Roy Ulrich

Is Business Success a Predictor of Political Success?

Donald Trump (as Mitt Romney did before him) makes the claim in his stump speech that business experience is a fundamental advantage to him as a candidate for president. Trump’s supporters, in fact, tell pollsters that one of the reasons they plan to vote for him is his “real world” experience. They also like the fact that he is self-funded, that he’s not beholden to wealthy donors. And if the election of 2016 has taught us anything it’s that career politicians are not a favored class. In fact, they are disdained by a sizeable number of voters, not just tea partiers. Leaving aside for the moment whether Donald Trump has been a success or not as a businessman, it’s instructive to examine the claim.

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The Judicial Assault on Unions

It should come as no shock that Republicans in Congress would like to see the power of labor further diminished. The same is true of governors and state legislatures in red and purple states such as Wisconsin and Indiana. But now conservative courts have joined the fray.

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Billionaires Are Busy Subverting California's Once-Great System of Direct Democracy

A few months ago, I attended a large political gathering where a gentleman was handing out flyers which read, “Abolish the Congress and replace it with direct citizen voting by phone or television.”  

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Why California Needs the FCC to Restore the Fairness Doctrine

One of the lesser-known tragedies of the Reagan era was the Federal Communication Commission's decision to abolish the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. That doctrine used to require radio and television stations to air opposing and contrasting views on controversial issues of public importance. In 1992, the FCC expanded its ruling to include ballot measures.

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What If You and Your Neighbors Owned Your Local Sports Teams?

The saga of the battling McCourts, Frank and Jamie, will be played out in court. Whether or not one of them is able to hold onto the Los Angeles Dodgers will be determined by a judge. Whatever the result, the future success of the team on the field could be imperiled. If either Frank or Jamie becomes the controlling owner, the other will be entitled to a king's ransom in return. That may mean unloading promising young stars such as Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp in an effort to shave the team's payroll. That's what happened in San Diego when the owners of the San Diego Padres, John and Becky Moores, split up recently and John had to part with a significant settlement payout to his wife.

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What It Will Take to Win the Health Care Debate

In a speech to a joint session of Congress on healthcare Wednesday night, President Obama briefly alluded to the age-old argument between the individual's desire for freedom and the need for security. He noted there has been a healthy skepticism of the federal government since the nation's founding. On occasion, in reaction to the destructive excesses of this or that Gilded Age, progressives have been able to overcome our natural Jeffersonian inclination to prefer limited government. It is only when levees burst, markets crash, or regulators fail us that there usually comes a brief burst of progressive action. That was what happened in 1935 when Social Security was enacted.

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Health Care Reform in Critical Condition

Long ago, I heard Joseph Califano, President Carter's secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (later to become Health and Human Services), tell an audience that real health care reform in this country could not become a reality until we accomplished the goal of enacting campaign finance reform at the national level.

A report issued last week by Consumer Watchdog, a California-based organization, reminded me of Califano's remarks. The report found that over the past four years the health care industry and drug companies have showered the top-ten recipients in Congress with $5.5 million in campaign contributions. Taken together, the health care sector has contributed just-under a whopping $1 billion in the past two years alone.

From my point of view, and from the point of view of most liberals familiar with the subject, real health care reform must include a "public" option - that is, one that competes with private insurance. A public option would mean that consumers and employers would have the choice of keeping their private insurance or moving into a public plan. During the presidential campaign, President Obama's health care blueprint included a public option.

Regrettably, it's becoming more problematic with each day that goes by that we will get that kind of choice in the final bill. The real problem is the Senate. Given the sizeable majority of Democrats in the House, it is likely that a public option will be included in the House version of the legislation. But the existence of the filibuster in the Senate is a serious roadblock to reform.

Not only will Senate Republican oppose public health insurance en masse, but several key moderate Democrats are likely to resist as well. First and foremost is Senator Max Baucus. With the illness of Ted Kennedy, Baucus will play a key role in crafting the legislation as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The Senator from Montana raked in $413,000 over the past four years from drug companies and health insurance carriers.

Other key moderate Senate Democrats of concern are Mark Warner of Virginia, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- all of whom received significant amounts of campaign cash from these two special interests. Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is also on their favorites list.

We are about to find out whether Mr. Califano got it right. If the past is any indication, he is. And though it's been said countless times before, it bears repeating: the United States stands alone among western democracies in its repeated failure to solve the pressing crisis in health care.

Can real reform be accomplished given this pessimistic assessment? Of course. Even some of those who opposed "Hillary care" in 1994 have changed their tune. This is especially true of large and small employers alike who are tired of paying the escalating cost of their workers' healthcare. But the real key is the public, which will have to wake up from its long slumber and demand it.

The Return of Tabloid TV

I thought I was having a bad dream. But there was Gerry Spence doing something I had seen him do before: talking about something he knew nothing about. It was then I knew we were in for an OJ replay.

The arrest of Robert Blake for the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley last week was a dream come true for all of the cable talk channels. You can bet we will be seeing a lot less of Yasser Arafat, Osama Bin Laden, and even Donald Rumsfeld in the weeks ahead. Instead, we will be seeing more of Alan Dershowitz, Johnny Cochran and the aforementioned Mr. Spence.

The reason I can predict all this with a reasonable degree of certainty is that the cost of covering a distant war far exceeds the pricetag of "wall to wall" celebrity trial coverage.There is little need for a correspondent in Kabul or Jerusalem if you can replace them with talking heads and achieve better ratings to boot.

Speculation began to run rampant almost immediately. Will Robert Blake testify in his own defense? Will cameras be allowed in the courtroom? Who are the informants and will they be offered immunity?

Yes, we will be seeing the return of the "know-nothing" commentators. Many will appear knowledgeable, but some will have actually missed the entire day's court proceedings on account of their own trials or teaching schedules. At times, the ability to impart actual information takes a back seat to the chance of getting face time in front of a TV camera. As Santa Clara Law professor Gerald Uelman has noted, "Sophisticated viewers may realize these pundits are talking through their hat, but most won't."

It is for this reason that USC Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky and Loyola Law Professor Laurie Levenson drew up a set of "commentator ethics" a few years ago. The number one thing to avoid, the good professors noted, was making predictions about a jury verdict. Put another way, don't prejudge the guilt or innocence of the accused. Yet on the day after Mr. Blake's arrest, ex-judge Catherine Crier - now a Court TV anchor - violated this most basic edict by dismissing Mr. Blake's alibi defense before having actually heard it.

Some will say this sorry spectacle is missing something the Simpson trial had - namely, the racial angle - and for this reason it will not dominate TV news coverage. Who are they kidding? Celebrity murder trials make TV news executives salivate. In fact, this case may turn out to have something that was missing in the O.J. saga. That something is what I call "The Jerry Springer Element." Apparently, Bonnie Bakley was a confessed celebrity stalker who sent revealing pictures of herself to lonely men hoping to receive money in return. So the absence of race should be more than made up for by what I will term "trailer sex." That fact, alone, should have the executives at Fox News, CNBC, CNN and MSNBC jumping fo joy.

The writer is a public interest lawyer and consumer advocate who lives in Los Angeles.

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