Thursday, March 31, 2005

More Blogger problems

As I've said before, Blogger is a free service with all of the sporadic and unpredictable problems that status entails. The comments function doesn't seem to be working properly right now, so please be patient if you have any responses to my posts.

Consider this post an open thread if the comments work.

'They're paranoid'

Activist judges are everywhere! They're in your closet! They're under your bed! John Giles and Roy Moore told me so!

The president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama and the former state chief justice who loves granite objects appeared before a House committee Wednesday to warn that the removal of segregation-era language from the state constitution could cause judges to raise taxes willy-nilly and order that children get some book-learnin' and do other altogether unseemly things.

Lawmakers added the phrase in question -- "Nothing in this constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense" -- in 1956 in a transparent effort to defy the U.S. Supreme Court's integration order in Brown v. Board of Education. Thanks to some skillful demagoguery from Giles and Moore last fall, voters narrowly rejected an amendment to remove the language from the constitution, resulting in another round of bad press for my state.

Now Giles and Moore have another Chicken Little tale: If our lawmakers don't leave intact a constitutional amendment inspired by racism, judges could eliminate private schools and home-schooling. Their utterly illogical theories ignore the facts that 1) only the legislative branch can raise taxes, 2) Alabamians likely would vote out any lawmaker or judge who eliminated private schooling or home-schooling, 3) a judge declared the segregation-era language unconstitutional and unenforceable decades ago, and 4) a 1996 constitutional amendment "prohibits court-ordered disbursement of funds" without House and Senate approval.

But hey, no grandstander worth his salt lets facts stand in the way of a good rabble-rousing.

Legislators responded to Giles and Moore with the appropriate level of disbelief that anyone could take their fallacious arguments seriously. Alabama House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, addressing the duo's warnings about home-schooling, said it best: "[T]hey're paranoid."

Unfortunately, they're also probably just getting started.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Title IX triumphs at the buzzer

Common sense won 5-4 on Tuesday at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court decided in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education that school districts can't retaliate against workers who complain that their employers are violating Title IX. The 1972 law requires educational institutions that receive federal funds to provide equal athletic opportunities for male and female students, and it has been the focus of complex and sometimes contradictory judicial opinions in the last couple of decades.

The Court's opinion, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, came almost four years after Ensley High School teacher Roderick Jackson was fired as girls' basketball coach after he complained that his team's practice facilities were inferior to those of the boys' team. The majority decided that Jackson could sue for retaliation under Title IX because "[r]eporting incidents of discrimination is integral to Title IX enforcement and would be discouraged if retaliation against those who report went unpunished."

The majority's opinion seems imminently reasonable, but the justices nonetheless were closely divided. Justice Clarence Thomas' dissent relied on a slippery-slope warning that the Court's ruling would allow courts to "expand liability as they, rather than Congress, see fit." That assertion may sound good on paper, but it loses a good bit of weight once you learn that Title IX's author, former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., praised the Court's decision as "a strong message to these school boards that they must respond when their coaches say there is discrimination."

The case now returns to a lower court for trial, where Jackson will get a chance to prove his case. But even if the school board eventually wins, the coach's lawsuit has been beneficial in one way: Ensley's female basketball players now get to practice in the same gym as their male counterparts. Chalk up another 3-pointer for equal opportunity.

Meanwhile, in the outside world...

As our television media continue their wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson and Terri Schiavo, a British parliamentary committee reports today that up to 300,000 people have died in a conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, with no end in sight.

The Bush administration, which withdrew the United States in 2002 from the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, stubbornly refuses to allow Darfur war criminals to be tried before the ICC. Bush instead has called for a special tribunal to hear the Darfur cases, which seems like a duplicative waste of resources when a permanent international tribunal is already available.

The world stood idly by in the 1990s as more than 800,000 Rwandans died in atrocious fashion. Now, a decade later, history is repeating itself in Darfur. Have we learned from our mistakes, or are we tragically destined to repeat them?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

End of a political era

Two landmark figures in Alabama politics have died in the last two days. Former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala., died today in Sheffield at age 83. His death came just a day after that of former U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, D-Jasper, 84, who represented his northern Alabama district for 30 years before retiring in 1995.

Bevill and Heflin were giants of a bygone age when the Democratic Party dominated Alabama politics. Their personal popularity enabled them to stay in office long after Republican presidential candidates started taking Alabama's electoral votes for granted.

Bevill's legacy can be found across the state in a slew of buildings and community colleges that bear his name and in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a huge public works project that, sadly, promised much more than it could deliver. Heflin, meanwhile, likely will be best remembered for the much-needed reform of Alabama's judicial system that he spearheaded as the state's chief justice in the 1970s and for his service on the Senate committees investigating the Iran-Contra affair and the Keating Five savings and loan scandal.

Whatever their political failings, Bevill and Heflin both worked to make Alabama a better place, and I commend them for their work. My condolences go to their families.

Another paragon of virtue

Courtesy of Sam Heldman at Ignatz, we learn that the national Boy Scouts leader who was arrested today on child pornography charges wrote a letter six months ago to condemn the "intolerant elements in our society" who want to corrupt America's youth with their homosexual agenda. (The original letter was removed from the Boy Scouts' website, so I've linked to a Google cache.)

It's always good to see someone who has his priorities straight.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Back in the (former) U.S.S.R.

First we saw the Velvet Revolution in Georgia, where citizens forced President Eduard Shevardnadze, a long-time American ally, from power in November 2003 after they tired of corruption. Then, late last year, we saw the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that ousted a Russian-backed government that tried to cheat its way to re-election. Now the people of Kyrgyzstan have followed the Ukrainians' lead, taking to the streets in the last week to overthrow yet another pro-Russian government believed to have tried to retain power with a fraudulent election.

The Kyrgyz revolution, which has yet to be assigned a color, marks a second embarrassing strategic defeat in a few short months for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a secretive former KGB officer who must be frustrated at his country's apparently waning influence in the former Soviet republics. Whether the popular uprisings are isolated incidents or whether they'll spread to other former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan remains to be seen. The revolutions' long-term impact on the U.S.-Russian balance of power in the region also is unclear, though Americans certainly seem to be gaining ground there.

Kyrgyzstan, a country where many people still live in yurts and adhere to a nomadic lifestyle, might seem insignificant to U.S. national security at first glance, but the republic's strategic location near China and Afghanistan gives it added importance that it otherwise might not have. Also, as The Associated Press reports, Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley is "a hotbed of Islamic extremism" where al-Qaeda recruiting is on the upswing. The United States therefore has huge incentives to ensure stability in Kyrgyzstan so terrorists' recruiting pool there dries up.

Regardless of the revolutions' ultimate geopolitical impact, it's always good to see people reclaim their countries from leaders who don't have their best interests in mind.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Fallout from the Schiavo case

Sure, there's been an upsurge in the number of people drafting advance directives and living wills. But the ultimate effect of the Terri Schiavo case could be to change Congress' balance of power.

The public's distaste for the extraordinary intervention of Congress and President Bush in this tragic situation -- 82 percent of Americans believe politicians had no business getting involved -- could give congressional Democrats the cover they've been looking for to oppose several of Bush's appeals court nominees whose rulings they think would be too conservative or politically motivated. That, in turn, could prompt Senate Republicans to carry out their threats of detonating the "nuclear option" of changing the rules to eliminate the filibuster in debates over judicial nominees.

Because the Senate has, for almost 200 years, allowed unlimited debate unless at least a three-fifths majority voted otherwise, Democratic candidates could easily portray the elimination of the filibuster as an unprecedented bit of overreaching by Republicans determined to advance their agenda at all costs. Combined with existing public unease about the Iraq war and Social Security privatization, that portrayal could result in Democrats taking control of one or both houses of Congress in 2006.

You'll notice that "could" appears a lot in the previous paragraphs; that's because it's too early to know for sure how the Schiavo situation will affect the 2006 election, if at all. The likeliest outcome is that Senate Republicans won't cobble together enough votes to eliminate the filibuster and that most Americans will forget all about Schiavo in a few weeks after the television news networks move on to their latest scandal du jour.

Still, the Schiavo case has the potential to send a few independent voters drifting in one direction or another. With the country divided so closely along partisan lines, almost any such event can prove to be a decisive political moment.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Good news for Charles Barkley

Or, more likely, for U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, who has emerged as a gubernatorial candidate for 2010 or 2014. A Capital Survey Research Center poll taken in January and February found that 74 percent of Alabamians would feel at least "somewhat positive" about "a black governor of Alabama." Only 7 percent of respondents expressed a negative reaction.

Davis correctly noted that the poll doesn't mean much since it doesn't delve into specifics: "There won't ever be an abstract question on the ballot should people ever elect a black governor." Another consideration is that when it comes to race, some Alabamians have shown the tendency to say one thing in public and do another thing in the secrecy of the polling place, as the 40 percent vote to retain the unenforceable interracial marriage ban demonstrated a few years ago.

Just in case you bought into the myth that those 40 percent of voters reflected the unease of both blacks and whites about interracial marriage, here's another statistic from the Capital Survey poll: While 70 percent of blacks said they felt positively about interracial marriage, only 37 percent of whites did.

Progress can be painfully slow. But time and again, history has indicated that fortunately, inevitably, it does come.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Meter reading #9

By popular demand (seriously, don't laugh) comes the latest extra-large installment in this irreverent, irrelevant series. Here's how people have gotten here since Sunday, March 6:

A Google search for "chimp attacks."
Do not taunt Happy Fun Chimp.

A Technorati search for "Yahoo search."
I sense the beginnings of a fashionable Internet trend here.

Two Technorati searches for "Volokh."
Funny thing: Even if you backtrack later, when you call for a constitutional amendment to allow slow, painful executions, people tend not to forget.

Two Google searches for "Gerald Allen."
Sadly, I missed the distinguished book-banning legislator's birthday. I wonder if he accepts late gifts.

A Technorati search for "Tennessee gay marriage."
Something tells me it ain't happening any time soon.

A Google search for "discretion advised."
It certainly is.

A Google search for "Grantsburg urban legends."
Sorry, I don't know any, but I'll make one up for a small fee.

A Google search for "Blount County water."
Hey, if I had that, I wouldn't need the urban legend guy's money.

Three Google searches related to "Stephen Bullard" or "Donaldson Correctional Facility."
It's a sad tale that reveals many of the problems with Alabama's overburdened prison system. At least I know a few people care.

A Google search for "SGA elections and greeks at Alabama."
The Machine won again. It will do nothing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Google searches for "Redding Pitt" and "Twinkle Cavanaugh."
That brings the score to Redding 2, Twinkle 1.

A People PC search for "sportswriters 2005 NCAA tourney picks."
Michigan State? Michigan State?!?

A Yahoo search for "'eat something' Olbermann."
If you can think of a better combination than chicken and cable news, I'd like to hear it.

Visitors from Idaho and Mississippi.
From this point forward, I'll only mention visits from states that haven't been on the list before. This unusual pairing brings the cumulative state count to 36, two short of the ironclad majority I need for a constitutional amendment.

Visitors from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, El Salvador, India, Japan, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, and United Kingdom.
I'll still list all of the foreign countries, because I'm like that.

A Technorati search for "Singapore sex."
Ah, yes, the pervert trap works to perfection.

A search for "sex" from the Saudi version of Google.
OK, maybe it works a little too well...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

So that's where he's been

The Ultimate Warrior, a renowned observer of the human condition, has checked in with his take on the Terri Schiavo case.

Yes, he's that Ultimate Warrior.

Finally, an explanation

Someone beat Roy Moore to the punch.

Did you ever wonder why many of the Ten Commandments monuments at the center of the ongoing debate about the constitutionally permissible relationship between religion and government were installed in the first place? To the likely dismay of the former Alabama chief justice, who never met a piece of granite that couldn't help him make a buck or two, it appears the monuments were little more than cogs in a promotional machine for Cecil B. DeMille's movie The Ten Commandments.

How dare that guy exploit religion for personal gain a half century before Moore could do the same thing. Just goes to show that you can never trust those long-haired Hollywood types.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Roll Tide! (Copyright 2005 UA)

The University of Alabama could well have a claim in its lawsuit against artist Daniel Moore; I haven't seen enough details to know one way or another. But from a public-relations standpoint, I have to wonder how wise it is for the Capstone to sue an alumnus whose paintings glorify great moments in Crimson Tide football history, especially when that art is as well-known in many parts of Alabama as the Mona Lisa.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cruel and unusual redux

As you may remember, I called your attention last week to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh's suggestion that the Eighth Amendment be modified to allow Iranian-style punishment of mass murderers. After a deluge of criticism from the blogosphere, Volokh made an about-face based on a realization that such a punishment scheme would make many Americans very uncomfortable and likely would cripple the jury system.

A few days later, Volokh was back to defending the need to enjoy criminals' retaliatory punishment, albeit making his argument in a much more rational manner this time. I'm not really sure where this guy's stream of consciousness will flow next, but I'll let you know if I see anything interesting floating by me.

Mmm, bacon

Your restless nights are over, ladies and gentlemen. The National Geographic Society has confirmed that yes, Virginia, there is a Hogzilla. Or was, until they buried him in a hole big enough to hold plenty of illicit books. Anyway, that's a lot of ham.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Where's the consistency?

Pursuant to state law, the doctors pulled little Sun Hudson's breathing tube Tuesday. The 6-month-old, born with arms, legs, and lungs that were too small due to dwarfism, wiggled in his mother's arms, gasped for a few breaths, and died.

The physicians at Texas Children's Hospital told Sun's mother, Wanda Hudson, time and again that his condition was incurable, that her son would never be able to live free of tubes, that it was only a matter of time until his inevitable death arrived. She refused to believe them, hoping beyond hope that something, someone, anything could save her son. Forty other hospitals declined to offer care to Sun, saying further treatment would be pointless. To the very end, Hudson pleaded with hospital officials not to pull the plug on her baby. They did it anyway.

Hospital staffers had the legal right to remove Sun's breathing tube due to a 1999 Texas law signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush. The law allows doctors to end a patient's care when a hospital ethics committee finds that further treatment would be futile, even if the patient's family objects. Under the law, family members get 10 days after a committee's futility finding to try to find another hospital to accept their loved one, but if they can't find a willing facility, or if they can't pay for the treatment, the plug gets pulled, no matter how vigorously the family disagrees.

Where was Bush's "presumption in favor of life" when he signed that law? Where were the defenders of Terri Schiavo when Sun's life was on the line last week? Where were the years of impassioned legal appeals on Sun's behalf? Where was the emergency, last-minute congressional intervention before Sun breathed his last?

Wanda Hudson just lost her son. She'd like some answers.

A thoughtful take on gay marriage

Tennessee-based writer Jack Neely's column from Metro Pulse, which I discovered via the Locust Fork Journal, is roughly the 2,839,294th piece in human history to use the phrase "a modest proposal" in its title. But Neely's insightful analysis of some Americans' selective approaches to religion, sexuality, and the law leaves me willing to overlook that.

In his own words, here's a one-sentence summary of Neely's argument: "Maybe because we feel guilty about ignoring so many large parts of the Bible, the hard parts, when we find a rule in there that we think we can follow, we take the opportunity to make a great big deal out of it."

It's a well-crafted column. I recommend it.

Surveying the tournament damage

Two of my Final Four teams are gone. Half of my Elite Eight is no more. Seven of my Sweet 16 participants are history. My only remaining hope is for an Illinois-Kentucky championship game in which the Fighting Illini prevail.

Lessons from this year's busted NCAA Tournament bracket:

1) Florida is a lottery ticket that never pays off. I buy into the hype every year, and every year I learn another valuable lesson. Next year I won't buy into the hype. I swear. At least until it's time to make purchases.

2) Buy into the North Carolina hype. The Tar Heels are that good. I didn't believe it, but then I watched them play this weekend. For once, the talking heads were right.

3) Kansas was overrated. I knew it.

4) Roll Tide anyway.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Death and politics

Since the congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo life support case has been all that the television talking heads wanted to discuss this weekend, I thought I'd weigh in with my take on it. Then I found that Steven Taylor at PoliBlog has already addressed the legality and morality of the matter with more eloquence than I could have mustered. I highly recommend his post.

All that I would add to Taylor's post is how truly disgusted I am that both parties are tossing around the Schiavo situation like a political football. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday that "if the House Republicans refuse to pass our bipartisan bill, they bear responsibility for the consequences." Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who would like you to forget all about his little ethics brouhahas and the criminal indictments of his associates, decided to question the manhood of Schiavo's husband on Friday. But an anonymous Republican won the crassness battle this week with a memo that called the Schiavo situation "a great political issue" for the GOP.

Disgusting as the memo may be, at least its motives were clear. That's more than I can say for the grandstanders on Capitol Hill.

Parole for a parole board

Alabama's prisons are dangerously overcrowded, as the ongoing sagas of Donaldson Correctional Facility and Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women illustrate. The state's prison rolls were growing so quickly a few years ago that Gov. Bob Riley added a second parole board in 2003 to try to ease the burden. The temporary board was to free about 5,000 nonviolent inmates before it expired in 2006.

So here's the question: With the number of state prisoners slowly rising and with hundreds of nonviolent offenders still overdue for a parole hearing, why are both Riley and Attorney General Troy King supporting a bill to eliminate the second parole board a year early? It can't be that "[i]ts work appears to be done," as a Riley spokesman said, because it clearly isn't. A spokeswoman for the permanent board suggested that the temporary board's workload is unnecessarily duplicative, but the newest member of the permanent board told The Birmingham News that the temporary board has "plenty of work" available.

The opposition to the panel appears, not surprisingly, to relate to Montgomery's internecine turf wars. Many permanent board members dislike the temporary board because it horns in on their previously exclusive action. King, on the other hand, dislikes the temporary board because it doesn't always follow his office's parole recommendations.

Alabama prisons remain packed to the gills with more than twice as many inmates as the system was built to accommodate. Parole hearings remain backlogged for about 600 nonviolent inmates. A criminologist who has studied the state's prisons has estimated that up to 5,000 more nonviolent inmates could be paroled safely. If our public officials would hurry up and finish the scratching-and-clawing phase of their power struggle, I'd like to call their attention to a few of those things.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

After further review...

Remember last week when Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid laid out his bold, progressive vision for a city where police don't shock schoolchildren with electric stun guns?

Well, never mind.

Friday, March 18, 2005

A bad situation gets worse

So in addition to having too few correctional officers, an overloaded sewage system, and a warden who's on mandatory leave after warning of dangerous conditions at his prison, Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer now doesn't have anyone in charge of its understaffed health-care system either.

I'd ask Alabama legislators to do something to remedy these deplorable conditions, but it seems they're too busy bashing gay people and declaring jihad to worry about such things.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Iran isn't a role model

Courtesy of Sam Heldman at Ignatz comes a reminder that an abiding respect for leaving the entire Bill of Rights intact doesn't appear to be a prerequisite to teaching constitutional law.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, perhaps the most influential conservative legal blogger this side of Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds, this week suggested a constitutional amendment to lift a portion of the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment and allow Iranian-style punishment of mass murderers, including flogging and throttling. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty skeptical of arguments that we should abrogate centuries-old constitutional protections of civil liberties to try to make our criminal-justice system more like that of a theocracy.

Don't worry your pretty head

You remember the warden who found himself on mandatory leave earlier this month after venting his frustration about the highly dangerous work conditions at his Bessemer prison? Well, Alabama Department of Corrections officials want you to know that it's not what you think.

You see, they placed him on leave for his own good under the Americans With Disabilities Act. He was tired, you know, and he just needed a few mandatory good nights of sleep. And prison officials were feeling so benevolent that they decided to wait 13 days before worrying his troubled mind by telling him why he wasn't allowed to come to work anymore. It's a perfectly natural thing to do, and how dare you suggest that the scathing media coverage played any role in this internal personnel matter.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

'Administrative leave' isn't a good thing

Courtesy of loyal blog reader Free Voice, we learn today that The Auburn Plainsman has finally figured out what happened to Auburn University's missing agriculture dean. As it turns out, he's on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, which is about as scary of a prospect as it sounds.

One final note: The Plainsman reporter's job title is "content editor." Anyone care to tell me what that would entail?

Who needs caribou anyway?

After all, they're just in the way of the oil at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and that Texas tea must be recovered by any means necessary. Even though the refuge's deposits at most could account only for 2.5 percent of our oil needs. And even though none of the oil would hit the market for at least nine years. And even though the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that less than a full year's supply of the national oil demand could be extracted profitably from the area.

The federal government has required only minimal increases in automakers' fuel-efficiency standards. The federal government has given lip service to efforts to develop alternative fuel sources but hasn't made the research funding a top priority. And the federal government has said fuel conservation is a nice idea in theory but has done little to encourage the American people to engage in it.

Meaningful action on any of those fronts would be a huge step toward weaning our country off its reliance on Middle Eastern oil in the long term. Those actions made good national-security sense well before Sept. 11, 2001, brought the Middle East's instability to our home soil in a catastrophic way, and they make even better sense with each passing day.

But hey, who actually buys into that "plan for the long term" tripe? Certainly not the 51 senators who voted today to dig big holes out where the caribou roam.

A note to my readers

The old adage is that you get what you pay for. The Blogger service is free to me. I think you see where this is going.

Blogger is very easy to use, but it can also be quite erratic. The latter has been the case for the last couple of days; I was lucky to squeeze in one post yesterday between the long stretches of downtime. So if you've had trouble accessing this blog or posting comments, don't take it personally; I've had the same problems.

Thanks for your patience. Assuming the computer glitches have worked themselves out, you'll get to read some more posts today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Gotta let it Bern

In a reassuring sign that absurdly large-scale crime doesn't pay in the end, a federal jury convicted former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers today on nine counts related to an $11 billion accounting fraud at the company. Ebbers, 63, faces up to 85 years in prison and likely will spend the rest of his life behind bars even if he gets a greatly reduced sentence.

Ebbers took the stand in his own defense, a move that clearly backfired. Something tells me that the other big fish in the federal government's major corporate fraud trials, Enron's Ken Lay and HealthSouth's Richard Scrushy, will take that lesson to heart.

Monday, March 14, 2005

I'm not a political organization

And that's why the Federal Election Commission shouldn't get to regulate my blog. The question of blogs' status under the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law arose after U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last year struck down as too broad the FEC's 2002 decision that online activities can't be deemed "coordinated political activity." FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith compounded bloggers' worries when he said during a CNET interview earlier this month that without congressional action, commissioners could have to place a value on the "campaign assistance" provided by hyperlinks and e-mail lists offered by independent Web users.

Smith's comments seemed to be a classic example of a public official speaking without realizing the ramifications of his word choice. If anything, it appears that he would condemn such blog regulation, but 14 U.S. House members and a group called the Online Coalition have decided to pre-empt the argument anyway. As the coalition correctly notes, "Curtailing blogs and other online publications will dampen the impact of new voices in the political process and will do a disservice to the millions of voters who rely on the Web for original, insightful political commentary."

And after all, isn't my "original, insightful political commentary" what keeps you coming back for more? Well, OK, maybe it's the sporadic news updates on beavers. Just don't tell anyone.

Common sense reasserts itself

The Federal Communications Commission ruled today that it wasn't indecent for ABC to show a naked back before Monday Night Football. Maybe the First Amendment isn't doomed.

Not awesome with a capital 'A'

In case you needed yet another reason to mute your television whenever ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale opens his mouth, I found it.

After Sunday's NCAA basketball tournament selection show, Vitale lamented loudly about how the selection committee jobbed out Notre Dame (17-11), which finished 9-7 in the Big East but stumbled repeatedly at the end of the season, by excluding it from the Big Dance. He also criticized the committee for handing an at-large berth to UAB (21-10), which went 10-6 in Conference USA and beat a good DePaul team twice in the last couple of weeks.

I disagree with Vitale's logic, but I at least could respect it if he were consistent. Which he isn't. A few hours before the committee unveiled the brackets, Vitale had UAB in the tournament and Notre Dame out. So in addition to being unable to contribute much to a basketball telecast other than gutteral sounds and catchphrases that were outdated 10 years ago, Vitale apparently can't even hold a consistent opinion for half a day.

How does this guy still have microphone privileges?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Finally, something we all can agree on

Alabama legislators just voted unanimously for an excellent law.

No, I can't believe I just typed that sentence either, but it's true. The Alabama Senate on Thursday gave its final approval to a new Open Meetings Law that will penalize governmental bodies that fail to tell the public when and where they're meeting and will clarify the exceptions under which meetings can be taken behind closed doors. The push for the measure, which takes effect Oct. 1, gained new urgency after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that Auburn University trustees could close committee meetings as long as a majority of members did not attend.

Whereas the old law was, in the words of the former chairman of the University of Alabama's journalism department, "just a statement of policy that things ought to be open," the new law gives teeth to that policy by allowing citizens to sue officials for improperly closing their meetings and to force the offending officials to pay monetary penalties out of their own pockets.

The law will go a long way toward ensuring open government in a state where people historically have been rightly disgusted by their elected officials' proclivity to operate in secrecy. Kudos to everyone who assisted in this bill's passage.

Lake Guntersville gunslinging

Blount County still wants to use Lake Guntersville as a long-term water source for a booming population. Marshall County still wants Blount County to take its drinking straw away from the lake and go home. Jefferson County still has a monopoly over Inland Lake, the largest reservoir in Blount County, and still threatens to dam up the Locust Fork River in its northern neighbor.

In other words, the water situation in north Alabama is all a big mess, and that much hasn't changed. But Marshall County Commission Chairman Billy Cannon stepped up the rhetoric to new levels in a story published in today's Birmingham News: "You think it was rough in the Wild West over water. You come in here and try to tap us ... you're going to have a problem."

Gentlemen, isn't there an answer that doesn't involve Winchesters?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

It's sad that it's come to this

The Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, like many other Alabama prisons, has very serious problems. It's dangerously overcrowded, operating at more than 160 percent of its capacity. It's severely understaffed, with correctional officers forced to work up to 32 hours of overtime apiece each week. Its sewage system is overloaded and its employees are overstressed.

The prison's warden, Stephen Bullard, wrote to state Department of Corrections Commissioner Donal Campbell last week to tell him the troubles were nearing the breaking point. In a March 1 memo, Bullard wrote, "I am concerned that it is going to take a lawsuit, riot, death, or serious injury for anyone to take this crisis seriously. ... It is also my opinion that should an employee be injured or even sue for harassment on unfair ... employment practices, the department would have no legal standing to defend these charges."

They're strong words, and you'd have hoped Campbell would have taken them to heart, or at least have expressed a little sympathy for his underlings' plight. Instead, he placed Bullard on mandatory leave for 10 business days.

Campbell is in the difficult position of overseeing the prison system in a state with a history of underfunding its correctional system. Things were so bad in 2002 that a federal judge ruled that a women's prison in Wetumpka was an "unconstitutionally unsafe" "ticking time bomb," prompting Alabama to send prisoners out of state to comply with his order. The state also has added a second parole board to try to clear the prison rolls, but the number of inmates has remained relatively static.

The situation must be distressing for Campbell, but his frustration never should have led to him behaving that way toward a warden who used internal channels to complain in good faith about the burdens he faces on a daily basis.

The U.S. Supreme Court soon will rule in Garcetti v. Ceballos, in which the justices will decide if public employees can be subject to retaliatory demotions or firings for work-related speech on "issues of public concern." For the sake of both the First Amendment and good government, I hope the justices will bar such retaliation. If state officials keep shooting messengers, I fear they may never get the message.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Senseless legislation is awesome

Now gay marriage can be twice as illegal!

The Alabama Senate on Thursday gave its final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and the measure will go before voters in the 2006 primaries. Aside from being discriminatory on its face and a craven attempt at scoring political points by attacking a minority group that can't really defend itself electorally, the proposed amendment makes no sense whatsoever from a legal standpoint. Gay marriage is already barred by a state statute, so the amendment is pointless.

"But what if those evil liberal judges strike down that law?" you might ask. First, if you're dealing with Alabama judges, most of whom are quite conservative, the chances of that are slim to none. Second, a judge can strike down a state constitutional amendment found to violate the U.S. Constitution just the same as a state statute that's in violation, so if a state measure is unconstitutional, labeling it "constitutional amendment" won't save it.

Then again, we're talking about the same legislators who this year passed a law that said they can't pass a law to change education funding, which they could repeal by passing a law to change education funding. Logic isn't these folks' strong suit.


President Bush heard exactly what he wanted to hear Thursday during his "Social Security infomercial" in Montgomery: that he's a bold visionary whose Social Security privatization plan is a masterpiece of executive ingenuity. But everyday Americans who don't receive invitations to fawn over Bush at private parties remain justifiably skeptical according to a poll released today.

The Birmingham News even found someone in "the mostly white crowd, who got their tickets through Republican office holders," who was willing to say he left the event unconvinced that privatization was a good idea. That man said the town-hall meeting was nothing more than "a feel-good session" that was long on praise for Bush and short on details about his privatization plan. If people who are handpicked by GOP politicians to be avid privatization supporters are uneasy about the idea, what does that mean about its chances of passing muster with the general public?

Social Security's long-term financial problems, which are minor compared to those of Medicare, could be fixed by raising the retirement age or cutting benefits slightly or temporarily assessing Social Security taxes on income above the current $90,000 annual ceiling. If Congress chose the last option, a sunset clause in any such legislation could restore the ceiling to its present level, adjusted for inflation, after the demographic crisis created by the baby boomers' en masse retirement passes and the worker-beneficiary ratio returns to a more reasonable range.

Instead of touting those options, none of which undermine Social Security's structural integrity, privatization supporters seem to be re-arguing whether the Social Security system should exist at all. An Auburn University student who spoke Thursday illustrated this argument when she said, "[I]t doesn't seem fair to me that I will never see any of this money back that has been taken out of my paycheck and will be taken out of my paycheck." It's a valid point in theory, but to allay that concern, you not only would have to dismantle the entire Social Security system, but you also would have to eliminate almost every government project, since any given taxpayer doesn't receive a direct, personal benefit from most of the spending done with his or her tax dollars.

Bush's assertion seems to be that it's fundamentally unfair to force people to pay money into a retirement account that isn't making as much money as it possibly could. That line of thinking ignores two very important points. First, people are already free to make their own profit-maximizing retirement investments entirely independent of any government program. Second, Social Security exists not to maximize profits but to ensure that all Americans, regardless of the wisdom of their financial decisions, will have a minimum level of income upon which to subsist. They don't call it a social safety net for nothing.

In all likelihood, Bush's Social Security privatization proposal is doomed for the reasons that U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, listed during a speech last month. In Alabama, a state where Bush got 63 percent of the presidential votes in November, only one congressman has gone on the record in favor of privatization. All the fawning public-relations events in the world can't overcome that kind of tepid support from Bush's own party.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Out to pasture

The dean of Auburn University's College of Agriculture has been missing for weeks. He's not returning phone calls. No one in a position of authority will say where he is or why he's gone. For all intents and purposes, he's an un-person on the Plains.

I've provided you with the setup for a series of Auburn jokes with an Orwellian twist, loyal readers. You know what to do now.

Running over children is bad

The last couple of days have been very enlightening as to what public officials shouldn't do to children. First, we found out Wednesday that shocking kids with an electric stun gun isn't such a great idea, since it occasionally leads to inconvenient outcomes like death. Today we learn that driving over part of a child's body can lead to undesirable consequences, too.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A bold policy statement

After serious deliberation, Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid has decided it's not a good idea to use Tasers on schoolchildren.

Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.

You still can't go to the party

One member of the Alabama congressional delegation has stepped forward to throw his support behind President Bush's Social Security privatization proposal. In a development less shocking than the Miracle on Ice, The Birmingham News reports today that U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, is a big fan of a plan that would send the country trillions of dollars deeper into debt so we can not actually solve a problem that isn't very problematic.

Bush will tout his plan in Montgomery on Thursday in front of 3,000 people, at least one of whom might be remotely uneasy about privatization. Maybe.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Now I'm in like Flint

Garrett Graff made media history Monday as the first blogger ever to gain admission to a White House press conference. Or at least as the first blogger who didn't have nude pictures of himself posted on male escort service websites to do so.

Now that the precedent has been set, I expect a piece of that sweet daily Washington press briefing action, too. Yes, I realize I'm pseudonymous, but that didn't stop the intrepid Jim Guckert ("Jeff Gannon"), and I have the added advantage of never having registered pornographic websites. Plus, my little spot of Internet bliss still exists, unlike some others I could mention.

On a serious note, this development is historically significant, as it shows just how much progress blogs have made on the road toward mainstream acceptance. A recent poll showed that only a quarter of Americans are at least "somewhat familiar" with blogs, but considering blogs didn't even exist a few short years ago, that's a remarkable accomplishment.

Monday, March 07, 2005

If there's no such thing, why will we pay him?

President Bush's nominee to be the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is a guy who about a decade ago said, "There is no such thing as the United Nations."

Reality thus officially transcends parody.

That's a lot of racism

The Alabama Constitution is so long and has so many racist provisions that legislators are struggling to track them all down so a proposed constitutional amendment by state Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, can eliminate them. As state Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, said, "It's kind of like making sausage right now."

Another problem: Lawmakers must be careful in drafting the amendment, which is almost identical to the Amendment 2 that voters narrowly rejected in November, or else their changes would funnel money out of poor Black Belt schools and pump it into richer suburban schools. Why? I have absolutely no idea, but it's another example of why the antiquated, convoluted state constitution needs to be rewritten.

For the anti-tax crowd who voted down Amendment 2 due to fears that it could create even the slightest chance of a tax increase -- thanks, Roy Moore! -- legislators have added language that says nothing in the amendment should be construed as calling for higher taxes. Now that there's really no excuse other than racism for anyone who votes "no," the amendment likely will pass.

Then again, I should never underestimate a certain former state chief justice's ability to scare the masses for political gain.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Meter reading #8

I've been derelict in my meter-reading duties, but no longer. Here's how people have gotten here since Saturday, Feb. 19:

Three visitors from
The Texas-based blog's proprietor, Toonhead, named my humble little Internet abode the blog next door on Feb. 27. Also, I'm apparently analogous to Hunter S. Thompson, though not as bald or liquored-up or suicidal.

A Technorati search for "Roper Simmons."
Clearly a reference to Roper v. Simmons, the case in which the Supreme Court struck down the juvenile death penalty. It's been a hot topic in the blogosphere for the last week, and I wrote about it extensively here and here.

A Technorati search for "Williams v. Alabama."
It's been a big couple of weeks for the judiciary. Click here to get your fill of sex-toy blogging. But just don't pay me for it, because that would be illegal.

Google and Yahoo searches for "militaryescortm4m."
OK, why did two people come here looking for this?

Visitors from spam blogs for golf balls, Star Wars gear, and wedding planning.
What an unholy matrimony that would be.

A Yahoo search for "court holdings on hiring illegal nannies."
I think the holding was "don't."

Visitors from California, Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.
Finally, my dream of a visitor from Maine is fulfilled. Since I installed Site Meter, I've had visitors from 34 states, which leaves me just four short of what I need for a constitutional amendment. Come on, Mississippi, you know you want it.

Visitors from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, and United Kingdom.
I thought I'd never top Estonia. Then came the Sri Lankans.

Visitors from The New York Times and the U.S. House.
Who said I don't bring both sides together?

'You're in a country without laws'

60 Minutes just aired a disturbing report on the U.S. policy of "rendition," the transport of terrorism suspects to countries where anti-torture laws are lax or non-existent. The segment included an interview with a man who was drugged and flown to Afghanistan, where he was held for five months by jailers who told him, "You're in a country without laws and no one knows where you are."

That jet, said to be operated by the CIA, has made more than 600 flights since Sept. 11, 2001. Egypt was a common stop. So were Libya and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ten flights were to Uzbekistan, where, according to a former British ambassador, interrogation techniques include boiling, drowning, rape, and suffocation.

Do we want our country involved in this kind of behavior?

I wonder if this one will make Oprah's list

Lest you begin to doubt the purity of his intentions in sneaking a 2.6-ton Ten Commandments monument into the Alabama Judicial Building in the dead of night a few years ago, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a likely Republican candidate for governor in 2006, cemented his reputation as a selfless crusader for truth and justice last week with the release of his book, So Help Me God.

In keeping with Moore's theme of valiantly offering himself up at the altar of the greater good, with no concern for his own financial or political gain, the book is free to anyone who wants it. Oh, wait, you say it isn't? You say it's actually $16.49 on after a 34 percent discount? And you say Moore is holding book signings at politically charged events sponsored by a group that calls for a declaration of war on illegal aliens? Never mind, then.

Feel free to post any reviews or insights below.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

First the sponge, now the dinosaur

Sure, I could take some time to mock the Alabama lawmakers who bought into conservative commentator James Dobson's hype about SpongeBob SquarePants touting homosexuality to children. But fortunately, The Huntsville Times spared me the effort:

"Pro-gay groups have recruited a giant yellow bird, a purple dinosaur, and a big red dog to promote a 'homosexual agenda,' some Alabama legislators say."

I just can't top that.

Friday, March 04, 2005

I hope this is unusual

Did anyone else miss the warning about homicidal chimp attacks?

Another mystery solved

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North -- you may remember him from that Iran-Contra affair you heard about on I Love the '80s -- said during a speech in Mobile on Thursday that he knows what's responsible for the U.S. military's sagging recruiting numbers.

An Iraq war that has claimed the lives of more than 1,500 American soldiers and counting? Nope.

The Pentagon's deployments of so many National Guard and Reserves units that the so-called "weekend warriors" now constitute 40 percent of full-time U.S. forces in Iraq? Nope.

That damned liberal media and their lies? You got it.

Well, glad we cleared up that confusion.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

There's no Green Mile in Amish country

Not to belabor the consideration of Roper v. Simmons, the decision in which the Supreme Court struck down the juvenile death penalty Tuesday, but Justice Antonin Scalia's vigorous dissent merits a follow-up post. The dissent, which begins on Page 64 of this document, is particularly notable for the way in which it attacks the majority's decision with a blend of logical precision and enraged table-pounding.

Scalia's dissent, which slams the Court's decision as little more than "the subjective views of five [m]embers of this Court and like-minded foreigners," begins well. Scalia, the Court's foremost originalist, slices and dices the justices' claim of an emerging national consensus that the execution of juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment by noting that only four additional states have passed laws against executing 16- and 17-year-olds since the Court last weighed in on the subject 15 years ago in Stanford v. Kentucky. In addition, he points out that more than half of the death-penalty states, including Alabama, still allowed executions of murderers who committed their crimes at age 16 or 17.

Scalia also blasts the majority for departing from precedent after less than two decades. His abiding respect for stare decisis and an immutable Constitution, while admirable, rings a little hollow when you consider that Scalia provided the decisive fifth vote in 1996's Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, which overruled a close decision about states' Eleventh Amendment immunity from lawsuits that the Court made a mere seven years earlier.

Then there's the table-pounding, and is it ever an entertaining read. Scalia writes that the majority, in citing loads of scientific evidence that juveniles are less capable than adults of making rational decisions and are therefore less culpable, chose "to look over the heads of the crowd and pick out its friends." He ends by complaining, with good reason, that the majority didn't criticize the lower court for "its flagrant disregard of our precedent."

But nothing compares to Scalia's masterstroke on Page 67: the invocation of the Amish. That's right, the Amish: the people who huddle up in their own little old-school farm communities and raise barns and drive horse-drawn carriages. Those Amish.

Scalia argues, incredibly, that in counting the states that disagree with executing juveniles, the Court is wrong to include states that ban executions altogether. His reasoning? Glad you asked: "Consulting [s]tates that bar the death penalty concerning the necessity of making an exception to the penalty for offenders under 18 is rather like including old-order Amishmen in a consumer-preference poll on the electric car. Of course they don't like it, but that sheds no light whatsoever on the point at issue."

So is the death penalty more like a light bulb or a butter churn?

Now I can go gray more slowly

The Southeastern Conference, following the example that the Big Ten Conference set last year, will experiment with instant replay during all league football games this fall. SEC officiating was particularly atrocious last year, as anyone who tuned in to the Alabama-LSU and Florida-Tennessee games can attest, and instant replay makes so much sense on so many levels that I'm amazed that it's just now catching on in the college ranks.

It's unfair to football players, coaches, and fans whenever a blown call decides a game's outcome. Props to the SEC for taking a big common-sense step to try to alleviate that problem.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Thou shalt issue a 5-4 ruling

Or maybe 6-3, depending on how Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor vote. At any rate, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in a pair of legal challenges to Ten Commandments displays on public property, and the justices are likely to be deeply divided on the issue when they release their opinion sometime this summer.

The Texas case, in which a courthouse Ten Commandments monument stands alone and bears the words "I AM the LORD thy God," seems to be a pretty clear example of a government endorsement of religion, much like the granite sculpture that former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore rode to stardom last year. The Kentucky case presents a much more nuanced situation, since the Ten Commandments display there is posted alongside several other documents that played important roles in the development of American law. That display is analogous to the Supreme Court's own frieze, which includes images of Confucius, Hammurabi, Moses, and other famous lawgivers.

Intuitively, it would seem the Court would find that the Kentucky display is within constitutional limits while the Texas display crosses the line of church-state separation, but the justices have certainly been known to buck intuition before. Kennedy and O'Connor will almost assuredly be the tiebreaking votes, but regardless of which way they swing, something tells me this debate will remain far from over.

'Blue' light special

All too often, quality television shows either don't make it to the network airwaves or get canceled shortly after they do. NYPD Blue was one of the rare survivors, and it came to an end Tuesday night with an episode that felt a lot like the previous 260 but also left you with the satisfying feeling that the show tied up all of the loose ends before saying goodbye.

NYPD Blue's 12-year run was especially impressive if you consider that, with the exception of Gordon Clapp (Greg Medavoy) and Dennis Franz (Andy Sipowicz), everyone on the original cast left the show during its run. If anything, I think the turnover made the show even stronger, particularly when David Caruso's departure after the first season opened the door for Jimmy Smits to introduce us to Bobby Simone, who, for my money, remains Sipowicz's most compelling and natural partner on the beat.

NYPD Blue blazed the trail for many of the edgy dramas that have since copied its gritty, intense, rapid-fire style. I bid happy trails to one of the last truly good shows left on television.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Someone has to play bad cop

No one likes to play bad cop. You know who I'm talking about: the one who told you as a child that you couldn't have that toy you wanted, or the one who told you as a teenager that you couldn't borrow the car to go out drinking on Friday night, or the one who told you last year that the Christmas bonus would be smaller than usual because times are tough and the cash flow is drying up. No one likes to play bad cop, but someone has to do it.

In the federal government, the Supreme Court is the ultimate bad cop. It's a group of nine unelected people in robes who deliberate secretly and often tell the majority of Americans that they can't have what they want, no matter how desperately they want it, because it's bad for them. It's a buzzkill when the justices strike down a law that millions of people like but that appears to violate the Constitution, but someone has to do it.

The Supreme Court played the bad cop for 19 states today by striking down the juvenile death penalty. The 5-4 opinion in Roper v. Simmons said evolving standards of decency and a steady decline in the number of death sentences handed out to juveniles have rendered it cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to sentence 16- and 17-year-olds to death for their crimes. The majority said that since juvenile offenders' capacity to make rational judgments and control their environment is much more limited than that of adults, the imposition of the death penalty against juveniles would serve neither a deterrent nor a retributive purpose.

The justices' opinion today also continued their recent trend of examining the international state of law as persuasive authority in guiding their decisions. Other nations' laws assuredly should not determine our own laws, but it's also important that justices consider their decisions' real-world effects rather than merely making their judgments in a vacuum.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion noted, the only other countries that have executed juveniles since 1990 are China, Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, all of which have since "either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice." That's not the kind of company I'd like the United States to keep.

The most common criticism I've heard about this opinion, as with almost every unpopular Supreme Court opinion lately, is that the justices overreached by making a decision better left to the legislative branch. It's a common refrain, but the reality is that the Founding Fathers knew lawmakers couldn't possibly account for how the Constitution or congressional statutes would apply to every fact pattern that might arise at every point in history, so they gave the judiciary the power to make such determinations. Today, the Supreme Court determined that the juvenile death penalty, as applied in 21st-century society, is cruel and unusual punishment. That seems to be within the Court's authority.

Juveniles, including the petitioner in today's case, sometimes commit atrocious, depraved crimes in cold blood, and it's impossible for me to see subjectively why someone who commits such a crime on the eve of his 18th birthday shouldn't be eligible for the death penalty but someone who does the same thing the next day should be. In the end, though, fallible humans have to draw the essentially arbitrary line between childhood and adulthood somewhere, imperfect though that line may be.

No one likes to play bad cop, but someone has to do it.

That'll show those uppity Canucks

So, Canada, you don't want to join the American missile-defense party? Well, then, you don't get a visit from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That's right; you'll just have to see her for a minute or two if she's not busy talking to important people about Palestinian security. And if she feels like it. And stuff.

So there. That ought to fix your little red wagon, eh?

Pre-vetted crowds don't hate freedom

President Bush is coming to Montgomery next week as part of his nationwide mission to convince the American people that a Social Security system that can meet 75 percent of its obligations indefinitely with no changes whatsoever is a gathering, imminent threat to the national well-being and needs massive overhauls.

Fortunately for the majority of Americans who like Social Security just fine, The Birmingham News says Bush's event will be wide open to those whose attendance was "arranged in advance," which I'm sure will result in an enriching free flow of ideas and engaging dialogue about an issue of such national importance.

Well, that, or an echo chamber. I guess either one will do.