Monday, November 14, 2011

Sailing From Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania

I mentioned the other day that I may be going on a sailing trip. Well, the details have been worked out, and tomorrow or Thursday (Australia time) I'll be headed to Hobart, Tasmania, on a 38-foot sailboat. Skipper: Craig. Crew: Me. (Home, gnawing fingernails on walls, ceiling: Christine.)

Short story shorter: Craig, friend of Christine's who lives in Hobart, bought a sailboat on the internet a few months ago. It's here in Sydney, so he flew up last Thursday to get it ready and sail it back home. I had expressed interest in tagging along when I first heard about this some months ago, but Craig said he had had a close friend going back with him, and said no. I forgot about it. On Thursday, when Craig got here, he said that his friend had backed out. There ya go. 

It's take up to two weeks. Highlight of the trip: the Bass Strait.

I'll be out of internet and phone range for much or all of that time. Hobart is way down there: Nothing but open water between us and Antarctica. I will of course have much to post here when I return.

The route is the same as taken in a what is a very famous race here, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, held every year stating Boxing Day.

Did I mention I've never sailed before? (I have been on the sea, as I said in that other post.)

Here's the boat (second one out). Best I could do for now:

Here's Craig showing Christine around, up on the bow:

Skipper Craig and Christine on the Southern Ocean.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Stephen Colbert's Super PAC

Stephen Colbert - he of of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report - is doing something extraordinary to American politics, through the forming of his Super PAC, "Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow." It is not often that you get to witness someone of Colbert's stature pull off a stunt like this: using a law (or in this case Supreme Court rulings) to highlight the absurdity of said law. The whole thing is downright Mark Twainian.

To get a proper idea of what Colbert is doing, look at it this way: If the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling that said it was perfectly legal for really rich people to designate their homes as foreign countries - thereby making them off-limits to U.S. police organizations - Colbert would right now have a mansion next to the White House with a 24-hour-a-day, Las Vegas-themed, gangster/biker party going on, complete with drug-fueled machine-gun target practice contests, strippers in every window, and dogfights in the front yard. And possibly live kitten barbecues on the veranda.

And there would be nothing the cops could do, because Congress made it legal for really rich people - and Stephen Colbert is definitely one of those - to designate their homes as foreign countries. (Colbert's would probably be called "Colbertistanistan.")

Except Colbert wouldn't be doing because he's a rich asshole - he'd be doing it to show how horribly unDemocratic and morally perverse the Supreme Court ruling was. And that's exactly what he's doing here.

The Supreme Court ruling Colbert is lampooning is actually two recent rulings, and they concern one thing: the role money plays in political campaigns in the U.S. In this case by the way of the "Super PAC."

What's a Super PAC? It's a brand new kind of "political action committee" (see last link for more on them), an organization that raises and spends money on advertising for or against candidates for public office. If you want to spend money on political candidates - apart from contributions directly to a candidate or a political party (these have their own rules) - it has to go through a PAC. It's the law. PACs have been around for a while,  but they used to have restrictions: Corporations, unions, and individuals used to have strict limits on how much money they could give to PACs; and PACs were only allowed to spend so much money. Why? Because it was believed that allowing extremely wealthy corporations, unions, or individuals to spend enormous amounts of money on political advertising gave them an unfair advantage over us regular schmoes who don't have yacht-loads of cash to spend on such things - which isn't exactly rocket science.

As of the Summer of 2010, those restrictions are gone. Thanks to those recent Supreme Court rulings. (Well, some restrictions remain, but many are gone.) What effect did it have? 84 Super PACs were quickly formed, and, over the course of only a couple months, they spent $65,326,957 on the 2010 midterm elections. $65,326,957. That's four times as much as was spent on the 2006 midterms, and while election spending has been rising for a long time, that was a very unprecedented jump. (How much did you spend on the 2010 elections? Did it have the effect you wanted? And read this, about the current election cycle, which is just getting started. Or don't.)

Stephen Colbert looked at all of this and thought it was just nuts. Which it of course is. And he decided he was going to show just how nuts it was. How? By forming his own Super PAC. And he did it. Stephen Colbert can now hold the equivalent of drug-fueled machine-gun target practice contests, with strippers in the windows and dogfights on the lawn - right in the middle of the American political election process, and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it. (He'll probably spare the kittens. He seems like a nice guy.)

An excerpt from Colbert's viictory speech after getting the okay for the Super PAC from the FEC:
Sixty days ago today, on this very spot, a young man petitioned the FEC for permission to form a super PAC, to raise unlimited monies and use those monies to determine the winners of the 2012 elections. Moments ago, the Federal Election Commission made their ruling. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to say … We won!
"Sorry to say" is exactly right.

It's going to be a very interesting 2012 election year. Maybe some of it will be the good kind of interesting - thanks to Stephen Colbert.

All 2012 Super PACs.

Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow