Monthly Archives: November 2010

Why Colorado Matters, No Matter Your Party

The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care)The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado by Rob Witwer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you walk away with nothing from this book, and from this review, it should be this: by using data, organization, and money, there are political operatives out there manipulating how voters think about their candidates, and not necessarily with accurate information. Not that that is a surprise, at least to some of you, but…

Without a doubt, the book is what it purports to be: a blueprint for the Democratic strategy to successfully turn Republican leaning states, districts and offices over to Democrats. And it’s already worked. Democrats, in what was in 2002 one of the reddest states of country, now control the state House and Senate, both US Senate seats, the Governors mansion, and five of the seven Congressional seats. Further, as the authors, Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, argue, it’s a plan that is being exported to other states, and even being used nationally, to take down Republicans everywhere.

So what’s the secret? How do Democrats turn a conservative state into a left leaning Democratic stronghold? Tom Tancredo, former Republican Congressman, summed it up nicely:

“It doesn’t matter if you are running for the state legislature or the president of the United States. Brilliant organization, unlimited resources, and the effective use of technology all in the hands of bright people who are driven more than just simple ideology create the most formidable campaign strategy imaginable.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Conceived as a project by several millionaires–and not just your garden variety millionaires, but including dot-com millionaires with a penchant for data manipulation and a surplus of cash–the Colorado story is that of a small cadre of intelligent individuals bypassing the traditional political parties to orchestrate an ambush on Republican office holders that flipped Colorado to the Democrats. Using huge influxes of cash channeled through shadowy 527 non-profits, Democrats used data collection methods to target vulnerable and marginally successful Republicans with vicious mailers and only marginally true television advertising. Republicans never saw it coming, and it wasn’t until almost six years later that they started to pick up the game. Using a method of directing donations to candidates and non-profits categorized as 527s under the IRS tax code, Democrats were able to hide the actual amount of money being spent to attack Republicans, pool from wealthy donors nationwide, and target only a few swing votes to turn elections in several states.

It’s a brilliantly executed strategy, and one I am sure that every politico wishes he had conceived. The tools are available to anyone who will organize them and that is willing to raise and find the money.

As for a read, the book moves fast and feels like an extended magazine piece, full of quotes and interesting anecdotes. However, it’s probably better designed for a political wonk than for the average reader.

As I stated at the outset, the scary aspect of the book is the ability of these operatives, infusing enormous amounts of money, deft and witty campaign messaging (read: attack ads and mailers that smear candidates), and highly organized grassroots management, can, and are, winning elections, and not necessarily on the merits of their candidates.

Fascinating read. Pick it up. Or borrow it from me.

View all my reviews here or on Goodreads

Post-Thanksgiving Relief: Thai Siam Restaurant

Pad Thai at the Thai Siam Restaurant

Is it the weekend after Thanksgiving, yet? Tired of turkey and rolls, cranberries and stuffing, potatoes and pie, yet? Try something completely different, then. Try Thai Siam in Salt Lake City. (1435 S. State St.)

“Yay! I’m a fan” is a great way to describe how I feel about Thai Siam. I found it when it was half the size it is today, some six or seven years ago. It was right at the beginning of the flood of Thai restaurants into Salt Lake, and I had just moved to Salt Lake City from Utah Valley, where I had had to leave my favorite Thai behind. Thai Siam replaced it, and sometime during the first couple years that I started eating there, it expanded, doubling its size.

It has been, however, a while since I went back, but after a night out on the town (read: a harp concert on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake, as exciting as it sounds), my date expressed a craving for Pad Thai.

We arrived around 9:30, and we’re seated immediately. The service was quick–we already knew what we wanted, so after a quick glance across the menu, we ordered Pad Thai and Mussaman Curry. I noticed that rather than the awkwardly translated descriptions I’ve noticed on a lot of menus, the entrées were creatively and colorfully written, full of literary embellishments. It added a funny and delightful look to the menu, and I found myself wishing I had more time–and more stomach–to try out different items.

It took only a few minutes to bring out our meal, whether because of the crowd or because of capacity, I am not sure. Our glasses never emptied without being refilled, and the waitresses were all smiles.

Mussaman Curry--potatoes, carrots, and yummy...

And the food? Great. The Pad Thai was delicious, as expected, as was the curry. I only found myself wishing we had asked for both items to be a little more spicy. I think they probably took one look at our pasty white faces and thought: make it more bland. I’ve had both dishes before, and they have always been more spicy.

Will we be back? No doubt. There are other thai joints closer to our home, but Thai Siam is definitely one of our favorite places to eat. And after gorging on Thanksgiving, a little bit of southeast Asia sounds about right.

Thai Siam on Urbanspoon

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Are you a good writer? Could you be a better writer?

“As a colleague of mine once put it, ‘I never met a man who didn’t think he was a great lover or a lawyer who didn’t think he was a great writer. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re deluded.’”

Theodore L. Blumberg, The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing 1 (2008). (Hat tip to Wayne Schiess.)

Law Practice Tip #1: Market Yourself Non-Stop

One thing they spend very little time teaching in law school, if any at all, is how to make money as a lawyer. Which is ironic, because all of us have heard the jokes about lawyers and their greed. How do you make a penny into a wire? Give it to a lawyer. Or how about this one?

An elderly and somewhat hard-of-hearing man was sitting in a stylish downtown attorney’s office as his lawyer handed him his will. “Your estate is very complex,” said the lawyer, “but I’ve made sure that all of your wishes will be executed. Due to the complexity, my fee is $4500.”

Just then, the phone rang and the lawyer got involved with a long call. Thinking the lawyer had said “$500,” the old man wrote out his check and left.

When she got off the phone and realized the old man’s mistake, the lawyer ran after him down the stairs and into the parking lot just as he drove away. Feeling frustrated, the lawyer looked at the check and decided to accept the situation philosophically. “Oh well,” she said to herself, “$500 for half an hour’s work isn’t bad.”

Really, though, turning law school into a paying skill is more difficult for a lot of lawyers than our reputation says. Many of us went to law school in the first place because a) we got a bad grade in organic chemistry and were not sanguine about taking the MCAT, or b) we didn’t have the math skills to slam the GMAT and go to b-school. By default, law school was the logical alternative (yeah, all that baloney about “loving the constitution” and “wanting to help people” is just that–baloney. Sure we want to help people, sure we love the constitution, but we also want to eat, and a law degree seemed a logical means to that end…or at least it seemed it was when I was asking my father-in-law for his blessing to marry his daughter).

So we pass through law school, or it passes through us, we graduate in over-priced robes that we’ll never wear again, we listen to graduation speakers about lofty ideals and human rights attorneys, then walk out the front door to our waiting parents/spouse/in-laws and their questions: where will you be working? Because life isn’t cheap, and neither are the student loans we took out to get through law school. Graduating during the “great recession” doesn’t make it any easier.

I’m not a solo practitioner, but  I have a lot of friends who are, because law firms weren’t hiring. So a lot of us went solo, or did office shares and the like.  A very “eat what you kill” environment. It meant that, despite wanting to practice one type of law (constitutional law, human rights law, corporate mergers and acquisitions, etc), we usually end up doing something that has higher case volume–individual bankruptcy, criminal defense, family law, wills and probate or personal injury (not including products liability or medical malpractice. Those are case types that generally require more than a young solo prac can offer.), etc. And, as I’ve reiterated, attorneys are natural businessmen. Or at least many of us are not.

Fortunately, as they say, “it can be taught!”  Constantly watching for the day my own employer comes to me and tells me that business is just that bad, I’m always trying to watch, read, and learn the entrepreneurial side of the law. And today I think I’ve hit on several great suggestions for solo pracs, especially those just starting out. The key to staying in business, and eating, for a solo practitioner is paying clients. Emphasis on the paying part of that. Bill Gibson, in the November/December issue of the ABA’s Law Practice, had four suggestions and, interestingly, none of them had anything to do with the practice of law itself. Your success, he says, depends on several critical factors:

  • How thoughtfully you develop and execute a sound business plan
  • How well you look for, create and seize upon business opportunities
  • How well you surround yourself with people who are committed to succeeding
  • How well you manage your finances

I recommend Bill’s whole column. It’s commonsense advice, the most important of which I thought was this: market yourself non-stop. Oh, and you can succeed. Nothing about the law in that, but plenty about good business principles, about which there are whole libraries of books out there to help you find and navigate your way to business

Influencer: the Power to Change Anything

success. One I’m reading right now is called “Influencer: the Power to Change Anything,” written by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny. Patterson is also the author of “Crucial Conversations,” another great book for business or personal improvement. Check out the business or self-improvement shelf of any Barnes and Noble or Borders bookstore, and you are bound to find the one that fits your need at the moment.

While your over at the November/December Issue of Law Practice, take a moment and look at their excellent tips on managing your law firm’s finances, “Finance Tips: 25 Quick Tips for a Healthier Bottom Line.” One of the most intimidating things about starting a practice is the nuts and bolts, and the tips the ABA offers are very useful. Don’t miss Tip #11: don’t work for clients who don’t won’t pay.

Last word: the economy will turn around, and if you’re working hard now to get ahead, the pay off will be that much greater when business is better for everyone. In the mean time, work hard, rise early, and strike oil.

Is John Tyner a modern day Rosa Parks?

John Tyner

Less than ten years after 9/11 made us all afraid to fly, security precautions during pre-flight passenger screenings have  pushed Americans to near outrage. The anger stems from proceedures performed by TSA, the Transportation Security Administration,  which procedures include x-ray scanners that show naked images of passengers to screeners for the purpose of discovering any weapons or explosive devices which may be hidden beneath clothing. Passengers who refuse to be scanned must undergo a pat-down.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was when the pat-downs were found bordering on, for lack of a better description, sexual assault. Screeners have been accused of not just patting down passengers, but of groping them, getting their hands right up into the crotch area and on breasts, and even stating that they will put their hands down pants that are baggy. I kid you not. Go to YouTube. A video found there of a two year old screaming while TSA agents manhandle her is shocking to watch, to say the least.

One of the most publicized events around this outcry has been that of John Tyner, a would be passenger out of San Diego. His entire account is posted on his blog, including video he shot with his iPhone of the whole thing.  Here’s a brief summary, from NBC, about what happened:

Tyner said he arrived at the airport around 5 a.m. to travel to Rapid City, SD with his brother-in-law and father-in-law and stood in line for the metal detector at the security checkpoint.

Because no one was in the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machine, Tyner said he was pulled out of the metal detector line and told by TSA agents that he needed to go through the new machine that scans a passenger’s body image.

Once he opted out of the AIT machine, Tyner said TSA agents told him he must submit to the pat-down.

He says he wasn’t comfortable with the procedure that he compared to a sexual assault.

And that was just the beginning. Eventually, he left the screening area completely, with the TSA agents permission, when he would not submit to any pat-down. His ticket was refunded by American Airlines, and he was headed out the door when TSA decided it wasn’t done with him yet.

I began to make my way to the stairs to exit the airport, when I was approached by another man in slacks and a sport coat. He was accompanied by the officer that had escorted me to the ticketing area and Mr. Silva. He informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. I asked him if he was also going to fine the 6 TSA agents and the local police officer who escorted me from the secure area. After all, I did exactly what I was told. He said that they didn’t know the rules, and that he would deal with them later. They would not be subject to civil penalties. I then pointed to Mr. Silva and asked if he would be subject to any penalties. He is the agents’ supervisor, and he directed them to escort me out. The man informed me that Mr. Silva was new and he would not be subject to penalties, either. He again asserted the necessity that I return to the screening area. When I asked why, he explained that I may have an incendiary device and whether or not that was true needed to be determined. I told him that I would submit to a walk through the metal detector, but that was it; I would not be groped. He told me that their procedures are on their website, and therefore, I was fully informed before I entered the airport; I had implicitly agreed to whatever screening they deemed appropriate. I told him that San Diego was not listed on the TSA’s website as an airport using Advanced Imaging Technology, and I believed that I would only be subject to the metal detector. He replied that he was not a webmaster, and I asked then why he was referring me to the TSA’s website if he didn’t know anything about it. I again refused to re-enter the screening area.

The man asked me to stay put while he walked off to confer with the officer and Mr. Silva. They went about 20 feet away and began talking amongst themselves while I waited. I couldn’t over hear anything, but I got the impression that the police officer was recounting his version of the events that had transpired in the screening area (my initial refusal to be patted down). After a few minutes, I asked loudly across the distance if I was free to leave. The man dismissively held up a finger and said, “hold on”. I waited. After another minute or so, he returned and asked for my name. I asked why he needed it, and reminded him that the female supervisor/agent had already taken a report. He said that he was trying to be friendly and help me out. I asked to what end. He reminded me that I could be sued civilly and face a $10,000 fine and that my cooperation could help mitigate the penalties I was facing. I replied that he already had my information in the report that was taken and I asked if I was free to leave. I reminded him that he was now illegally detaining me and that I would not be subject to screening as a condition of leaving the airport. He told me that he was only trying to help (I should note that his demeanor never suggested that he was trying to help. I was clearly being interrogated.), and that no one was forcing me to stay. I asked if tried to leave if he would have the officer arrest me. He again said that no one was forcing me to stay. I looked him in the eye, and said, “then I’m leaving”. He replied, “then we’ll bring a civil suit against you”, to which I said, “you bring that suit” and walked out of the airport.

Now he’s being compared to Rosa Parks. It’s an apt comparison, if, well, not completely the same thing. You decide. But my favorite line from his videos is the one when the TSA agent told John that he “gave up a lot of rights when I bought my ticket.” Great. It’s a good John knew a thing or two about his rights, too, including to not to be detained, and that he knew enough to stand up for those rights. I wonder how different TSA procedures would be if more people did the same.

Needless to say, John Tyner is not alone in his anger at the excessive “security theater” that has pervaded our flight security procedures. As has been noted many times, since 9/11, every attempted attack on a flight has been stopped by passengers after the government failed to catch the terrorist, and has been followed by more stringent government screening, throwing more money and more lack of sense at the problem. As a result, another giant government agency has been created, more rights have been lost when we buy a ticket to fly, and really, nothing has been solved.

And it’s not like this is the first time questions have been raised about TSA procedures effect on our civil rights:

What are people doing about it? In addition to the people, like John Tyner, who are refusing to undergo the procedures, they are refusing to fly this holiday season (as I have), writing letters to TSA and the transportation, travel, and pilots associations, and publicizing their protest. Said one (now former) passenger to the Air Transport Association:

It is with deep regret, however, that I write to inform you that from this time forward, I will no longer be patronizing any of your member airlines, relegated instead to traveling only by car. I am taking this action in light of the aggressive, arrogant, unlawful, and flagrantly immoral actions being imposed by the Transportation Security Administration as a condition of flying. My personal boycott of flying will remain in effect unless and until substantive changes are made to provide passengers a way to opt out of the naked, irradiating body scanners, and the “enhanced” pat downs.

Another, who was subjected to the procedures because of a “medically required trip,” warned about the effect on the bottom lines of the  air travel industry.

I sincerely hope that your industry realizes the incalculable harm that the TSA is doing to your bottom line as travelers like me refuse to participate in security theater. At some point, you will have to stand up for your customers and give us back the right to fly without having crimes committed against us and being inconvenienced at every turn, or you will face the harsh economic repercussions as we decide to just stay home. I, for one, will be advising everyone I know to refuse to fly until this matter has been appropriately resolved.

Maybe that is exactly the crux of the issue: these measures have been put in place because the travel industry wants travelers to feel safe when they get on a plane. I listened to an official from the Department of Homeland Security say as much on an NPR interview this morning. If the travel industry starts seeing the pain of decreasing profits, they will innovate, and push that innovation on DHS and TSA, and make sure that they are secure and looking out for passengers privacy.

So, send a letter here, but also, don’t fly. Or fly naked.

Seal of the United States Transportation Secur...
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