Thursday, June 30, 2005

I just like the word 'falconry'

So far, the birds at the Shelby County Airport have respected the 125-decibel, propane-fueled cannon's authority, but county leaders have made it clear that they'll have the birds shot if the fowl resume their occupancy of the runway.

Some residents who aren't so keen on the idea of laying waste to the birds suggest that officials relocate the fowl, which probably would be expensive, or bring in falcons or a large dog, which probably wouldn't solve the problem of animals on the runway.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Imminent approval

Alabama legislators this summer almost certainly will pass a badly needed law to ban the use of eminent domain for private economic development. The measure will address the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last week in Kelo v. City of New London, which left state legislatures with the final say over what constitutes a "public use" under the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause.

The same bill, sponsored by Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, sailed through the House earlier this year but stalled in the Senate. With Kelo now motivating lawmakers, the bill easily should become law during the special session expected to start in mid-July.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A win-win situation for Moore

Despite what divided analysts may say, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore couldn't lose Monday.

If the U.S. Supreme Court's pair of Ten Commandments decisions did anything short of allowing the monuments on public property everywhere and for any purpose, he got to keep riding his one-trick pony. And if the decisions did just that, then he could paint himself as a great warrior who battled activist federal judges and won for God and states' rights.

As it is, the decisions leave Moore room to rally his base for a likely gubernatorial run by calling for his supporters "to stand up for their inalienable right to acknowledge God" and howling that the Court "is simply ignoring the words of the First Amendment and ruling by their own feelings" and continually rallying anger against the nebulous "them."

Other Alabama political notables weren't content to let Moore monopolize the outrage after the decisions, though. Gov. Bob Riley used the occasion to call for more conservative judges on the federal bench. Attorney General Troy King, meanwhile, "flogged the high court" and griped about the separation of church and state. U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, and Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, got their licks in, too.

State Christian Coalition President John Giles chimed in with a suggestion that Moore's monument may have been constitutional, despite Moore's repeated assertions that the display was meant to acknowledge God and the Court's explicit warning that displays meant to tout a particular religious agenda are unconstitutional. Giles also talked about executioners using jackhammers.

Not entirely unexpected

The jury acquitted former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy today on all 36 criminal counts related to the company's recent $2.7 billion accounting fraud. A former U.S. attorney observes: "This is probably the first time that the defense of 'I didn't know' denials has worked for a former chairman or CEO."

Drawing a line in the mud

The U.S. Supreme Court's pair of Ten Commandments decisions handed down Monday were all about pragmatism.

The justices suggested the dispositive issue in McCreary County v. ACLU, in which the Court declared two Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky unconstitutional, and Van Orden v. Perry, in which the Court said another Ten Commandments display in Texas passed constitutional muster, was whether government officials' purpose for erecting the monuments was to promote religion or to commemorate the historical roots of law.

But an unspoken undercurrent in the decisions seemed to be that the Court is likelier to offer the benefit of the doubt to religious displays that have been entrenched for a long time, like the monument in Van Orden that has sat outside the Texas Capitol for more than 40 years, than to newer displays, like the framed Decalogues in McCreary County that were posted just a few years ago. (Law professor Ann Althouse makes a similar observation at the end of a lengthy analysis of the cases.)

For clarity's sake, some legal observers understandably would have preferred a bright-line rule for religious displays on public property -- "They're always OK" or "They're never OK" -- but either outcome would have caused severe fallout. A ruling that allowed all such displays effectively would have eviscerated the Establishment Clause, while a ruling that barred all such displays would have had the same effect on the Free Exercise Clause.

Neither result would be tenable or constitutional, which is why Justice Stephen Breyer noted in his Van Orden concurrence that when it comes to such disputes, "[T]he Court has found no single mechanical formula that can accurately draw the constitutional line in each case." Instead, a case-by-case approach is necessary.

The muddy-water dichotomy the Court drew Monday likely will give future justices the precendential basis upon to which to invalidate government displays meant to promote a particular religious agenda. It also likely will provide the grounds to uphold such long-standing imagery as the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the words "In God We Trust" on our money. As such, it's a very pragmatic stance indeed.

For the record, I correctly predicted a few months ago that the margin in each case would be 5-4, but I was wrong about who the swing vote would be. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the tiebreaker in many past Establishment Clause cases, but in a surprise move, Breyer broke the deadlock this time. Also, I correctly guessed that the justices would approve of one display while rejecting the other -- a way to tell government officials "this far but no farther" -- but I placed each case in the wrong category because I overestimated the significance that the justices would attach to the Kentucky displays' present historical context.

However, because the Kentucky county officials posted the accompanying historical documents only after the ACLU threatened a lawsuit over stand-alone Ten Commandments displays, and because the Texas monument for decades has been one of several dozen on the Texas Capitol grounds, I can't say I disagree with the outcome of each case.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The recency effect redux

The Discovery Channel this month aired an interactive television show called Greatest American. The No. 1 spot, revealed Sunday night, went not to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., but to Ronald Reagan.

Well, all right then.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

There's still no swimsuit competition

Mobile hosted its final America's Junior Miss pageant Saturday night, ending almost 50 years as the event's home. But fear not, AJM aficionados: The pageant may reincarnate in Tennessee.

Financial problems led organizers to vote last month to cease operations after this year. Those pecuniary woes also had left city and county governments picking up a larger-than-usual share of the tab for the event in recent years. Despite that, a recent Mobile Register poll of Mobile County residents found that 48 percent of respondents were willing to spend even more public money to keep the pageant in town.

Imagine if increased education funding polled so well in Alabama.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

You don't see that very often

In a scathing piece this week, The Crimson White's editorial board calls for President Bush's impeachment if the revelations in the Downing Street memo are proved true.

Hey, whatever sells books

Former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., proudly displayed his Democratic stripes by speaking at a fundraiser for Alabama Republicans on Friday. As one of the state's 2004 electors for President Bush told The Birmingham News, "We would love for [Miller] to be a Republican, but right now he is a Democrat for us, and that has more significance than if he were a Republican."

Alabama Democratic Party chairman Redding Pitt's response to Miller's visit: "The people of Alabama in their counties and legislative districts are going to choose their own leaders, and they're not going to have a paid puppet from Georgia come over here and tell them how to vote."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Transparent and sad

President Bush's chief political strategist Karl Rove has proved before that there's not much he won't do in pursuit of political gain. That's why it should come as no surprise that he said the following during a self-serving speech delivered Wednesday a few miles north of the World Trade Center remains:

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

More from the same speech: "Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator [Dick] Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

Democrats worked themselves into a furious froth over the address, which likely is just what Rove intended. One of the first rules of politics is "blame them, not us" -- if you can't defend your own policies, attack the other side until scrutiny turns elsewhere.

With Bush's approval rating tanking and 59 percent of Americans now opposing the Iraq war, Rove's over-the-top speech was a brazen attempt to shift the public's focus away from Bush's failings and to pin the blame for them on someone, anyone other than the people in charge of the White House and Congress.

It won't work.

Otherwise occupied

Greetings, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. Look, I know you've been busy with important business like voting against measures to allow governors to veto on-shore liquefied natural gas terminals they see as environmental risks, but I thought it'd be great if you could set aside a few seconds next week to sign on retroactively as a co-sponsor of the Senate lynching apology. Another of your colleagues did just that Thursday, so it's still not too late.

I'll be waiting and watching. Have a good weekend.

Masters of their domain

It's been interesting to watch the reactions to the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, in which the majority ruled Thursday that the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause allows cities to seize property through eminent domain for the "public use" of promoting private economic development.

The decision has left people from all ends of the political spectrum dissatisfied, perhaps because the question raised in the case doesn't lend itself to a wholly satisfying resolution, regardless of one's views. (Local bloggers have some interesting takes here and here. So do law professors Ann Althouse and Eugene Volokh.)

A recurring refrain I've heard about the decision is that activist judges, creating law out of whole cloth, just opened the door for cities to abuse their eminent domain powers by forcing private landowners to make way for rich corporations and developers. What the Court did, however, was to continue its history of deferring to the legislative branch to define what constitutes a valid "public use."

Thursday's decision follows more than 50 years of precedent, including 1954's Berman v. Parker, which found that Congress has the power to determine what qualifies as a public use, and 1984's Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, which found that state legislatures do, too.

Government officials haven't exactly rushed to use eminent domain to steal from the poor and give to the rich since those decisions. Only seven states explicitly allow takings for private development, and eight states already have banned such condemnations in the absence of blight. Also, as a story in today's Huntsville Times indicates, most local leaders are careful in their use of eminent domain because they know the quickest way to get voted out of office is to force people to hand over their homes and businesses to a corporation or developer.

Kelo essentially was a states' rights decision that limited the federal judiciary's power in favor of elected local authorities. That's why it was odd to see the Court's more conservative justices -- including Clarence Thomas, who warns near the end of a long dissent that the decision will disadvantage the poor and minorities -- opposing it and the more liberal justices supporting it.

Had the Court sided with the dissenters, federal judges would have found themselves in the uneasy, micromanaging position of deciding in case after case whether a given shopping center or subdivision qualifies as a valid or desirable public use. Meanwhile, the majority view leaves government officials with the potential to trample on private property rights for the benefit of a few wealthy supporters, despite the warning in Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurrence that courts "confronted with a plausible accusation of impermissible favoritism to private parties should treat the objection as a serious one."

Both scenarios are far from ideal. As it stands, legislatures and city halls will remain the first battlegrounds in the fight over the scope of eminent domain powers.

They just want attention

For some reason, the 100-foot-high Confederate battle flag that's been flying off Interstate 65 north of Montgomery since April will be dedicated Sunday. The Birmingham News reports that the ceremony will include "a 21-gun salute, if enough Confederate re-enactors attend."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Plane language

Calling the city "absolutely the right choice," the CEO of EADS North America announced Wednesday that his company will build a humongous new aircraft plant in Mobile. The factory will bring 1,150 new jobs to the bay area, assuming the political wrangling on Capitol Hill ends with the company eligible to bid for Air Force contracts. Even if it doesn't, the planned $80 million dock expansion that the Alabama Legislature passed on the last day of the regular session already has more than paid for itself.

That'll teach 'em to get out of the way

Shelby County officials at long last have installed their 125-decibel, propane-fueled, bird-terrifying cannon at the county's airport, and last week they began firing it from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. If the birds don't have sense enough to fly away after the cannon puts them in mortal fear in the next couple of weeks, they'll probably just be shot.

Yep, good job

The Southern Baptist Convention voted Wednesday to end its boycott of the Walt Disney Co., which has been ongoing since 1997. The group credits itself with Disney's falling profits, which had nothing to do with corporate infighting, and Disney's production of more movies that are safe for kids, a huge untapped market that the company discovered as recently as the 1920s.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

And now to play catch-up

Because I've focused so much on Alabama politics lately, it's time for some bite-sized looks at the latest hyperbole and spin on the national political landscape.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was right to apologize Tuesday for his recent overheated comparison of conditions at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba to the treatment of detainees in Nazi prisons. As The Washington Post notes today, Godwin's Law is still in full effect, and casual usage of such inflammatory and unwarranted language detracts from the valid point that prison abuses at Gitmo and elsewhere are hurting the United States' international image and our efforts to win the war on terrorism.

A new book about U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., makes some loathsome ad hominem attacks against her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Conservative pundit Sean Hannity, commendably, shredded the author on air Tuesday, leading the writer to make inconsistent statements about his sourcing.

U.S. Rep. Jim Hostettler, R-Ind., proved Monday that he isn't above a little religion-baiting: "Like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians." The Washington Post reports that Hostettler withdrew his comment later that day to avoid a finding that he broke House rules by making a personal attack against other members on the floor.

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean came under fire earlier this month when he said the GOP is "pretty much a white Christian party." Um, yeah, it is. Most prominent Democratic politicians are white Christians, too. It's not a criticism; it's just a fact. Dean's wisecrack that many Republicans "have never made an honest living in their lives," on the other hand, was uncalled-for.

Vice President Dick Cheney, responding to Dean's comments last week, said this of the DNC chairman: "Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does. He's never won anything, as best I can tell." Never mind that Dean won the DNC chairman election and five governor's races in Vermont; I'm offended that Cheney can't tell a funny "yo' mama" joke.

Why all the nastiness in Washington lately? A University of Notre Dame professor has the long answer: "More than anything, these statements are a reflection of this polarized and poisonous political time in which we live. It seems as though every outrageous statement is matched by a similarly outrageous reaction, which only amplifies the rhetoric and creates more of a problem for people trying to understand politics today."

I have the short answer: They don't much like each other.

Choices, choices

Alabama's 2006 lieutenant governor's race is shaping up to be a showdown between the sons of two former governors, one of whom is a former governor whose administration landed a Mercedes-Benz plant for Tuscaloosa County, and one of whom is a former treasurer who spoke to an organization that warns of the dangers of racial mixing and massive non-white immigration.

Guess who's the favorite?

They love Lucy

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, already on the gubernatorial campaign trail, spoke Tuesday to about 300 members of the Alabama Education Association, whose executive director calls all the shots in Montgomery. Like any good political speech more than a year away from the election, Baxley's talk was short on specifics and long on tales about her humble roots. She also never said the words "governor" or "Bob Riley" during an address for which she received a standing ovation.

It'll take more than an interstate

But as Gov. Bob Riley says, an interstate will be a pretty good start when it comes to attracting jobs to Alabama's Black Belt. Riley has ordered the state Department of Transportation to hurry up with the planning on a $1.5 billion, 140-mile extension of Interstate 85 from Montgomery to the Mississippi line. The route is supposed to be finalized by early 2007, when construction should begin.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Well, it was Father's Day weekend

You'll be glad to know two more senators signed on as co-sponsors of the U.S. Senate's lynching apology Monday. You'll be sad to know U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., wasn't one of them. He's one of 11 senators, all Republicans, who have yet to tack their names on the resolution, which they really should do.

You can sleep easy tonight

The America's Junior Miss finalists whose oyster-eating contest was in danger of cancellation this year found another restaurant that serves slimy little shellfish. The victory went to the entrant from Maine, who would have preferred some lobster.

Haven't I written this post before?

Roy Moore and his granite pal took a little trip up the interstate to talk to a few thousand ministers Monday at the annual Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference in Nashville. The former Alabama chief justice appealed to authority, then appealed to belief, then signed some copies of his book, which, if you forgot, is on sale now. In other news, the Rev. Jerry Falwell is a big Moore fan.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Laugh if you can stop crying

Steven Taylor at PoliBlog is grading some American government tests today, and it makes for entertaining reading. Remember, the people missing questions like this one are in college.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Somewhere, Noah Webster sobs quietly

I'm as big a fan of the evolving English language as you'll find, but even I must draw the line at "tweenager."

Seriously, he's still in charge

Lots of Alabama Republicans, if you hadn't noticed, don't much like the Alabama Education Association or its executive director, Paul Hubbert. To eliminate any lingering uncertainty on that point, the state party's executive committee, a political group, on Saturday approved a resolution to blast the AEA's "politicization of Alabama education." Hubbert, ever the realist, observed, "You don't take politics out of anything that spends public dollars."

The Birmingham News reports that the committee also pondered a resolution "suggesting that candidates who take AEA money might jeopardize their chances to run as a Republican," but practical considerations left that one destined to fail on a voice vote. After all, according to Hubbert's estimates, about 90 percent of GOP legislators have taken AEA contributions in the past, and 10 to 12 already have called the group about money for 2006.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

They're not here to talk about the past

From the Sept. 11, 2002, edition of USA Today: "[President Bush] decided that Saddam [Hussein] must go more than 10 months ago; the debate within the administration since then has been about the means to accomplish that end."

Maybe the Downing Street memo -- "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" -- really was just a belated effort "to rehash old debates that have already been addressed," as White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. That must be why House leaders declined to assign formal hearing status to the memo inquiry that U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., organized Thursday and then shoved it into "a jammed room in the basement of the Capitol" while they called 11 major floor votes.

Nope, you wouldn't want to waste time with warmed-over news.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Funny how that works

Judicial intervention in purely legislative matters is an utterly unconscionable breach of the separation of powers doctrine and another example of deplorable liberal activism run amok! Um, you know, unless it'd help us add a few seats in the Legislature.


All right, so here's how to stop illegal immigration.

Step one: Set up a few hundred cameras along the Mexican border.
Step two: ???
Step three: Profit!

Far too tired

OK, yes, so U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., still didn't add his name to the list of co-sponsors of the lynching apology Thursday, just like he didn't the day before or the day before that.

But hey, cut him some slack; you'd be a little tuckered, too, if you had received a consumer advocacy award at a fancy hotel the previous night. I'm sure Shelby will be back raring to go today and eager to set aside a few seconds to tack his name on the list.

I'll be waiting and watching.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Hard-hitting investigative reporting from The Tuscaloosa News today: Sometimes weather forecasts are wrong.

Just a reminder

Hi there, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. I hope your Thursday is going well. Hey, listen, I just thought I'd check back with you to see if you've gotten around to adding your name to that lynching apology as a co-sponsor. You can do it retroactively, you know, just as two more senators did Wednesday.

Oh, you haven't yet? Well, all right then; I know things can get pretty hectic up in Washington. Maybe you'll have a spare second or two this afternoon to tack your name on it.

I'll be waiting and watching.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

And now for some good news

The old Sears building in downtown Birmingham, which has been empty for more than two decades, is one step closer to becoming a business incubator after the City Council voted Tuesday to chip in half of the purchase price. Councilwoman Carole Smitherman, who clearly read this story over the weekend, said she hopes the move lures in some of "the creative class and the 'cool' community."

Better late than never

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., says he was all for the Senate lynching apology that passed Monday. He called lynching a "horrific practice" and "a disgraceful time in our nation's history."

He's right, and that's why he'll surely be glad to follow the lead of his fellow Alabama senator, Jeff Sessions, by signing on as a co-sponsor of the resolution. Shelby still can add his name to the list retroactively even after the resolution's passage; five senators did just that Tuesday, and there's no reason the rest can't do the same.

I'll be waiting and watching.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Open letter

Dear black people,

Sorry about that whole "took no action for decades as mobs beat and killed thousands of your loved ones" thing. Please accept our institutional apology in the form of this symbolic resolution.

Oh, and sorry that our online records show a fifth of our members hadn't yet attached their names to the resolution as co-sponsors by the time it passed on a voice vote Monday night, including U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.; both of Mississippi's senators; and neither senator from New Hampshire, where no recorded lynching incidents occurred. But you know, four out of five of us signing on by then ain't bad, no matter what that serial flip-flopper says.

Say, this contrition feels good. And hey, who knows? One day, we may even apologize for allowing your ancestors to be bought and sold as property. We probably should work on that.

Just not today. We're kinda busy.

Sincerely yours,
The United States Senate

Quick thinking

The Birmingham Water Works Board is raising rates and spending too much money. Luckily, state Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, has the answer: an appointed committee to oversee the appointed board. No word yet on who will be on the inevitable commission to oversee the committee's board oversight.

Monday, June 13, 2005

It wasn't the actual Love Shack

No idea what it could be

As Alabama continues not to help rural school systems pay for gifted education, Gov. Bob Riley and other Southern leaders gathered at a bayside conference Sunday to ask themselves why so many smart people leave rural areas.

Who needs intelligence anyway?

The good news: Alabama schools in the last five years have identified 51 percent more children as intellectually gifted, including huge increases among black and Hispanic students as school leaders have broadened their gifted criteria beyond IQ.

The bad news: Alabama doesn't have any money to fund gifted education, and the No Child Left Behind Act does nothing to encourage extra book-learnin' for children who are already smart, so local systems are on their own. This, of course, results in dramatic funding inequities among systems and disadvantages poor kids, but the state is used to that sort of thing by now.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Task forces totally rule

As a public service, The Birmingham News today talks to coolness experts -- yes, people actually get paid for this sort of thing -- who have determined that Birmingham is, indeed, cool. The Cool Community Task Force is on hand to allay any remaining fears.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Indoor plumbing is overrated

Important information from today's Tuscaloosa News: "Urine-filled bottles so far have not plagued Alabama."

Urine-filled jugs, of course, are a different story.

Reopening the dock of the bay

Dauphin Island's ferry service, which the insanely destructive Hurricane Ivan wiped out last year, is supposed to return Wednesday. That's assuming Tropical Storm Arlene doesn't get any crazy ideas today, like strengthening into a hurricane and giving the Alabama coast a direct hit. Meanwhile, Gees Bend has gone decades without a ferry, perhaps because it's tough to attract beach tourism so far inland.

He's still in charge

Paul Hubbert could cash in on a $700,000 retirement account if he stepped down next month. But he'll stick around at least through the 2006 election to continue bending the Legislature to his considerable will as the Alabama Education Association's executive secretary. Also, the $378,500 annual salary can't hurt.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is taking the first steps toward a potential 2008 presidential run by putting together a federal political action committee to raise campaign money. The Democrat is also considering whether to oppose U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., another potential White House contender, next year, according to The Washington Post.

The field of 2008 presidential candidates will be a crowded one. On the Republican side, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has started barnstorming in Iowa and New Hampshire, and U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Bill Frist of Tennessee, John McCain of Arizona, and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have given early indications that they're interested in the top job. Other leading contenders include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and Bill Owens of Colorado.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has emerged as the early frontrunner for the Democrats' presidential nod, but her nomination is far from inevitable. In addition to Warner, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina would like a shot at the White House. Meanwhile, current U.S. senators mentioned in connection with the race include Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joe Biden of Delaware, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and, yes, John Kerry of Massachusetts. Other possible candidates are retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark and Govs. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, and Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

As the plethora of names suggests, the next three years of politicking should be fun to watch.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Mainly he just wants to sell books

Former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., no longer sees AIDS as God's righteous wrath against gays and drug users, according to his upcoming book. He does, however, think those "outside agitators who had their own agendas" should have chilled out and let the South integrate when it was good and damn ready.

Once again, his name isn't 'William'

Bill Pryor got some job security today.

The U.S. Senate confirmed the former Alabama attorney general for a permanent seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a 53-45 vote. Pryor has been on the court since President Bush put him on the bench with a recess appointment in February 2004, and he was the last of the three appellate court nominees to get a confirmation vote under last month's nuclear option compromise.

Pryor's final vote was closer than those for the other two nominees in the compromise, Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, which seems odd because he arguably was the least controversial of the three. Also today, two 6th Circuit nominees, Richard Griffin and David McKeague, sailed to unanimous confirmation.

Judges should know these things

OK, see, it's not that I like shooting fish in a barrel. It's just that Roy Moore keeps wheeling them right up to my doorstep.

The former Alabama chief justice already has tried to ask a U.S. circuit court to overturn Supreme Court precedent, according to a federal circuit judge. Then, of course, there's Moore's oft-repeated claim that last year's failed Amendment Two, which would have deleted racist language from the state constitution, was little more than a backdoor attempt to raise taxes judicially. (And yes, I've debunked that illogical assertion before.)

Now there's reason to wonder how much Moore knows about a court opinion that has his name on it. An upcoming law review essay by a visiting University of Alabama law professor takes aim at yet another of Moore's absurdities, noting that a 1993 decision in a school-funding case declared unconstitutional the 1956 amendment that eliminated the right to public education. The essay also observes that though the Alabama Supreme Court tossed out part of the 1993 decision in 2002, the portion restoring a right to public education remains in force.

Moore, predictably, disagrees, dismissing the essay as "highly technical legal jargon" designed to help activist judges "manipulate the law for their own political agenda." He also says the Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Ex parte James vacated the entire 1993 decision, so no right to public education exists in Alabama.

One problem: Moore's wrong. The majority opinion in Ex parte James -- issued only after the justices ignored some long-standing jurisdiction limitations, as Justice Douglas Johnstone notes in his dissent, but that's beside the point -- dismissed the case only insofar as courts sought to impose "any specific remedy" to correct the funding inequity. The decision does contain language that says the 1993 ruling should be vacated, but it's in a partial dissent by Moore, which lacks the force of law.

Does Moore know what the majority opinion for which he voted says? Does he know that his partial dissents aren't the law? And does he care about the answer to either question?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

But real reporting is hard

"[T]he intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

If you still care about honest government, and if you haven't read the Downing Street memo yet, you really should. Especially disturbing is this comparison of the memo's contents to Bush administration officials' public remarks leading up to the Iraq war.

The memo went public in the British press more than a month ago. Now that the Michael Jackson trial is winding down and the runaway bride has been abundantly shamed, American reporters finally have begun to pay attention.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

This is sick if it's true

Update: After I wrote this post, the wire services changed the story to say police now think the incident was just a bar fight. Meanwhile, the beating victim stands by his account.

Ever wonder why so many anonymous sources with sensitive information won't just tell who they are? Here's the answer.

Somehow, life will go on

From today's Mobile Register: "This year, the 50 America's Junior Miss finalists will have to find somewhere else to suck down dozens of raw oysters."

This is our lives on holiday

Jefferson County District Judge Sheldon Watkins decided that if everyday Alabamians didn't get to take off work Monday to observe Jefferson Davis' birthday -- and they most assuredly didn't -- then he wouldn't either. Good for him.

It should go without saying, of course, that the leader of a bunch of people who seceded to try to maintain slavery doesn't deserve a state holiday in the first place. (Yes, the Civil War was about slavery. If you don't believe it, go read some secessionist documents from that era.) If state employees must take off the first Monday in June, let's rename the thing in honor of D-Day.

Background checks help, too

When you're a small-town police chief who hires a recently convicted sex offender to work as a police officer, even if he already was working for another department, it's time to consider resignation. When you're the small town's mayor and the chief publicly contradicts your denial that you knew about the officer's past, it's time to make the same consideration.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Reader survey

Under what conditions would you attend a court hearing with a kangaroo in your bag? Bonus points for responses in haiku form.


Unlike the domed stadium, the old Sears building actually exists in downtown Birmingham. And unlike the domed stadium, the old Sears building, which has been vacant for more than two decades, would house dozens of corporate tenants within two years if it's developed as a business incubator. The price: $15 million, split between the city and the Birmingham Entrepreneurial Center. A City Council committee will consider the plan today, but the answer seems obvious.

Just shake the money tree

Hey, Average Joe, you've always had a good heart and a good head on your shoulders. Have you ever considered running for a seat in the Alabama Legislature to try to create a brighter future for your fellow citizens?

Really? You will? Great! Oh, hey, do you and your pals have the afternoon free to make a few fund-raising phone calls? Because, I mean, everyone else is starting today, too, and I'd hate for you to fall behind. Yeah, I know they need you at work, but can't you just take a sick day? Come on; this is really important.

OK, you will? Awesome! Now we're on our way! Oh, yeah, one other thing I forgot to mention: Depending on where you live, you might need to gather, say, $1 million or so to be competitive.

All right, buddy, go give 'em hell!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Also, she loves Mom and apple pie

As she launches her run for Alabama governor in 2006, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley wants everyone who reads The Tuscaloosa News to know that she's "prepared [her]self to be qualified for the job." And that she's been both a "single mother" and a "successful Realtor." And, because it can't be emphasized enough, that she once was "a poor little country girl growing up on the farm."

For what it's worth, a political science professor says Baxley, who would be the state's first female governor who wasn't a stand-in for George Wallace, likely would receive strong electoral support from women. Part of political science professors' job description is to be quoted saying things you know intuitively.

Time for some follow-through

People in Gees Bend, a mostly black Wilcox County community in the heart of Alabama's Black Belt, had a ferry once. It let them reach Camden, the county seat where they got their food and medical care and other necessities, in 10 minutes instead of having to go an extra half-hour out of the way to cross the nearest bridge over the Alabama River.

Then, one day in the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., came to town, and the white people across the river got mad about it, and they shut down the ferry in retaliation. And that's how it stayed until 1996, when Congress pledged to pay to restore ferry service. The national media trumpeted the development with great fanfare; a Los Angeles Times reporter even won a Pulitzer Prize with a moving story about the isolated town.

Today, nine years, $695,000, and one journalism award later, Gees Bend still doesn't have a working ferry.


Lots of Alabama legislators have already planned their summer vacations, and, as The Birmingham News tells us today, some of them won't even make the state pick up the tab. The getaway locales range from Newfoundland to Taiwan to Seattle, where Rep. Elwyn Thomas, R-Oneonta, hopes this year's meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures will offer valuable information about how to ban cell phone use in cars.

The trip dates are scattered throughout the summer, which leads one to wonder if our lawmakers could be so kind as to find time for other recreational pursuits like passing a General Fund budget.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Race and the media, 2005 edition

Recent Mountain Brook High School graduate Natalee Holloway, a white woman, has been missing in Aruba for six days. Her disappearance has received national media attention -- it's the top story on -- and a Google News search on her name returns almost 800 hits and counting.

Hayes Middle School assistant principal Walter Moore, a black man, has been missing from his Birmingham home for almost two weeks. His disappearance received an 11-sentence Birmingham News story Friday, and a Google News search on his name returns four hits, none of them about his case.

Here's hoping that both Holloway and Moore turn up alive and well, and that one day our media will value all people equally.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Also, ask for word origin

Alabama's two-time state spelling bee champion, having reached the end of her eligibility, will leave the academic dog-and-pony show that is the Scripps National Spelling Bee after a 28th-place finish in the national event Thursday.

The girl, 13, will enter her retirement $400 richer and with plans to return to Washington next year to mentor younger spellers, a task that would seem to consist of advising participants to stand up straight, speak clearly, and memorize the entire unabridged dictionaries of several languages, just in case.

Strategery at work

Problem 1: You run a progressive organization whose members think the asbestos trust fund legislation working its way through the U.S. Senate is a raw deal for everyday citizens.

Problem 2: U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., voted for the asbestos trust fund bill in committee.

Solution: Pay for television advertisements in his home state accusing Sessions of betraying "the Alabama way" by voting for "a liberal entitlement program."

That, friends, is the work of a master political salesman.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Nerd sports rule

The National Spelling Bee returns today for the 78th year, and ESPN has your live hook-up. Alabama's champion is back for a second straight year, and she survived the fifth round a few minutes ago by nailing "daguerreotypes." Due to a quirk in the qualifying procedures, Alabama only gets one representative each year, while most other states get multiple spellers. It's not fair, but hey, neither is life.

Also, I never realized students from foreign countries not only get to enter but also have won before.

As long as they keep the birds away

Shelby County officials plan to close the county airport's runway for two weeks this summer for a resurfacing project, much to the surprise of the guy who owns the place. No word yet on how the 125-decibel, propane-fueled cannon will make out in this deal.

Fighting an uphill battle

Iraqi soldier trainees like to take four-hour siestas. Many of them don't, however, like to shower or clean up after dinner. Some also don't understand it's a bad idea to smoke in bed in close quarters.

Those are a few of the interesting tidbits in today's Birmingham News interview with Jeff Hinton, a recently retired Marine master sergeant from Tuscaloosa County. The story paints a picture of a war in which American soldiers, who were placed in a very difficult spot thanks to their civilian leaders' poor planning, nonetheless work valiantly to make good things happen in Iraq.

Hinton expressed hope that the war will turn out for the best and that Iraq one day will be a peaceful democracy. He also offered a sobering dose of reality from the ground. Hundreds of U.S.-trained Iraqi recruits have deserted, and, in Hinton's words, "There's no order in the country."

Hinton is right that the United States could use more help from its allies to stabilize Iraq, but President Bush's unilateral approach to foreign policy has slammed shut that window of opportunity.

There's not much else to write about

The Birmingham News, faced today with vast swaths of otherwise unfilled news hole, at long last heeded the public's cries for biographical data on the jurors deciding former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy's fate.

If the factoids in Wednesday's News story failed to sate your hunger for knowledge about Juror No. 467, you'll be glad to learn she's a security guard who's been on a jury before. So have the jury leader, Juror No. 157, who likes to knit, and Juror No. 188, who's a Shriner. The panel includes four veterans and at least one known rugby enthusiast.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

In English? 10-4

Thanks to a federal homeland security mandate, many police and fire personnel will phase out their famous 10 Codes by October 2006. The move toward plain language is supposed to simplify inter-agency communication, and it will. As Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning notes, though, the downside is that transmissions will take longer.

Pace yourselves

Jurors in former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy's criminal trial have decided to increase their deliberation time by one hour each day. Same Bat channel, but the new Bat time is 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In other revelations, The Birmingham News informs us that complex, 37-page verdict forms can be a bit puzzling and that Juror No. 467 enjoys flowers and music. No word yet on whether anyone on the panel likes long walks on the beach.