Coleman's Appeal

From USA Today:

A Minnesota court court has confirmed that Democrat Al Franken won the most votes in his 2008 Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman, The Associated Press reports.

But, as the saying goes, it ain't over til it's over. Coleman already had said he would appeal such a decision to the state Supreme Court. He has 10 days to file.

So here's something to watch for: how long will it take Coleman to file his appeal?  He's known this decision was coming for a long time.  His legal team almost certainly knew the grounds on which he was going to lose.  They've had plenty of time to prepare their argument.  They could probably file it tomorrow if they wanted to.

But do they want to?  If they're genuinely trying to win a Senate seat, they'll file quickly.  After all, the faster they file, the faster Coleman can win the case and return in triumph to Washington.  But if they don't think they can win — if they're merely trying to stretch out a losing argument as long as possible in order to deny Franken his seat — then they'll wait the ten full days.  Which do you think it will be?

This weekend, the New York Times Magazine made its contribution to the array of recent reports that some women are having sex with men for money, still, but now have the additional option of setting it up via the internets with websites like SeekingArragement.com. The piece contains some pretty interesting profiles of arrangement seekers of both sexes, from the math nerd with the Pygmalion complex to the businesswoman who doesn't even need the cash but is just a literally money-grubbing whore to the impossibly deluded finance exec who pays women for sex and then asks, inexplicably, "Would she still want to be with me even without the money?"

A year and a half ago, I went on a couple of dates with sugar daddies to report on the phenomenon for MoJo. But to me then, as now, the interesting story was not that people are using the Internet, as they were inevitably going to do, to make these arrangements and so transparently, but that the increased accessibility that the Internet provides has the potential to draw a whole new crowd into such arrangements. I do know some gals who have either considered sugar daddies or slept with them via these sites who wouldn't otherwise have gotten into sex work. And one of the girls in the Times piece, for example, would never have become someone's paid mistress had she not found the website and, subsequently, the man so easily. It's like the correlation between accessibility and usage that opponents of legalizing drugs are always going on about.


Seeking Arrangement has three times as many users now as it did when I filed my story. Today, it "pays to have its ads pop up on search engines whenever someone types in 'student loan,' 'tuition help,' 'college support' or 'help with rent,'" the Times article reports. That kind of visibility plus ease of opportunity plus a recession could add a whole new slew of applicants to the sugar baby pool yet. I wonder how long it'll take before they start linking their ads to searches for "classified" or "Monster.com" or "unemployment."
 

San Francisco's freezing-cold answer to Coachella, the Outside Lands festival, made its debut last year, and despite some organizational problems and nerve-wracking sound issues, a good time was had by all. The organizers have just announced this year's lineup, set for August, but they didn't just post a list on the internet; they managed to get ranger, bison and beaver puppets to sing a crazy little song punning on the names of all the bands. This may be the cutest thing I've ever seen in my entire life, and I've been to Japan. In fact, I'm not even going to tell you any of the bands playing, so you have to watch it.

Well, Jeez, you try making money with spray paint and stickers! The New York Times’ Moment blog had design guy Steven Heller take a look at the appropriative work of graphic artist and Obama “Hope” poster creator Shepard Fairey, and despite what the AP says, he believes Fairey isn’t a plagiarist:

Those who rebuff Fairey’s work are angry that he misappropriates (read: steals) famous art and design works; they argue that Warhol changed paradigms while Fairey makes knockoffs. I did an interview with Fairey for his recent book, “Obey: Supply & Demand,” and I admit that on occasion he has come close to crossing the line from acceptable borrowing into murky infringement territory. But after seeing the satiric art barbs that he aimed at politics, cultural icons and bêtes noires in his exhibition at the I.C.A. (where I participated in a panel discussion on appropriation), I can say this: Shepard Fairey is not a crook.

Heller allows that Fairey’s work involves copying “established works,” but maintains the images are “playfully twisted,” and, at its best, a “critique of image ownership.” However, he seems disappointed in Fairey’s more recent turn towards salesmanship, with the “Obey” designs turned into T-shirts and knick-knacks, and Fairey “aggressively using legal means to stop other artists from appropriating his work.” A few years ago, I had an experience with Fairey that made me feel the same way.

At the G20 summit that concluded last week, the world’s leading economic powers made what looked like a generous commitment to poorer nations: $1 trillion to help the developing countries weather the economic crisis, which will drive an estimated 50 million more people into dire poverty. But as Robert Weissman writes on the Huffington Post today, the apparent largesse might not be all it seems.

To begin with, the $1 trillion figure is overstated, and much of the funding is in the form of loans. Even more importantly, Weissman argues:

The entire purpose of the G20’s assistance may be thwarted by the institution through which the G20 countries chose to channel most of the money: the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The logic of providing assistance to developing countries is to help them adopt expansionary policies in time of economic downturn. Yet the IMF is forcing countries in financial distress to pursue contractionary policies–exactly the opposite of the stimulative policies carried out by the rich countries (and supported by the IMF, for the rich countries).

For decades now critics have excoriated the IMF for lending policies that tie financing to a country’s willingness to tighten its belt by cutting social programs, and pursuing a program of financial deregulation, privatization, and foreign investment–precisely the sorts of policies that created the financial mess in the first place, and precisely the kinds of changes will make suffering in the developing world even worse. The IMF says it is changing its approach–but as Weissman points out, Congress can hold them to this dubious claim by attaching conditions to U.S. funding. 

One eminently practical suggestion for how some of this funding might be used comes from HelpAge International, a grassroots organization focused on the needs of older peoples of the world. HelpAge argues that to be effective, development policy “must respond to the intergenerational nature of poverty and to rapid population ageing.” As the G20 meeting concluded, HelpAge urged that funds be provided ”to build social security schemes that put money directly into the hands of the world’s poor and deliver long-term income security.’’

More than three quarters of the world’s population has no access to anything resembling social security. That includes 100 million people living on less than $1 a day. The economic downslide makes their survival even more tenuous.  As HelpAge argues:

The tenth installment of America's hottest music festival is only one week earlier than usual this year, but it sure feels like it snuck up on me. Holy palm trees, it’s this Friday, and I'm not ready! I need to get new crazy-colored board shorts, hipster vintage T-shirts, and decide on a poolside cocktail! More than anything, though, any festival attendee with a serious interest in music needs to start planning early, picking priorities from the cornucopia of quality acts. For the next three days I’ll take a look at the lineup, splitting things up into admittedly imperfect “rock,” “hip-hop” and “electronic” categories, for lack of a better idea. Today: rock.

This New York Times article on a rare public appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas -- a talk with high school essay contest winners -- is enough to make you feel sorry for the poor schmuck, if he wasn't on the most powerful court in the land and thus able to place the imprint of his neuroses and obvious self-loathing on the legacy of American jurisprudence.

The article makes clear, simply by quoting the famously taciturn Thomas, that he believes he is dumber than all the other justices and a good number of law professors, and retreats into isolation ("I tend to be morose sometimes") to nurse his wounds and brood. What an awful purgatory of an existence: to know you are a fraud, to know that everyone else knows you are a fraud, and yet to be locked into your job more or less for life. It's enough to ruin a person. And it appears it has.

The debate rages at Slate's XX Factor. The indomitable Linda Hirshman lit a fire with her piece on 'blaming' the victims of domestic violence for not leaving sooner. She uses two books to make the point that it's entirely appropriate to ask the question that so many feminists consider verboten, switching the onus from batterer to batteree. Of Leslie Morgan Steiner's new memoir of four years in an abusive relationship, Crazy Love, and Katha Pollitt's Learning to Drive: And Other Life Lessons about marriage to an epic philanderer (she didn't know it at the time), Hirshman writes:

The daughter, who is 13, chose to stay with an aunt. She was born in Japan and speaks only Japanese, but her parents entered Japan illegally. (A country with rigid, inflexible, and harsh immigration laws.) Mom finally got busted in 2006 and one of those nationally polarizing sagas ensued. Three years later, their poor daughter is weeping at the airport while cameras flash, and she has to choose between her parents and her country. She chose to stay, and likely will not see her parents again until she's 18. It's a terrible, heartbreaking situation, but only her parents are to blame.

Japan hasn't changed; they knew the gamble they were taking. I might have too were I living in the impoverished farming village they're returning to in the Philippines. But I'd like to think I would have chosen to illegally immigrate to a country with more flexible laws regarding aliens.

Then again, I also think we should abolish the boundaries between countries all over the world and let people go wherever they want to.

Yeah, I'm one of those One World People. There's more than enough for all of us, but we're too selfish and tribal to share with each other. Until then, Japan gets to enforce its laws.

The Power of Lobbying

The Washington Post reports on a new study about the fantastic efficiency of K Street lobbying:

In a remarkable illustration of the power of lobbying in Washington, a study released last week found that a single tax break in 2004 earned companies $220 for every dollar they spent on the issue — a 22,000 percent rate of return on their investment.

The study by researchers at the University of Kansas underscores the central reason that lobbying has become a $3 billion-a-year industry in Washington: It pays. The $787 billion stimulus act and major spending proposals have ratcheted up the lobbying frenzy further this year, even as President Obama and public-interest groups press for sharper restrictions on the practice.

The paper by three Kansas professors examined the impact of a one-time tax break approved by Congress in 2004 that allowed multinational corporations to "repatriate" profits earned overseas....The researchers calculated an average rate of return of 22,000 percent for those companies that helped lobby for the tax break. Eli Lilly, for example, reported in disclosure documents that it spent $8.5 million in 2003 and 2004 to lobby for the provision — and eventually gained tax savings of more than $2 billion.

Not bad!  But Eli Lilly is a piker.  Pfizer saved a cool $11 billion.  Here's the Top Ten:

Honesty compels me to to point out that this research overstates the value of lobbying by choosing only a single, particularly lucrative tax break to examine.  The overall return on lobbying investment for business interests is probably no more than, oh, three or four thousand percent.  Hardly worth getting in a lather about, really.  Please go about your business, citizens.