -- open up his heart and lay it all out for us. There appeared to be no filter, no need to hide or hedge when he wrote a song. He put what he felt out there, this time in a strange mix of lullaby and prayer.

In Let it Be, McCartney sings of his own departed mother, "mother Mary," whose lasting influence is to help strengthen him in "times of trouble." The piano introduction is almost hymnal in tone and the song, with its angelic backing vocals and gentle melody, seems somehow sacred. Then the electric guitar and drums come in and shakes things up. This is no old-time gospel music, this is something else.

Lennon oozed sex in Norwegian Wood. Released on the album Rubber Soul, Lennon starts out naughtily :"I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me?" Introducing the sitar to Western ears, the song was unlike anything being heard in 1965. And the band, who had started out with innocent songs like the virginal I Want to Hold Your Hand, was now opening up a whole new direction. Lennon's voice was full of wry sensuality and his lyrics admitted to multiple indiscretions. The Beatles were definitely moving in a new direction.

You've Got to Hide Your Love Away has my favorite Lennon vocal. Pained, angry, demoralized, he sums up all the feelings of a failed relationship even down to the resigned, sardonic laugh at his own misfortune.

These are just a few of the songs that I will never tire of and it's nice to have an excuse to celebrate them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Musings on PA jury finding poker is a game of chance

A Pennsylvania jury of seven men and five women decided last week, after just two hours of deliberation, that poker is a game of chance and not skill. In making this finding of fact, the jury found defendant Lawrence R. Burns, 65, guilty of running an illegal gambling enterprise.

Burns had admitted that he advertised and ran poker tournaments, for profit, in Westmoreland County, but his defense to illegal gambling charges was that Texas hold'em should be exempt from the definition of illegal gambling as it is a game of skill and not chance.

His defense attorney presented testimony from University of Denver Professor Robert Hannum who conducted studies that established what is obvious to those who play poker, but apparently unknown to the twelve who sat on the jury. Poker is not about the cards, but the skill of the player.

Too bad the jury didn't have the chance to watch last night's broadcast of the first day of the 2009 WSOP Main Event. They would have seen Dutch pro Lex Veldhuis put on a clinic on how to play poker skillfully, leaving nothing to chance.

In hand after hand, he bluffed his opponents off better hands. There was no show down, no chance for a miracle card on the river to change things. He read his opponents (correctly) as weak and made his move. How does chance figure into that? The outcome of every hand was his correct interpretation of the facts in front of him.

Playing the player, not your hand, is the cornerstone of the most skilled poker player. It's what separates them from the casual player who waits for good cards and then prays they hold up. For most people, especially those who don't want to feel responsible for their own lack of skill, it's easier to attribute poker losses to "bad luck." But when someone's cagey bet gets you to lay down the best hand, that's not bad luck. That's being outplayed.

I wonder if the jury's take is part of a larger problem with most people. The tendency of people to blame others for their problems. It's also what makes us so dependent on the government. We can't take care of ourselves. We have bad luck. Forces are out to interfere with our success. So we ask the government to fix everything, instead of looking inward.

That jury in Pennsylvania apparently didn't want to accept that some people are better than others at poker. They would have no trouble agreeing that practice makes you better at golf or pool (other games where wagers are often made), but since cards are involved, they assume the outcome of a poker game is all luck. If they lose, it's not their fault, it's the cards.

But, as Shakespeare wrote, "the fault...lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poker -- Luck or Chance? Pittsburgh jury to decide

If poker wants to raise its profile, towards the ultimate goal of having it taken out of the sleazy "gambling" realm and elevated to a cerebral battle of wits played with cards, it's going to have to be careful how it is portrayed on TV.

For most casual players, and non-players, their only exposure to the game is what they see on TV. Similarly, all I know about golf is what I see broadcast. If I saw amateur golfers beating Tiger Woods, I might think that this golf thing is pretty easy. If a lucky swing gave you a hole in one, I'd be hard pressed to see the skill involved in the game.

On TV we have the new show Face the Ace, in which an amateur poker player takes on some of the greats in heads up matches. On the first episode, in the very first match, we see one amateur be dealt some premium hands and quickly dispense with one of poker's finest players. What is the message? It's all about the cards you're dealt -- exactly what those who oppose poker believe and what those who play seriously know is not the case.

Realizing how lucky he was to win, to beat the expert with such ease, the amateur walked away with his first round winnings and did not try to test his luck any further.

Poker has always had a tough time being accurately reflected in the media. ESPN, which broadcasts the World Series of Poker, distills twelve or more hours of play into at most 40 minutes worth of hands (less after the human interest stories concerning the oldest or most physically challenged player that year). With so few hands shown, it is not surprising that the ones that do make the cut have the biggest visual and visceral impact -- often the big suck outs.

Sadly, it is not riveting TV for most viewers if the player makes the right read, gets it all in with the best hand, and it holds up. But ESPN could show last year's November Niner Scott Montgomery suck out with a brutal one-outer late in the tournament, defeating a player who made a brilliant read, over-and-over. And when they do, it gives support to those who claim, "It's all luck@"

In a courtroom in Pittsburgh today the two sides are once again at it -- is poker illegal gambling or a game of skill exempt from anti-gambling laws. One of the prosecution witnesses says of course poker is gambling -- she testified that "the outcome of the game is determined by your cards." Not surprising, she said she always loses.

Any pro will tell you that if you are only playing your cards, you're missing a least half of the game. And any pro would love nothing more than to play against a player who believes that it's all about the cards.

But when poker winning is shown so often to be a result of a miracle card or a great run of hands, it shouldn't be surprising that there are people out there who believe it. The defense attorneys in Pittsburgh will be bringing in experts (as has been done in other courtrooms around the country) who will enlighten the jury as to the true nature of poker. And it is likely that they will come to the same determination as other juries have recently -- that poker is a lot more about who is playing than what they are dealt.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Legalize Online Gambling Now

Sun Tzu said, know thy enemy. For those of us supporting online gambling, we have a number of otherwise incompatible enemies to deal with.

The conservative Christian organization “Focus on the Family” is opposed to any form of online gambling. As they see it, “We must keep families safe from online predators that seek to exploit people for a profit.” To FOTF online gambling is not an issue of personal freedom, relief from excessive governmental interference, or the rights of a free market. It is about sin and degeneracy – and they see it as their moral responsibility to save you from evil.

What is ironic, of course, is that in their quest to shut down online gambling, Focus on the Family is doing the bidding of other purveyors on gambling: the NFL, brick and mortar casinos, Indian gaming, and state lotteries.

On the side of online gambling there is the million plus member Poker Players Alliance (PPA), headed by former Republican Senator Alfonse D’Amato, the Interactive Media and Entertainment Gaming Association (iMEGA), and the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC), among other groups. Their motivation is, primarily, old-fashioned capitalism, the economic outgrowth of freedom and democracy.

Focus on the Family believes it has Jesus on its side and its drive to impose its religious beliefs on others is boundless. And Jesus wasn’t much of a capitalist, anyway.

This coalition of the religiously fervent – who, we know, is tireless, well-organized, and well-funded – with the industries that would be hurt by the expansion or legalization of online gambling makes for a formidable opposition.

Add to this mix liberals such as Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein who incredibly find themselves in the political bed of the rightest of the right in their opposition to online gambling. The Senators are not religious zealots, nor do they seem to be motivated by ties to traditional gambling businesses.

Instead, they take their position from a third category – the liberal “I know what’s best for you” position that makes certain left-wingers believe they have the moral duty to protect you from yourself. And if it interferes with your economic and personal freedom, oh well. They're only looking out for your well being.

Even with a poker player in the White House, we have opposition in the administration – Obama’s Attorney General, responding to questions during his confirmation hearing confirmed his opposition to online gambling. Agents from the Department of Justice recently intercepted payments from online poker sites to players, freezing assets and causing tens of millions of dollars in payments to be suspended.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

How to combat a motley association such as this one?

We have to be larger, better funded, more organized, and louder.

And, possibly, we need a spokesperson a tad more eloquent, more approachable, and more telegenic than Barney Frank.

We need to frame this as an issue of economic and personal freedom, which it is. We as a country do not ban all forms of activities that might have some negative consequences. We establish rules and guidelines, laws and penalties. We’re not Iran, we don’t need the government telling us what we can and cannot do in the privacy of our own homes, with our own money. If we are the country of freedom, then let us have that freedom.

I don’t want Focus on the Family running my life, nor those who feel economically threatened by online gambling, and certainly not by the self-appointed nannies Boxer and Feinstein. I want the right to spend my free time and my money as I see fit. Is that really too much to ask?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Republicans and Happiness

A new Pew Research Center survey shows that Republicans as a group are happier than Democrats. And this is not, as some might assume, because Republican are wealthier than Democrats (one need only look to Hollywood to see that money does not always equate with Republican Party identity). Adjusting for income, Republicans, whether rich or poor, were happier than their economic counterparts in the other party.

I’m not surprised. Being a Republican means having a clear set of values devoid of the moral relativity that plagues the Democrats. When you fail to have a clear concept of good and bad or right and wrong, it can leave you ungrounded and unsure. You have no touchstone on which to rely, no way to assess the merit or worth of anything. If there is no clear better or worse, then how do you know if you’ve achieved a satisfying result? How can you ever be happy if there is nothing you value as superior to something else? If everything is relative, then nothing is special.

This is why having a leader who represents Democratic Party values is a mistake. If you believe that Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Il-Sung are merely friends we haven’t yet made, you don’t understand friendship. If Benjamin Netanyahu and Gordon Brown are not more important to you than the Castros, then you have no clear cut values. If everyone is treated the same, with no accounting for their character and behavior, then we have moral chaos. This is not the road to peace, it’s a path to our own destruction.

Republicans tend to believe in the inherent ability and value of each person and to trust that people can achieve if they are free to do so. Democrats view people as victims of some wrong or another who need to be taken care of and shown what to do. This is why the Democratic Party proposes the golden handcuffs that come with the welfare state. They don’t want to see individual achievement; they want to have their hand in whatever anyone accomplishes. They need to justify their existence and their continuing control over our daily lives.

The Democrats love the story of Robin Hood and have taken it upon themselves to take from the rich and give to the poor, in some twisted notion of nobility. In reality, they are trying to make the successful feel guilty about their success and the unfortunate believe that their situation is beyond their control and they own the government their very life. This is a dysfunctional relationship that any therapist would encourage you to run from – but it is the basic economic and social platform of the Democrats.

Republicans have no trouble prioritizing, Democrats cannot choose. Republicans put their country first and their family first. Democrats think this is arrogant, biased and uncaring – we should treat all nations, all people the same. It must be hard to figure out if you’re happy or not if you don’t consider one thing more important than another.

Despite the campaign rhetoric from last year, it is the Republicans who believe in hope, the Democrats who believe in doom and gloom. The Democrats ignore any evidence that the world is not coming to an end – scientific studies that dispute the global warming hysteria, for example. The more diseases we get a handle on, the more new threats the Democrats raise (high fructose corn syrup follows second-hand smoke as the scourge of the world). Carbon emissions! Saturated Fats! There’s a new calamity just around the corner for the Democrats.

Republicans aren’t putting their heads in the sand, but they are willing to be satisfied. Republicans can be content, without being complacent. We can appreciate the good, without ignoring the bad. But it takes discernment and a willingness to make value judgments to do that. So, if the Republican Party is on its way out as many in the media are saying, does that mean that happiness is also endangered?

If you see yourself as an optimistic person, with clear values and morals, and you’re not yet a Republican, maybe you should rethink that decision. You might find some happiness here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Farewell to Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp passed away this weekend. It’s a sad reality that his passing was better covered by the sports media, who respectfully recalled the former quarterback, than the mainstream media. Kemp was a true ideologue and visionary in the best sense of both words. He believed in something and put his beliefs into action. He wasn’t a politician out of any need for attention or power, but because he wanted to make the world a better place. Only his view of a better world was not the unrealistic, Utopian Kumbaya of the liberals but grounded in economic and political reality. And he eschewed knee-jerk right wing politics for a kinder, gentler capitalist agenda that, if realized, would benefit all Americans.

I once looked to him as the future of the Republican Party. He was the original “compassionate conservative,” the real deal. He was a Republican through and through, yet realized the GOP would need to remind the public of its heart if it wanted to maintain its status. It was quite a blow to me when Kemp finally had the national stage, during his run for VP, when he was unable to articulate his position as well as he had previously. During his debate with the robotic and un-charismatic Gore, Kemp was surprisingly incapable of conveying his passion or his message. It was a golden opportunity missed, and Kemp never regained the national stage.

Still, he continued to speak and his voice was worth listening to. Not long after Obama’s win, Kemp wrote, “the GOP needs to rethink and revisit its historic roots as a party of emancipation, liberation, civil rights and equality of opportunity for all.” He was right, again. The Republican Party cannot hand over those issues to the Democrats and hope to win elections in the future. We need to remind the pubic of our core values and how they will make for a stronger America. Kemp took bold stands – his position in favor of drastic changes to the federal tax code, including imposition of a form of a flat tax, was radical, but more necessary today than ever. And as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development he showed that Republican and concern for the poor were not mutually exclusive concepts.

With our party in disarray, we could use a man like Jack Kemp. We need to be the party of strong values, visionary ideas and concern for the health and safety of all Americans. Let’s honor Jack Kemp by living up to his ideals and shaping our party to be a shining beacon for liberty, freedom and justice for all.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Minnesota Goes After Online Gambling

Minnesota is not considered a conservative state by any means, having elected Jesse “The Body” Ventura its governor and Al “Stuart Smalley” Franken as a senator (give or take fifty votes). Yet, when it comes to the Internet, Minnesota is making a move that will bring the ACLU knocking faster than you can say, “yah, sure.”

Today, state officials from the Department of Public Safety have aimed their sights on an area which they believe threatens the safety of their citizens. Child porn, drug dealers, gangs? Nope something even more insidious -- Internet gambling. Yep, the full force and power of the state government of Minnesota is rallying to protect us all from the scourge that is online gambling.

According to a news report in the Star-Tribune, the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division has instructed 11 national and regional telephone and Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access by all Minnesota-based computers to nearly 200 online gambling websites.

The article quotes John Willems, the director of the agency instituting the crackdown, as saying, "We are putting site operators and Minnesota online gamblers on notice and in advance. State residents with online escrow accounts should be aware that access to their accounts may be jeopardized and their funds in peril."

According to the article, Willems does not know how much Internet wagering is going on in Minnesota either in the amount of dollars or the number of players, but believes that the amount of gambling going on in his state over the Internet “is fairly large.”

What has motivated this decision? That can be deduced fairly easily as Willems notes that the Canterbury Park in Shakopee has said that its casino-style games have been hurt. Once again, protection of the local state gambling operation, and not any issue of law or morality, carries the day. This is a near replay of the efforts in Kentucky to protect their online gambling site,, by attempting to seize the domain names of gambling sites used by residents of that state.

Here, the state of Minnesota is not trying to seize the websites – a wise move as the Kentucky appellate court halted the seizures there ruling that the state misapplied its seizure laws. Instead, the state agency sent notices to ISPs ordering them to block their sites to Minnesota residents. But the move would have the same effect -- probibiting what is otherwise legal conduct.

The state is apparently relying on a 1961 federal law that gives states the authority to control illegal gambling, yet how that gives them the right to interfere with free speech and violate interstate commerce is another question. One I hope will be answered in favor of online gambling.

To me, it's a basic Republican position to want as little governmental intervention in our lives as possible. I should be free to decide how I want to spend my free time and my money, without unnecessary governmental interference. Poker is not a crime and should not be treated like one. The citizens of Minnesota, like those of Kentucky, do not need their government to act as their babysitter. And they certainly don't need their states interfering with their free speech rights for the sole purpose of protectionism. This is just censorship, plain and simple, and as a Republican I don't need the government stepping in to stop every form of communication they don't agree with. While I'm not often on the side of the ACLU, I'm looking forward to their weighing in on this issue.

In the meantime, the Poker Players Alliance has already issued a statement objecting to the Minnesota’s anti-online gambling efforts, writing:
Matt Werden, the Minnesota state director of the Poker Players Alliance, the leading poker grassroots advocacy group with more than one million members nationwide, and more than 21,000 in Minnesota, today issued the following statement following the press announcement by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that they are attempting to block citizens from accessing any commercial gambling sites, including online poker sites.

This isn't simply a heavy-handed tactic by the government; this is a clear misrepresentation of federal law, as well as Minnesota law, used in an unprecedented way to try and censor the Internet. I don't know what U.S. Code they're reading, but it is not illegal to play this great American pastime online, and we're calling their bluff.

The fact is, online poker is not illegal, it's not criminal, and it cannot be forcibly blocked by a state authority looking to score some political points. What are they going to do when this fails, ban poker books and burn our players at the stake?

We see headlines like this coming from communist China but never expect that it could happen here in Minnesota. The good news is groups like the Poker Players Alliance are here to protect the rights of poker players and set the record straight when government reaches too far. But this is more than just protecting poker – this is about keeping the internet free of censorship and ensuring that law abiding citizens can enjoy a game of Texas Hold 'Em in the comfort of their own home, whether it's online or with a group of friends.

The PPA will take any action necessary to make sure our members and the general public are aware of these oppressive and illegal actions, and to make sure the game of poker – in all its forms – is protected in the state of Minnesota."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blame the Victim, Rely on Doublespeak

Earlier this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the drug war raging through Mexico, claiming lives and threatening communities on both sides of the border, that the U.S. was to blame for this problem.

She said: "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the death of police officers, soldiers and civilians.

"I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility."

And I suppose a provocatively dressed woman is co-responsible for being raped?

Now, at least Ms. Clinton voted in favor of erecting a border fence between our two countries when she was in the senate, as did the president. Unfortunately, our new Secretary of Homeland Security, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, was not in favor of such a measure.

As she simplistically told the Associated Press when she was still governor, "You show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border. That's the way the border works."

And she’s now in charge of keeping America safe.

Her first step in this direction is to play with words. Because, of course, if you do not use the word “terrorist,” terrorism itself will disappear. Or so must be her thought process.

In an interview with Der Spiegel last week, the reporter noted that in “your first testimony to the US Congress as Homeland Security Secretary you never mentioned the word "terrorism." Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?

Napolitano replied, “Of course it does. I presume there is always a threat from terrorism. In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.”

Well, I feel safer.

But Ms. Clinton's blame the U.S. and Ms. Napolitano's let's play with words pale in comparison to the blame the victims doublespeak that occurred in Oakland yesterday.

The victims there are four dead police officers, shot by Lovelle Mixon. Approximately 60 protesters held a rally in Oakland to condemn the police and pay their respects to Mixon, who was killed after he shot the officers.

The protest was organized by the Oakland branch of the Uhuru Movement for Economic Development who, not having received notice of the semantic change of Secretary Napolitano, hoisted signs reading “Stop Police Terror.”

"OPD you can't hide - we charge you with genocide," chanted the demonstrators. They were honoring Mixon, a fugitive on parolee who killed two motorcycle officers who had pulled him over in a traffic stop, then killed two more officers who tried to capture him when he was hiding out at his sister's apartment nearby.

Mixon had bought the gun he used to shoot the officers after being released from prison, in violation of his parole. He knew he had committed a felony that could send him back to prison. And this is who the protesters decided to honor?

One woman at the rally chanted, “Lovelle is a hero! Lovelle is a hero!" Others told reporters that Mixon was fighting back against an oppressive police force. A man summed it up thusly, “I don't condone what he did, but karma comes around. What goes around comes around."

Another protester, who claimed to be a cousin of Mixon said, "He needs sympathy too. If he's a criminal, everybody's a criminal."

If he’s a criminal, everybody’s a criminal? That is not just doublespeak, it's an outright lie. If we continue to blur the lines between good and evil, criminal and victim, we'll have no moral center. Where are our values?

There was justifiable outrage around the country at the AIG executives who took contracted bonuses -- I don't think you could find anybody who sided with them. But a multiple murderer can get 60 people to march and chant on his behalf? What is wrong with us?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kentucky Continues Hypocrisy Against Online Gambling

The commonwealth of Kentucky is known for three things – bourbon, tobacco, and horse racing. So it may come as a surprise that Kentucky is taking on the role of the temperance police in the Court of Appeals as they attempt to confiscate the Internet domain names of over one hundred online poker sites. But in a fifty-six page brief, the sanctimony – along with the hypocrisy – comes dripping off the page as the Commonwealth warns of the “particularly harmful” nature of Internet gambling.

The background of this dispute is as follows. After the Kentucky governor Steve Beshear was unable to follow up on a campaign promise to bring casino-type gambling to Kentucky, he decided to marshal his forces behind closing 141 Internet gambling sites that were available in – though not located in – Kentucky. His secretary of justice and public safety brought a criminal seizure action against 141 Internet domain names pursuant to Kentucky statue 528, which provided for seizure of “unlawful gambling devices” operating within the Commonwealth.

In a closed-door hearing, the Commonwealth was able to convince a judge to order the seizure despite the fact that the domain names had not been notified, had not had an opportunity to object, and were not located in the state. At a subsequent forfeiture hearing, lawyers representing the domain names, the online gambling industry, and other free speech organizations objected to the seizure on a number of grounds, including that domain names are not “gambling devices” (defined under the statute as being a device such as a slot machine or roulette wheel. They also argued that the Commonwealth improperly used a criminal forfeiture statute in a civil proceeding, and improperly ordered seizure without first finding a criminal violation.

Those representing the defendant domain names lost at the trial court, but were successful in bringing a writ prohibiting the trial court from following through with the forfeitures. The Commonwealth appealed this decision and last month filed its mammoth brief. Despite the fact that the governor of Kentucky had run for reelection on the promise of bringing casino gambling to the state, and despite the fact that the Kentucky-based online gambling site was excluded from the seizure and forfeiture order, the Kentucky brief wraps the Commonwealth in all that is good and pure in its fight against the evils of demon-gambling.

The brief calls the world of online gambling an “illegal racket” which is particularly dangerous because it is easy, available and anonymous, operating in an “unregulated underworld” where gamblers can gamble in relative isolation and “instantly wager and lose retirement savings or college funds in secrecy.”

Putting aside the over-wrought, hysteria in this loaded language, what the brief fails to do is explain how that differs from the Kentucky-based, the online gambling site of Churchill Downs, where the first button on the home page is “wager now.” If their complaint is that these gambling sites are located off shore, then welcome them to set up in Kentucky. I’m sure they‘ll be happy to.

But this case is not about protecting the citizens of Kentucky from the sin of online gambling at offshore sites, but about protecting the business of Churchill Downs from losing money to competing online gambling sites. The Commonwealth’s attack on online gambling is about two things – protectionism and money. They want to protect their own gambling interests and hold these off shore sites hostage in exchange for monetary payoffs.

Hopefully, the Court of Appeals will see through the hysteria and evaluate the legal issues at the heart of this case and affirm the order prohibiting the seizure of the domain names and letting them operate free from protectionist interference.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Buyer's Remorse

After selling himself to the American people more relentlessly than the Geico gecko, ETrade baby and FreeCreditReport troubadour, could some of the luster be off the Barack Obama brand? Is it possible that the country could be starting to question exactly what it was they bought when they elected him four months ago?

First, Obama has had a great deal of trouble in just assembling his cabinet due to poor vetting and lack of focus. Though, considering the nominees were about to work for the least vetted president ever, it should have come as no surprise. Then you had the fact that he and his administration set the wrong tone from the outset, scaring the American people when they needed to be assured.

But things are unraveling for the president at a fast pace -- and what he's losing is his mystique, his allure, his messiah-like glow. It is not surprising that his Vice President is already mocking his Christ-like image, explaining at the 124th annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C. that Obama was missing the dinner because he was preparing for Easter, “because he thinks it’s about him [Obama].”

There was, of course, his unfortunate attempt at humor on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno when he inserted his foot in his mouth more deftly than any Bush had in the past, saying he bowled so poorly, "it was like the Special Olympics or something."

Then last night, 60 Minutes broadcast a twenty minute interview with the president, conducted by Steve Kroft. Now, 60 Minutes is not known for a conservative bent, nor have they ever been associated with any vast right wing conspiracy. Yet, their reporter observed something very odd in the demeanor of our 44th president during the interview. Obama had the giggles.

During an interchange on bailouts,Obama said, "I just want to say that-- the only thing less popular than putting money into banks is putting money (LAUGHS) into the auto industry."

He continued laughing and Kroft commented on the awkwardness of the president "laughing about some of these problems." Kroft imagined the viewers might be taken aback seeing the president "sitting there just making jokes about money." Kroft then said, after being interrupted again by Obama's laughter, what many of us were thinking, "Are you punch drunk?

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He's suffering from extreme flop sweat and is experiencing the nervous laughter that comes with it. After all, he has no clue what he's doing, and everyone is looking to him for answers. You could laugh or you could cry. Obama has chosen to laugh.

But the missteps from Obama don't stop here. There is the letter he wrote to former French president Jacques Chirac which used the type of diplomatic formality more appropriate if Chirac were still president, and not Nicolas Sarkozy. This unfortunate breach of etiquette is more troublesome because Sarkozy already has felt snubbed by Obama and his extending his offer of friendship and work to Sarkozy's predecessor could only exacerbate his feelings.

Obama has already upset another of our most significant allies, snubbing Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier this month. When Brown traveled to D.C. to meet with the president, Obama rejected the idea of a joint press conference, instead letting the media in for a quick meet and greet. It was expected that the U.S. President would have wanted to stand side-by-side as Presidents and Prime Ministers have time and again. But, he relegated Brown to the back room, while making time to meet later with Boy Scouts.

It's amateur hour in Washington, even the most rabid of his supporters must see that now.

We know, intellecutally, that we shouldn't treat a campaign for president like an extended QVC episode -- but we did, and now we're stuck with the product that had the best pitch, but didn't deliver what it promised.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama's Special Olympics Gaffe

During the Bush administration, every act of bumbling, tumbling, and stumbling was reenacted ad nauseam on the various talk shows. David Letterman and Keith Olbermann in particular seemed to take perverse pleasure at any opportunity -- and, I admit, there were many -- to make fun of our former president.

One wonders if President Obama's late night gaffe -- where he said on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno that his inability to bowl "was like the Special Olympics" -- will be played on an endless loop on any of the talk shows tonight.

How many times were we shown the video of George Bush trying to go in a locked door on his way to a dinner in China? How hard did they laugh at and relish in his awkwardness and embarrassment? Mocking Bush was a sport and everyone tried to out-score the other.

Now that it's Obama starting up the presidential gaffe-o-meter, will we be subjected to endless showings of his less-than-noble moments?

I doubt it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

You May Be a Republican If...

According to a recent Rasmussen survey, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Republicans is currently hovering around 33.6%, compared with 40% who identify as Democrats. There are a number of reasons the Republican party is currently the minority party, not the least of which is the public's perception of what a Republican is -- a white, middle-aged, right-wing, Evangelical, gun-toting, uneducated fascist.

But if you disregard the negative stereotype of the average Republican that is perpetuated in the media, and focus instead on the core values that most Republicans share, you might find that you are closer ideologically to Republican than Democrat.

Borrowing from the Jeff Foxworthy routine, I've come up with a few ideas that might help you determine where you belong in the political spectrum and reevaluate your image of the Republican party.

You might be a Republican if:

You love and are proud of America.

We all remember Michelle Obama's famous declaration during her husband's run for President that, for the first time in her adult life, she was proud to be an American. The reason that statement drew such ire was that the vast majority of us always feel proud to live in this country.

Pride doesn't mean we don't acknowledge faults and mistakes, but pride means believing that the freedoms and opportunities available in this country make it the greatest country in the world. And it is those freedoms that shine a light on our country's mistakes and help us grow even stronger.

You don't hate the wealthy.

Republicans view those who have attained wealth through hard work, talent and perseverance as the beacons for the rest of us. Those who make money -- create something of value, earn their wealth -- are esteemed and emulated. We go to school or send our children to school in hopes that they too can become wildly successful. We don't view them as thieves or greedy or evil. We know that since the beginning of our country, there have been entrepreneurs and visionaries who have taken risks and become wealthy as a result. And that their wealth helped build this country and create opportunities for others.

Republicans realize that the vast majority of the wealthy in America deserve what they have. Back in 1996, Professors Thomas Stanley and William Danko wrote a book on America's wealthy entitled The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy . This book debunked many myths about the rich being mere inheritors of wealth, who were merely lucky, lazy, and irresponsible. In fact, they found that very few of the wealthy had inherited their wealth. Instead, they found that there were common traits shared by this group and they were the old stalwarts --taking risks, becoming an entrepreneur, getting a good education, going into a profession, saving your money, spending wisely.

Republicans don't hate the wealthy, they aspire to join them, whereas -- judging by their economic policies -- Democrats mostly want to tear the wealthy down.

You believe charity begins at home.

Many mocked George Bush's call for "compassionate conservatism" and claimed that Republicans, basically, do not care about the poor and misfortunate. In Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism (Basic Books), Sociology Professor Arthur C. Brooks provided data that supports what Republicans have said all along. The Republicans want people to help people, the Democrats want the government to do it.

Brooks, found that religious conservatives were far more charitable than secular liberals, and that "those who support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others." And the charity imbalance was not just to "religious" charities, but for all types.

Brooks also found, according to, "that households headed by a conservative give roughly 30 percent more to charity each year than households headed by a liberal, despite the fact that the liberal families on average earn slightly more."

It boils down to who do you think will do a better job with the money, the charity or the government. Republicans have faith in the local charities, Democrats have faith in the federal government. The Democrats have so little interest in privately-supported charities, in fact, that Obama's new budget includes drastic reductions in the deductions for charitable giving.

You believe there is good and evil, right and wrong.

One of the surprising semantic differences between Democrats and Republicans is the lack of "judgmental" language from the left when it comes to admitted enemies of the U.S. The Democrats want to talk with Iran, talk with North Korea, talk with Hamas. The Democratic Party Platform, for example, talks about diplomacy -- "going the extra diplomatic mile" -- with a country run by a man who wants nothing less than the complete destruction of Israel.

Republicans do not believe in moral relativism and have no trouble saying that some countries and some leaders are evil. Democrats want you to see things from the other person's perspective and extend understanding and a friendly hand, even to Hugo Chavez, even to Kim Jong-Il, even to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

You can find many more Democrats who are willing to call Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter "evil" than are willing to extend that epithet to any of our true enemies.

You don't expect government to have all the answers.

You only have to look at the recent stimulus package and the new budget proposals to see that the Democrats' motto is "in government we trust." If you look at the most recent pieces of legislation to come from the Democrats, ask yourself if this is your vision of America. Do you support the redistribution of wealth through higher taxes on America's top earners? Do you support raising the tax on capital gains and dividend income? Do you support reducing tax deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations? Do you support increased government spending, auto company bailouts, financial institution bailouts? Do you want the government to have that much power?

The country, as its founders envisioned it, was to be of the people, by the people and for the people. The government was to serve the people, not the other way around. The Democrats want the government to be your father and mother, they know best what's good for you, after all. You can't be trusted to do the right thing, to spend your own money, to run your own business. If you fall, the government will be there to catch you. There are no consequences for anything you do -- if you succeed, the government will take more of your money. If you fail, the government will pay you to make you whole.

What does that sound like? And, more importantly, does it sound like something you believe in?

Understandably, you may be loath to associate yourself with Limbaugh and Coulter and the other extremist talking heads who proclaim they speak for the Republican party. But they are not our leaders and they do not represent us.

The Republican party is a party of ideals and if you share those ideals, you just may be one of us.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Etiquette on the Felt

The World Series of Poker* has released its updated rules for this year's schedule of events and, apparently, 2009 will be the year of decorum. One may rightly ask, since when does civility mix with poker? Certainly not in years past when we've had browbeating, verbal abuse and endless harangues at the table. But, if they are true to their rules, that will now be just a memory.

The "no swearing" rule of last year -- which prohibited cursing at another player -- has now been expanded to every public place at the casino. According to Rule 36, "Harrah’s prohibits the use of obscene or foul language in any public area of the casino at any time."

So now, when your pocket aces are cracked by someone who called your preflop all-in with 3-5 offsuit, you have to get up from the table and say, "Oh, my, that was unfortunate." When your opponent catches the one-outer that saves him on the river, you say, "Heavens, how disappointing."

While the blanket "no swearing" seems a bit excessive, I'm thrilled to pieces with another change. Immediately named the Scotty Nguyen/Phil Hellmuth rule, Rule 30B provides, "All participants are entitled to expect civility and courtesy from one another at every Tournament table and throughout the Tournament area. Any individual who encounters behavior that is not civil or courteous -- or is abusive in any way -- is encouraged to immediately contact a Tournament official."

A corollary to this rule is Rule 38, which provides, "Player or staff abuse will not be tolerated. A player will incur a penalty up to and including disqualification for any abuse towards another player or staff member."

On its face, this would seem to gut the game of poker of its character and image. Heck, this was the game Wild Bill Hickok was playing when he was shot dead. But in recent years, as TV cameras have covered tournaments and made celebrities of the most memorable players, it seems that rudeness and disrespect have been an easy way to gain notoriety.

The new rule is very clearly an attempt to rein in Scotty and Hellmuth who in last year's 2008 embarrassed themselves and poker with their childish tirades. Scotty was a drunken mess at the H.O.R.S.E. final table and you can Google Hellmuth and "idiot" and find any number of videos of his tirades against players who had the audacity to beat him in a hand.

Hellmuth's most outrageous World Series outbursts came at the end of Day 5 last year, against Christian Dragomir. After getting outplayed on a hand Hellmuth thought the guy shouldn't even have been playing, Hellmuth went ballistic on the guy, calling him an idiot five separate times and saying he was the worst player ever.

Hellmuth was given a penalty which was supposed to kick in at the beginning of the next day, but it was rescinded to the disappointment of many and the surprise of no one. Of course, the famous Phil Hellmuth can't not be playing near the end of what could have been his third Main Event title, his twelfth bracelet over all. So the penalty was set aside.

I understand that poker is a mental game and you try to use any tactic to get the better of your opponent. And I've seen browbeating and denigrating your opponent as a winning approach. But that doesn't make it right and at some point you have to wonder, is devaluing your opponent as a human being really worth it? Isn't winning with class -- think Peter Eastgate, Jerry Yang, or Greg Raymer -- even sweeter?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not All the News is Bad

First, the stock market had a nice up day on some rare good news out of the financial sector and Fed Chairman Bernanke making statements supportive of the banking industry. Not to dump on the auto industry, but if they have to file bankruptcy, so be it. But it's fairly crucial to rally around the financial industry right now, so, "Hurray, banks!" Yeah, that's why I was never a cheerleader.

In really good news, President Barack Obama today took some radical positions on education, which we Republicans call obvious. He called for tying teachers' pay to students' performance, expanding charter schools and having longer -- and more -- school days. As expected, the teachers unions are not pleased with the notion of tying teacher's salaries to academic results.

Today's AP report quoted Education Secretary Arne Duncan as saying, "What you want to do is really identify the best and brightest by a range of metrics, including student achievement." That is something that the unions have not wanted to see as part of education reform. But, since our children are evaluated "by a range of metrics" throughout their schooling, why should the teachers be exempt? Teachers should have to perform well to be rewarded, and held accountable when they fail, just like any other employee.

Charter schools are a great idea -- they give parents and educators much more autonomy, flexibility, and control over the school in exchange for heightened accountability. They are, in effect, a contract between the parents, students, teachers, and administrators where they agree to a shared set of goals. It makes everyone more invested in the process.

I also love the idea of longer days and more of them throughout the school year. Since we don't use our children any more for seasonal employment out on the farm, the notion of a three month summer seem a tad obsolete.

Now, if all these education reforms end up with Obama proposing a 45% top tax bracket on the highest wage earners, I'm going to eat these words with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. I'd like to think we can make education reform without putting an even greater undue financial burden on a few.

When Politics and Passions Collide

There is a website called and it lists, among other things, the top 25 liberal musicians. Sadly for me, my favorite band, REM, is there along with other bands I enjoy. I've been thinking about this conundrum for some time -- what if your political beliefs are radically different from your favorite artist? Do you reject them or just agree to disagree? Do you support them with your dollars -- buying their CDs, going to their concerts, seeing their movies, watching their TV shows?

This is an issue I struggle with quite a bit, being a Republican who leans towards liberal artists. I had originally considered naming this blog after one of REM's song lyrics, instead it's named after a play by Lanford Wilson, who, based on his writings, I can only assume would disagree with almost everything I write. It's confounding for me that the artists who I connect on one level, I am diametrically opposed to on another.

So what to do? In the past twenty-five years I've gone to too many REM concerts to count and have had to put up with anti-Bush Sr., pro-Clinton, pro-Gore, pro-Kerry, and rampant anti-Bush Jr. orations in the middle of most of them. I've sang along to Ignoreland, realizing it was an attack on the Reagan and Bush administrations. I've listened to him denounce the Republican nominees for president for over a quarter of a century, even just last year threatening to leave the country if McCain won.

I'm sure over the decades, some percentage of all the money I've spent on REM has gone to support some candidate I oppose, some cause I don't believe in. I've indirectly furthered the Democratic agenda by supporting one of their most staunch allies, one of their most fervent banner carriers. Yet boycotting them because of differences of political opinion seems un-American to me. They have a right to their wrong opinion and they have a right to express it.

I also have a right to express my opinion by not giving them my money. It is a two way street -- they have a right to speak, and we have a right to respond. I wondered, would they be horrified to discover that some of their fans may be -- gasp -- Republicans? Conservatives, even?

I was actually heartened to see Stipe say that there was no inconsistency in his mind behind a "right-winger" liking the music of a liberal group, addressing the rumor that Tory leader David Cameron and former Bush ally Tony Blair were fans of REM. He dismissed as silly the idea that a liberal artist should be displeased to discover they had conservative fans.

But others realize that with taking a political stand comes a risk. Death Cab for Cutie's frontman Benjamin Gibbard told back in 2004, "I think art and politics are directly related to each other, and people that deny the cross-influence are kidding themselves. So I can understand why people tend to be annoyed by people like ourselves getting up and taking a political stand."

Similarly, REM's Mike Mills said during the pro-Kerry 2004 Vote for Change tour, "We may alienate some fans over this. I don't like that - I prefer to have music stand apart from political feelings. But this is so important, it's worth it. If I piss a few people off, good."

Now, I was surprised to see liberal artists worry about taking liberal positions. To my knowledge, the only recent artists who risked anything by their liberal stance were the Dixie Chicks and that was because country music is thought to be more of a Red State thing. Usually, being a liberal artist is redundant and not likely to inflame any negative passions.

So where does that leave the conflicted fan? In my case, REM's music means more to me than anything this side of the original liberal-musician, John Lennon. So do I sacrifice my love of their songs, or Lennon's, because of jarring political disagreements? How far would they have to go for their politicizing to outweigh their music? I'm not sure, but I know they haven't gone too far. Yet.

"Take away their money and you take away their power" is the motto of the website, and I know that there is some truth to that. I do worry about financially supporting those who want to take the country in a direction I'm opposed to. And I worry about giving too much power and voice to those who argue against what I believe to be best for the country.

Philosophically, they're the enemy and, to them, I'm the enemy as well. I don't want to sound like a Christian, especially since I'm not in the least bit religious and if I were I wouldn't be slanting in that direction, but maybe there is something to loving your enemy. So, for now, I continue to agree to disagree.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spotlight on "Domestic" Violence

I'm going to say something that might be considered sexist and unenlightened. But so be it. It is unforgivable for a man to hit a woman. Period. I absolutely hate the phrase "domestic violence" because it is not only oxymoronic but it diminishes the nature of violence by men against their partners by putting in a separate arena. "It's not assault and battery, it's not a matter of public concern, it's a private matter" this phrase seems to suggest. But physical violence is a serious crime and only amplified when it comes at the hand of the person who is supposed to care about you.

Of course, this discussion is brought on by the arraignment today of Chris Brown for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend Rihanna. According to a police affidavit filed in this case, Brown and Rihanna got into a fight after Rhianna read a text message from another woman on Brown's cell phone as the two were driving in his car.

Brown is alleged to have "pushed Rihanna's head against the window, punched her with his right hand, and then continued driving while hitting her," according to the affidavit. He is further alleged to have bit her on her ear and on two fingers, tried to choke her, and threatened to kill her. The seriousness of the attack is evident in the photograph released by TMZ.

If these allegations are true, then Chris Brown, at the ripe old age of 19, should be through. No record deals, no movies, no sponsors, no commercials, nothing. There must be ramifications for his actions. There must be a message that we as a society will not accept violence against women.

Earlier in the week singer Usher seemed to take the right tone, criticizing Brown for tooling around on jet skis and not demonstrating remorse. He then backtracked, apologizing for his comments, saying, " I apologize on behalf of myself and my friends if anyone was offended. The intentions were not to pass judgment and we meant no harm. I respect and wish the best for all parties involved."

Are we really at the point where we cannot pass judgment on a crime of violence? I would like to think one of the few things we can all agree on is that you shouldn't hit a woman. But if that's not PC enough, then let's all agree that it is wrong to hit our partners. We can pass judgment in a domestic violence case and say the hitter is in the wrong, the victim, not.

And Usher went on to "wish the best for all the parties involved?" I don't wish the best for an abuser. I wish that Chris Brown, if he did hit Rihanna, will serve time in jail to punish him for his actions as well as to deter him and others from such violence in the future. I also wish that he would get therapy so that he never resorts to violence again. But "the best?" No, I don't wish him the best.

If Chris Brown did hit Rihanna, I sincerely hope that she does not take him back. That would be a terrible message not only to her young, female fans who may find themselves in similar situations in the future, but also to men that it's okay to hit a woman. And that's scary.

For more information on Domestic Violence and what you can do help prevent it, go to

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Today is a Good Day

Dow was up today, almost 150 points, after five consecutive days of sell-offs. Febrary 24th the DJIA closed at about 7350, today it closed at 6875. It's sad when that qualifies as good news, but I'm doing my part to be positive about the economy.

But for the really good news today -- at least for Dodger fans -- Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers have finally ended their nasty, ugly, drawn-out beyond all notions of reasonableness and good taste contract negotiation ordeal. Hallelujah.

Apparently, Ramirez will get the two year, $45 million deal the Dodgers offered back in December which Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, then-dismissed as insulting. Having received no better offers from the SF Giants or any other team, it seems that Boras finally got over his repugnance at the meager offer and decided not to add his client to the ever-growing ranks of the unemployed.

I know the new tax increases under the Obama budget will chip away at Manny's salary, but I appreciate him taking the deal and putting this drama behind him. I know the Dodgers wanted to save some money -- we can all relate to that. But I'm pretty sure they'll likely make enough in sales of Manny wigs, t-shirts and other souvenirs and keeping the fans in those expensive seats to offset the price tag.

And a final good note for the day -- Happy Birthday to my most loyal reader.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before

President Barack Obama's nominee as the next U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, apparently has some tax problems. This is like Mad Libs, Cabinet Appointment Edition. Just plug in the name of the nominee, the position, and the specific tax "oversight."

In this latest incarnation, we have the former Dallas Mayor failing to pay taxes on an honoraria he received for speaking engagements as well as over estimating the amount of business expenses he claimed for Dallas Mavericks basketball tickets and for tax and accounting fees.

In dollar amounts, the taxes he failed to pay were rather small. The Senate Finance Committee, which discovered the tax irregularities during their review of his nomination, estimated that Kirk has paid less than $10,000 total in back taxes.

Still, it does once again call into question the administrations vetting process, the knowledge of the people they are putting into the Cabinet, and the Senate's willingness to give Obama a free pass for pretty much whatever he wants.

At issue was Kirk's failure to pay taxes on $37,750 in speaking fees he then donated to his college alma mater. The problem was, he should first have reported the honoraria as taxable income, paid the taxes on the income, then donated the money and then deducted that as a charitable contribution.

In addition, Kirk, a lawyer, failed to provide adequate details to substantiate that his season tickets to the Mavericks was a business expense. I agree with Norm Lofgren, a partner at Looper Reed & McGraw law firm in Dallas and a former IRS trial attorney, who told The Dallas Morning News that Kirk's oversight "suggests carelessness in his business record-keeping. The question is why. Mayor Kirk is an experienced lawyer who undoubtedly knows the specific substantiation rules for entertainment."

Kirk also owes back taxes for business deductions he over estimated for tax and accounting fees.

Now, Republicans supposedly like Kirk and are looking forward to his swift approval, despite these lapses. But, the last time we overlooked tax errors because a nominee was just too vital, too integral to our country's future we made Timothy Geithner our new Treasury Secretary. And we know how well that has worked out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to Fix the Republican Party

This might take more than one post.

We Republicans are fast becoming a memory, to be thrown in the trash heap of passe political parties along with the Federalists, the Whigs and the Know-Nothings. We see it in the November election results and hear it on the airwaves: we are out of touch with the American populace, our core values have been rejected, we have no unifying theme, no strong leader. Stick a fork in us, we're done.

A recent Gallup Poll survey showed an average of 36% of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and 28% as Republicans in 2008. Add independents to the mix and you have a clear majority -- 52% of American voters -- identifying themselves as Democrats or leaning to the Democratic Party, compared with just 40% who identified with or leaned to the Republican Party.

Not since Ronald Reagan's reelection have the Democrats enjoyed such a favored position with the American people. Four years of the Bush Administration, coupled with the star power of Barack Obama, has elevated the Democratic Party to new dizzying heights and made Nancy Pelosi popping-out-of-her-chair ecstatic.

But the Republican Party does not have as far as some may think to regain its popularity. First, it needs to reclaim its position as the party that will fight earmarks, pork, every form of excessive and wasteful spending. Over the last eight years, Republicans have failed in this regard and have forgotten that they are supposed to be the gatekeepers of the money we send them and not profligate spenders rivaling their Democratic counterparts.

Second, stop scaring potential voters away with a platform long on social/religious statements and short on what really matter to the future of our country. Yes, I know that for some abortion is murder -- but that does not have to be a core belief of the entire Republican party. The party should stay out of the abortion debate all together -- those morally opposed to abortion in any form, at any time, are not going to flock to the Democratic party should we Republicans remove the issue from our platform. And those who support a woman's right to choose should not be told in unsparing words, you are not welcome in this party.

Similarly, the party should not focus on prayer in school, opposition to gay marriage, teaching of intelligent design, or any other religious right position that serves only as a lightning rod to alienate ourselves from the majority of American and runs counter to what should be our focus -- freedom and less government intervention in our lives.

Third, we need to better articulate why capitalism is the best economic system for all Americans and why moves in the direction of socialism (though appealing to some on the surface), would spell disaster to the future of our country. Right now we're the Scrooge party and can't compete with Santa. We need to explain how Obama's plan to limit itemized deductions discourages charitable donations, for example. We need to explain when the stock market plunges, as it continues to do, those who would spend, thereby keeping businesses afloat and workers employed, will simply keep their money to themselves. We need to explain how government handouts do not spur economic growth, build anything, create anything, or have any lasting impact.

We need to remind people of some basic rules their mothers should have taught them -- you can't live beyond your means, you can't take what isn't yours, you should save up for what you want, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Listen, I'll give it to the Democratic party. The managed to nominate a rock star for president, someone without a record of his own, who could mount a brilliant grass roots/youth driven/internet campaign based almost entirely on bashing the very bashable Bush administration. Obama's election was based on two things -- George Bush and Obama's ease in front of a teleprompter.

The Republicans are going to have to work a lot harder in 2010 and 2012 if we want to turn the tide back. Unless there is some novice state representative out there who gives great speeches and has a catchy slogan, we are actually going to have to sell the American people on our beliefs. But I think after watching the economy collapse after the administration makes business and high wage earners the enemy, Americans may be receptive to bringing back solid economic values. If it isn't too late.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Double Standard Continues

Last night as Governor Bobby Jindal was walking to the microphone to deliver the Republican response to the president's speech, Chris Mathews of MSNBC was heard to sigh, "Oh, God." After the speech, Matthews said of the Republican party's choice in Jindal, whose parents emigrated from India, to deliver the speech, "they had to outsource their response tonight. They had to outsource it to someone who had nothing to do with congress."

Let us imagine the uproar if any talking head on Fox News had said, Oh god!, before a Democrat delivered a speech. Then imagine the even greater reaction there would have been had some Democrat made a similar racist comment. Yes, racist.

Matthews twice used the word "outsource" to discuss the Republicans use of Jindal as their spokesman. Was Matthews deliberately trying to alienate the public against Jindal by using the term that refers to the hiring of workers in India, primarily, to do the jobs formerly done by Americans? Isn't that how this would have been seen had the positions been reversed and it was a conservative commenting on a Democrat?

I won't get into Jindal's poor performance, the blogophere is saturated with discussions of his disturbing discomfort behind a teleprompter, his Mr. Rogers delivery and his repetition of the rah-rah "we can do anything" mantra. I will say that the end of his speech was better than the beginning and that it's hard to look good in front of the camera after Obama. Still, the Republican better come up with more to offer than government is bad.

But what I'd like to see today is an apology from Chris Matthews and an acknowledgement of the lack of respect he showed to the governor who, from all accounts, has done a good job for his state.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Outcast, Pariah, Republican

“You’re not a Republican, are you?”

That question has been asked of me quite a bit lately, and always with a mixture of shock, horror, and pity. I can’t possibly be a Republican! I’m walking upright, knuckles well above dragging-on-the-sidewalk length. I speak in complete sentences and otherwise appear to be in possession of my faculties. I’m well-educated, irreligious, and I live in Los Angeles. So how can I possibly be a Republican?

It's insulting, narrow-minded and condescending to believe that no intelligent, rational person can be a Republican in 2009. Yes, I'm a Republican, and even after eight years of George Bush, I'm still proud of my party.

It's so easy for people to forget the roots of the Republican Party. The Republicans were once the holders of the moral high ground, the carriers of the torch of freedom and equality.

It was the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, which, as former slave and the first African-American to serve in Congress from South Carolina, Robert Smalls, said, "unshackled the necks of four million human beings."

It was the Republican party that worked to pass the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery, the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing equal protection under the laws, and the 15th Amendment, secure voting rights for African-Americans.

It was the Republican party that took the lead in working for women's suffrage. The first woman elected to Congress was a Republican, Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1917. The Republican Party was first to put equal rights for women in their party's platform.

It was the Republican party that elected Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive, conservationist who called for protection of our natural resources. He fought against corrupt corporations and for a "square deal" for both the average citizen and business. He was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

That is a proud tradition.

Then came the Depression and FDR and suddenly the Republican party was the party of the mean, out-of-touch, anti-poor, fat cats who would kick widows and orphans out onto the street.

Why does no one mention George Wallace -- the pro-segregationist governor of Alabama -- was a Democrat?

Or the fact that Robert Byrd -- a former KKK member who filibustered to try and stop passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- is a Democrat?

The Republicans are the pro-war party, or so they say. Oh, really? Who was it who embroiled us in the Vietnam war, escalating our troops, and causing untold casualties of bodies and minds? Lyndon Johnson -- a Democrat. Who ended the war? That's right, a Republican. Who went to China and the former Soviet Union to build better relations and promote peace? Hint: not the Democrats.

What are the core Republican values? Smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal accountability, strong national defense, freedom and equality. When did these become anathema?

What has caused the Republican Party to suffer, I believe, is their movement away from these value. George Bush greatly expanded the size and involvement of the federal government, and did not promote fiscal responsibility. The Party's obsession with interfering with women's reproductive rights is unfortunate and antithetical to what the party stands for which is, or should be, freedom of choice and freedom from excessive governmental intrusion into our lives.

The Republican core values are ones I am proud to hold and hope can once again come to national power and prominence. I hope for a resurgence of the Reagan Revolution, when government wasn't the enemy but neither was it the wet nurse to keep the poor needy and the middle class from becoming too successful.

The Republican Party doesn't hate the poor, but it does not believe that the answer to poverty is handouts. Sorry for the digression, but I was watching a show where they were talking with teen mothers and this girl mentioned that with welfare and whatever other money she was getting, "they" (meaning the government) were making it too easy for her. She said because of that, there was no motivation for her to get a job. Bingo! Isn't that what the Republicans have been saying since FDR, that the welfare state is a prison, a form of slavery. My cynical side thinks the Democrats perpetuate the welfare state to keep their voting base.

The Democratic Party needs to be needed. It needs poor, desperate people that it can promise the moon to and ask for nothing in return. That is their core group of voters, the voting bloc who keeps them in office. Add to that those who think of themselves a caring and compassionate and vote not in their own best interest but to feel good about themselves, you have the current Democrat majority.

So, put away your shock, horror, and pity -- yes, I'm a Republican. And perhaps if you thought about it rationally, you might be one too.

The Oscars -- Oh, the Hugh and Cry

Reading some of the reviews of last night's Oscar telecast, I had to wonder if I was watching the same show as the naysayers. I thought Hugh Jackman had a nice, breezy style, not too casual, not too stuffy. His best picture nominees' medley was inspired and raised the value of Anne Hathaway back up to pre-Bride Wars levels. While the musical medley did not give us old timers enough classic tunes to swoon over, it was a nice mix of clips and live performance. And it was Jonas Brothers-free, always a plus.

I loved the new presentation of the acting awards, with former winners each spotlighting a nominee. This was a sweet, sentimental moment that had me tearing up a couple times. Still, I had to wonder of the inequity of having some people introduced by living legends such as Shirley McLaine and Eva Saint Marie and others lauded by the likes of Marion Cotillard. Really?

The new organization of the categories, the flow from the beginning of the process through the end, was inspired. Normally, the middle of the show drags -- sorry to all the hard working set designers and documentary short film makers, but this is usually bathroom break time. But I found that this telecast moved through the doldrums-phase at a pretty good pace.

There was little soap box lecturing, which was refreshing and, frankly, surprising. I would have stayed cold sober had I played an Obama drinking game (a shot for any reference to hope or change let alone any invocation of the new Prez's name) and even the mentions of Prop. 8 were relatively few. In fact, the one person you can usually count on to politicize the moment -- Sean Penn -- took the relatively high road by saying, "I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often."

It was nice to see a movie with heart win the best picture. Slumdog may be an unrealistic, romantic fantasy, but what's wrong with that? The idea of love conquering all and -- dare I say -- hope and determination helping to bring you out of the most dire circumstances, are these so corny and passe? I guess not, since the often cynical "Hollywood" embraced this movie's sweetness with both arms.

One quibble. I do question the inclusion of "Milk" in the category of original screenplay, since it is based on a real person and his true life story. How is that less adapted than taking a short story or play and turning it into a movie? The other four original screenplays all originated out of the minds of the writers, building something from where there was nothing before. Maybe I'm just bitter, because I thought the wit and depth and unexpected turns of "In Bruges" would have garnered an award for its brilliant writer.

Quick observations:
Freida Pinto is stunning
Ben Stiller does a mean Joaquin Phoenix
Jochen Alexander Freydank is a good sport (he was the producer of "Spielzeugland (Toyland)" who had to deal with the presenters chuckling over the name of his movie and having seats somewhere near Pomona)
Steve Martin is a comic genius -- and it all started with an arrow through the head
Kate Winslet's father is an expert whistler
Disney takes care of its own (how many sightings of the High School Musical kids??)
The late Paul Newman deserved more than just an extra couple of clips

Thursday, February 19, 2009

South Carolina Poker Case -- You Win Some, You Lose Some, Part Two

The "is poker a game of skill or chance?" debate scored another victory today, albeit of the somewhat Pyrrhic type. A judge in South Carolina ruled unequivocally that poker is a game of skill. Unfortunately for the five men who were before him on charges of illegal gambling, that determination was not enough to acquit them of the charges.

Citing testimony from poker pro Mike Sexton and University of Denver Professor of Statistics Robert Hannum, Judge Lawrence Duffy found the evidence overwhelming that poker was a game of skill. However, that was not dispositive in this case.

Referencing the public policy of the state of South Carolina to suppress gambling "in all forms" the judge noted that the statute under which they were charged prohibits the playing of "any game with cards or dice." There was nothing in the statute to counter the clear, all-encompassing language.

In other states, a "Dominant Factor" test is used under which the determination of whether an activity is considered illegal gambling is based on whether the dominant factor in the outcome is luck or skill. The judge in this case ruled that South Carolina does not use the "Dominant Factor" test and that he could not consider the skill factor of poker in his decision.

Accordingly, the judge found the five defendants guilty of violating South Carolina statue 16-19-40 and ordered them to pay the required fine.

According to a press release by the Poker Players Alliance, the defendants will appeal the case, hoping to get a ruling from a higher court that the "Dominant Factor" test (also referred to as the predominance test) should be used.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poker entering the mainstream

Little by little, the poker world is infiltrating the "real" world and the names and faces that are well known to those of us who follow poker are getting their 15 minutes outside the poker world.

There was Phil Hellmuth on the finale of Season One of Top Chef, Jean-Robert Bellande on Survivor-China, Daniel Negreanu on Rob and Amber-Against the Odds (okay, so only I saw that), Johnny Chan in "Rounders," and the poker pros hiding behind aliases in the recent movie "Lucky You."

Now, three more poker pros are stretching their notoriety beyond the felt -- but only two can be happy about it.

First up is the ever lovely Vanessa Rousso, she of the long blond locks and zip lining commercial for PokerStars. Now, Ms. Rousso is not just another pretty face. She was her high school valedictorian, graduated early from Duke and went on to law school. She's had seven money finishes in the WSOP and just missed a WPT final table.

But this month she is will be seen by millions in the pages of the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. That should dispel the myth that only middle aged, cigar chomping men and pimply faced computer nerds play poker.

Then there is Annie Duke. She, too, is no academic slouch, having graduated from Columbia undergrad and then going on to grad school at Penn. She is also a WSOP bracelet winner for Omaha 8/b (one of the most frustratingly confounding games out there) as well as the winner of the first WSOP Tournament of Champions.

Duke has had two prior small appearance on civilian -- i.e., non-poker -- TV game shows, once as a member of the "mob" on 1 v. 100 and the other time as a supporter on Deal or No Deal.

But she'll be getting a lot more face time in her next television venture. Duke is scheduled to be on this season's Celebrity Apprentice, fighting it out with the usual bizarre array of people from faux celebrities (Kim Kardashian's sister) to those with real accomplishments (Olympic skater Scott Hamilton). With her smarts and savvy, and her experience in a predominantly male environment, Duke is expected to do very well and gather some new fans along the way.

But the last poker pro to cross over to the mainstream would just as well remain anonymous. Lyle Berman, the 3-time bracelet winner, inductee in the Poker Hall of Fame, and former owner of the Vegas Stratosphere found himself on a list none of us would want to be on. The Bernie Madoff client list. He's in good company, sharing a spot with Sandy Koufax and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

According to reports, Berman invested in two Madoff-controlled funds, but the amount of his losses has not been reported. Berman was interviewed after his name was made public and told reporters for the StarTribune, "I heard about Madoff 25 years ago from some friends in California and decided to give him a try." Reflecting on the nature of the "investment," Berman added. "It worked out fine for quite a while."

Sadly, that is exactly how schemes such as Madoff's work out. Fine, until the fraud is discovered. And then it all comes crashing down. For someone who makes his living reading people, being caught up in such a large scale scam must have been a shock to Berman. But he certainly wasn't alone.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On a lighter note

The World Series of Poker announced its lineup for 2009 and there is something for everyone. This year there are 57 events, starting with the lowest buy-in event, the $500 casino employees Hold'em tourney starting on May 27th, and continuing until the Main Event which will start on July 3rd.

Commemorating 2009 being the 40th year of the WSOP, the first event open to the public will be a $40,000 buy-in event, starting on May 28th. They have added two more "World Championship" $10,000 events, for a total of ten in all, and there is the third annual $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. If you're feeling flush (call me), that would be $190,000 to buy in to those twelve events.

For the rest of us -- those of us affected by the economy and who do not have sponsor's patches on our shirts -- there is a $1,000 buy-in "stimulus" Hold'em event on May 30th. There are also two other $1,000 events, one for Seniors and one for the Ladies (or any guy who wants to follow in Alan Jaffray's highheeled footsteps), eighteen $1,500 events, and a whole host of satellites with buy-ins starting at $330.

The biggest news out of this year's announcement may be the end of the rebuy tournaments. There have been mixed feelings in the poker community about rebuy events, some decrying the ability of those with deep pockets and no shame to basically buy themselves a bracelet (I'm talking to you Layne Flack), and others who are not necessarily opposed to them, noting that Michael Chu won a rebuy event in 2007 without ever making a rebuy or add on.

But even Daniel Negreanu, a notorious re-buyer, has indicated that he is happy with the decision to do away with the rebuy events. In an interview with, Negreanu is quoted as saying, "When you are giving away a World Series of Poker bracelet I think everyone should have an equal chance to win it, not just a chance based on how fat their wallets are."

Like last year, the Main Event will be a seven day event (with multiple Day ones and twos) that will halt after the final table of nine is set and then recommenced in November for a four day, final table extravaganza. The November Nine experiment last year was a mixed bag -- while the nine did not receive the media attention the WSOP had hoped, ratings for the final table were way up. According to Jeffrey Pollack, there will be more of a push this year to get the enthusiasm revved up and you should expect to see the November Nine on more than just poker magazine covers next year.

Let's hope the powers that be decide to bring back the live, pay-per-view of the final table. No matter how good a job the folks at ESPN do in editing and presenting the final table, it is by its nature misleading to have a twelve, fifteen, maybe twenty hour final table compressed neatly into two 45 minute segments. Let the true poker fanatics follow the action -- all of it -- in real time. They'll still tune in two nights later to see the hole cards and find out if their reads were right and what was really going on.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Conflicting Rulings on Poker as a Skill: You win some, you lose some

Not more than two weeks after a Pennsylvania judge dismissed gambling charges against the organizer and dealer of a Texas Hold'em home game, finding that poker was not gambling under Pennsylvania law as it was a game of skill, a different Pennsylvania judge has reached a different conclusion.

Westmoreland County Judge Richard McCormick Jr., refused to dismiss charges against three men who ran a Texas Hold'em poker tournament at a local volunteer fire departments.

The defendants' attorney, David Millstein, had argued that the case against his clients should be dismissed on two grounds, that the state law prohibiting illegal gambling is vague and that poker is not gambling because it involves skill, not mere chance.

Judge McCormick, however, ruled against the defendants on both grounds.

Earlier last month, Columbia County Judge Thomas A. James saw things quite differently, writing a lengthy opinion discussing the nature of the game of poker and all the research and books which establish it as a game of skill.

Should the defendants in the Westmoreland County case appeal Judge McCormick's decision, this could pave the way for a final showdown on the issue in the state's highest court -- a chance to get a state supreme court to weigh in on this important topic. So far, the argument that poker should not be considered "gambling" as it is a skill-based game has not had a major platform. And a number of different decisions have recently come out with different results.

It is just this type of inconsistent rulings and lack of uniformity which makes it the right time to get poker once and for all ruled to be exempt from anti-gambling restrictions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pennsylvania Judge Rules Poker Game of Skill

Last week a Columbia County judge dismissed gambling charges against the operators of a garage poker room finding that Texas Hold’em was a "game of skill."
Prosecutors in the case had charged the poker room operators with unlawfully soliciting and allowing "persons to collect and assemble for the purpose of gambling." But Judge Thomas A. James examined four issues in determining whether "gambling" had taken place: whether each player had enough data to make an informed choice; whether each player had the skill or opportunity to exercise skill in the game; whether skill sufficiently governs the outcome; and that the standard of skill is known to all players.

James wrote is his opinion “Simply, if chance predominates, Texas Hold’em is gambling. If skill predominates, it is not gambling.” James examined the extensive body of poker books which describe various winning strategies to play the game. James quoted several books on the matter including Mike Caro’s “Secrets of Winning Poker.” And he referenced various academic studies including a study by Swedish researchers that found that "Hold'em is a very sophisticated game requiring mastery of many different skills." After evaluating all the factors involved, the judge agreed with the poker experts that "in the long run, good players willw in money and bad players will lose money."

While it seems obvious that skill, not luck, predominates in poker, it is still significant for a judge to come to that decision after considering all the evidence. This is especially true in light of another recent contrary ruling, in Kentucky, where a lower court judge claimed that poker was a game of luck because whoever has the best hand wins (showing a complete ignorance of how few hands go to showdown and how much more is involved than hand rankings).

The more that poker is properly considered a game a skill, the better chance to have it accepted. Let's hope more jurisdictions follow Judge James' lead.