Monday, October 31, 2005

Weeded out

With Alabama's prisons dangerously overcrowded, it makes no sense to put almost 500 people annually behind bars for up to 10 years for marijuana possession. Drug courts, which exist in 18 of the state's 67 counties, make much more sense from safety and cost-efficiency standpoints, and a couple of members of Gov. Bob Riley's prison-overcrowding task force have said as much. Still, that may be a tough sell in a state with some of the country's stiffest drug punishments.

Round three

Social conservatives finally have the kind of Supreme Court nominee who puts stars in their eyes in the form of Samuel "Scalito" Alito of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He's personally anti-abortion -- at least according to his mother -- and is widely known as "the most conservative member" of the 3rd Circuit. He's also got more time on the bench than any other nominee in the last 70 years, which takes the qualifications card off the table and turns the debate toward judicial philosophy.

This nomination likely will implicate the future not only of the Supreme Court but also of the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., already has threatened to renew the quest to detonate the nuclear option, which would kill the filibuster on judicial nominees (and, incidentally, break Senate rules), and Democrats seem determined to put up a stern fight against Alito.

Moderate GOP senators like Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and John McCain of Arizona will provide the decisive votes on both Alito's nomination and the nuclear option. It'll be interesting to see how many of them, if any, break ranks with the increasingly unpopular Bush administration. It'll also be interesting to see how many of the conservatives whose criticism forced Harriet Miers to withdraw her nomination revert to the refrain about every candidate deserving an up-or-down vote.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

What a great Halloween story

It's sad to read that most of Kathryn Tucker Windham's books about Southern ghosts -- perhaps Alabama's best known folktales and definitely entertaining windows into the region's history -- are out of print today.

But Windham, 87, is still busy telling stories, this time about some of her quirky family members. She's also learned over the years how to deal with the detractors eager to condemn her to hell for "promoting a devilish belief in the supernatural": "If I'm going to hell ... it won't be for telling ghost stories; I have far greater shortcomings than that."

Oddly enough, the queen of Southern ghost stories has never actually seen a ghost. Jeffrey, the ghost who's occupied her Selma house for almost 40 years, still makes noises in her hallway from time to time, she says, but he's been a little less active lately.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Add more letters

Now Hurricane Beta is doing its best to retire a Greek letter from the hurricane name list. When Hurricane Omega churns in at Category 8, I'm moving to Nebraska.

Nah, that couldn't be it

CBS SportsLine columnist Dennis Dodd says the scores in SEC football games have been low in the last few weeks due to "offensive ineptness." Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that six of the NCAA's top 13 scoring defenses through last weekend -- Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Tennessee -- belong to SEC teams.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The waiting game

Will vice presidential aide Scooter Libby's five-count indictment today, by itself, have any long-term detrimental impact on the Bush administration? Not really. But will special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's announcement that the CIA leak probe isn't over yet be a huge albatross around the White House's neck as the 2006 elections approach? Oh, yeah.

Don't answer that

Should I feel old when college freshmen have never heard of Better Than Ezra or Collective Soul?


Words of wisdom from a Yale University dean: "Drinking games are meant to get people drunk."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Great answer, Granite King

A leader of Alabama's seafood industry asked Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore on Wednesday about his stance on a plan to require state merchants to tell consumers where their seafood originated. Moore, for some reason, just started talking about legislative term limits instead.

The GOP eats its own

Harriet Miers withdrew her name as a Supreme Court nominee today thanks almost entirely to a firestorm of criticism from Republican commentators. Unless you buy into the conspiracy theory that Miers' nomination was a feint to ease the next nominee's path to the bench -- and I don't -- the withdrawal is a huge political defeat for President Bush and a sign of social conservatives' continually growing influence within the GOP.

With that being said, the next nominee is likely to have a much more extensive track record as an opponent of abortion and gay marriage. This time, the bulk of the criticism probably will come from the left side of the aisle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Don's prediction comes true

A federal grand jury in Montgomery has indicted former Gov. Don Siegelman on a racketeering charge, prosecutors announced today. The indictment charges that former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who faces bribery and mail fraud charges, gave $500,000 to Siegelman in exchange for an appointment to Alabama's Certificate of Need Review Board.

Siegelman, who faced conspiracy, health care fraud, and theft charges last year before a federal judge and prosecutors dismissed them, said at a press conference that the Montgomery prosecution is politically motivated. He also predicted he would be exonerated and go on to recapture the Governor's Mansion. "The people of Alabama are smarter than these folks are," Siegelman said.

Recent polling numbers showed Siegelman with a 30-point lead over Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, his Democratic gubernatorial primary opponent. It'll be interesting to see whether this indictment makes that lead disappear or if he manages to circle the political wagons.

Let's do this thing

Alabama. Florida State. Sept. 29, 2007. You've heard the rumors. You've read about the obstacles. Now you've got the confirmation.

FSU head football coach Bobby Bowden, who grew up as a Crimson Tide fan: "Alabama looks like the old Alabama to me now. I hope we haven't bitten off more than we can chew."

Note to statewide candidates

A huge sleeper issue in Alabama's 2006 general election is constitutional reform. Over the last five years, support for some kind of reform of the world's longest constitution -- either a new state charter or major changes to the current one -- has grown from 10 percent to 70 percent, thanks largely to the admirable grassroots efforts of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. Sixty-five percent of voters say they'd be likelier to support a candidate who backed the reform movement, and 68 percent say they'd vote for a constitutional convention if they got the chance.

The constitutional reform train is sitting on the tracks waiting for a big-name conductor. The first candidate to hop aboard could be going places in a hurry.

This shouldn't be political

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, is still pushing his bill to allow Hurricane Katrina evacuees to vote absentee in their home states for the next two election cycles, but only Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors thus far.

Louisiana's Republican senator, David Vitter, said Congress should focus on other Katrina-related priorities for now. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, opposes the measure, claiming it "obviously opens the door to potential abuse." (Of course, so does his proposal to ease requirements for Katrina evacuees to show identification before cashing checks, but that didn't stop him from arguing that its potential benefits outweighed its potential detriment.)

One has to wonder if two of the motivators for the utter lack of GOP support thus far are a desire to dilute the Democratic vote in New Orleans and a suspicion that Davis' measure is primarily an effort to counteract that. No doubt Davis is eager to see the Crescent City continue its history of support for his party, but as he observes, his bill also could aid GOP candidates in areas to which evacuees flocked, such as Baton Rouge and Houston, by stemming a tide of new Democratic voters there.

Katrina evacuees didn't choose to have their homes destroyed in a disaster of epic proportions, and they shouldn't be punished for their misfortune by being denied the right to have an electoral say in the future of their hometowns. As long as the displaced voters remain registered only in the home precincts to which they plan to return, they should be able to have their vote counted there.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

No, seriously

What's the White House to do when poll numbers show President Bush couldn't even pull 40 percent of the vote were the election this year, when the public is highly critical of the federal response in Hurricane Katrina's immediate aftermath, and when criminal indictments of key staffers look likelier by the day?

Send a cease-and-desist letter to The Onion, of course.

New rule

Despite rumors that it's merely a "technicality," a perjury accusation actually is a big deal. Well, at least if you're a foreigner.

A U.S. Senate subcommittee report Monday accused British Parliament member George Galloway of perjury and obstruction of criminal proceedings in relation to his bombastic testimony in May regarding Iraq's oil-for-food program and the Iraq war. The Justice Department will decide whether and how to pursue the case after reviewing the evidence amassed by subcommittee chairman U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and others.

For his part, Galloway said he's "begging to be prosecuted for perjury" and vowed to hop on the next flight to America to defend himself. A trial would be a good way to hold Galloway accountable or to let him clear his name, depending on what the facts reveal. Other considerations might lead the Justice Department to put the case on the back burner, though, as a U.S. perjury prosecution of a sitting British MP who's a vocal opponent of the Iraq war could further inflame British public opinion against the war.

To head off angry comments, I'll note that, yes, perjury is a serious criminal charge, and that holds true across the political spectrum. It'd be nice to see politicians be consistent on that point.

You know you'd watch

Ever wanted a competitive boxing match with an 80-year-old man? If you're a light heavyweight over 70, here's your chance.

Civil rights' tiny giant

"[W]hen one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear."
-- Rosa Parks
Rest in peace, Mrs. Parks. You did what had to be done.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Six years later

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, speaking about the CIA leak investigation Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press: "I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars."

Yes, she did vote to remove former President Clinton from office on a perjury charge in 1999. Why do you ask?

Yep, it's big

Outside observers may struggle to understand why Alabama's win over Tennessee -- or, indeed, college football itself -- is so very important to so many people in this state. Allow this Crimson White column to try to provide a little insight:

"It's a feeling that quakes in the soul, a feeling jammed haphazardly between the heart and stomach that's able to cause nervous breakdowns and push men dressed in crimson to introduce themselves to men dressed in nightmarish orange with the worst well-placed obscenities that can roll off their tongues."

And with that, I give you the weekly college football open thread.

Any opinions?

How does the new Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery compare to Birmingham's Civil Rights Institute? Better or worse?

As long as Roy's still losing

It's old news by now, but it's worth mentioning that former Gov. Don Siegelman had a 30-point lead over Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, according to a SurveyUSA poll from a couple of weeks ago. The poll didn't distinguish between registered and likely voters and apparently relied on self-identification to determine party affiliation, so take it with the appropriate grain of salt. Still, the numbers are a clear indication that Baxley has some work to do with Alabama voters. Elaborating on her platform would be a good start.

The same poll gave Gov. Bob Riley a 6-point lead over his court-order-defying Republican primary opponent, Roy Moore. That's a significantly smaller edge than Riley had in a Mobile Register poll that put him up by 19 points earlier this month, but unfortunately, it's probably closer to the true margin between them right now. A key difference, though, is that whereas SurveyUSA stuck to registered voters, the Register poll focused on likely voters, so the race may not be as tight as the new poll would lead one to believe.

Mystery solved

If you were curious why Gov. Bob Riley wasn't joined at the hip to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her recent Alabama visit, it's because it was his wife's birthday. Give the man credit for getting his priorities straight.

In a way, he is Mr. England

Two observations about this Reuters story on British Foreign Minister Jack Straw's visit to Alabama over the weekend:

1) Straw may have "bemused" many Alabamians -- English accents are rare around here -- but is it really news to report that many of them couldn't name him? You know who else probably couldn't name him? Most of the people in any of the 50 states.

2) It's Alabamian, not Alabaman. And to think that's in a story about people not knowing what to call other people. (Yes, I know the dictionary technically says Alabaman is an acceptable alternate form. But as broadcasting pioneer Stephen Colbert once noted, reference books are high and mighty and not to be trusted.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

But why no cheese?

If you eat more than 50,000 Krystal hamburgers, you too could appear on a burger box.

Three and a half more years, minimum

U.S. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Artur Davis, D-Ala., haven't given up on the idea of universal health care. As Conyers said, "We want health care as a matter of right, and not a privilege." In a sign that their quest faces a sizable uphill battle, though, only about 50 people attended the congressmen's forum about the issue Saturday in Davis' hometown of Birmingham. Still, turnout could have been worse on a big day for college football in the state.

On another note, here's a disconcerting statistic from The Birmingham News' coverage of the event: "Only 58 percent of the blacks eligible to vote in Alabama are registered."

Most importantly, the Tide won the toss

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Tuscaloosa on Saturday for the opening coin toss of the Alabama-Tennessee football game, on the prospect of running for governor of Alabama one day: "Now there's a novel idea."

Also, Rice said claims that President Bush doesn't care about blacks are "outrageous" -- she grew up in Birmingham, she says, so she could tell if he didn't -- and said there is no "stronger defender of civil rights" than Bush. She didn't mention civil liberties, but that was probably just an inadvertent omission.

Fun fact: Rice's ovation at Bryant-Denny Stadium, while loud, was quieter than that for former Crimson Tide All-America linebacker Cornelius Bennett, who delivered the game ball. After all, diplomacy is great, but how many quarterbacks has it sacked?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Jamie Christensen Fan Club

I'll start it. Who's in? Roll. Damn. Tide.

Condi reaches for war support

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's speech in Tuscaloosa on Friday included a comparison of the Iraqi democracy's difficult first days to the 1960s civil rights movement. Except, of course, the civil rights movement occurred in a country that had almost two centuries of republican government under its belt to condition citizens to seek change through peaceful, democratic means rather than terrorism or open warfare. Also, it didn't begin after the Canadian army took Washington.

A University of Alabama political science professor noted that "governmental forms aren't completely divorced from underlying cultural attitudes and beliefs" and said Rice's analogy may be "very appealing," but "[i]t's not demonstrably true on its face."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Your government at work

Second-degree theft isn't technically a crime in Alabama today.

That's because the Legislature, before it got busy outlawing something that's already illegal and passing a law to forbid itself from passing a law earlier this year, approved legislation last year that 1) changed words in the state code such as horse, mule, and ass to equine and equidae and 2) somehow inadvertently eliminated the crime of second-degree theft in the process.

You just can't make up stuff like this.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Here come the Greek letters

Half of the six most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record have come this year. If Hurricane Wilma sticks to its projected path, seven hurricanes will have slammed into Florida in a little more than a year.

Is global warming to blame? Not entirely, but it can't be helping.

It probably won't happen any time soon

American Civil Liberties Union officials have asked for a moratorium on executions in Alabama until a host of fairness concerns are addressed. That's their job. Meanwhile, Clay Crenshaw, the head of capital litigation in the state attorney general's office, argues that the biggest problem is that we aren't executing convicted murderers quickly enough. That's his job.

Some of the issues cited by the ACLU are common in many death-penalty states, including the facts that prosecutors in some counties seek the death penalty far more often than those in other counties and that a defendant is far likelier to end up on Death Row for killing a white person than a black person. (On the latter point, Crenshaw said slain blacks are "typically victims of a murder and not a capital murder.")

Other issues are more specific to Alabama, such as the lack of a statewide public defender system and judges' ability to override jury recommendations in capital cases. The ACLU also criticized the state's history of executing mentally retarded killers, but that seems to be a moot point after the U.S. Supreme Court declared such executions unconstitutional a few years ago.

A poll released in July found that 57 percent of Alabamians would support the kind of moratorium that the ACLU requests, but the legislative odds still will be stacked against such a measure, especially in an election year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Read their lips

Historically, Alabama politicians have had three sure-fire ways to garner electoral support without having to get into much substance. They could race-bait (though the efficacy of that tactic mercifully has waned steadily since the 1970s). They could thump the Bible. And they could scream at the top of their lungs about the very concept of taxation.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, a renowned master of the second tactic, is trying the third on for size. Moore complains that Alabama counties' ongoing shift to annual property revaluations, rather than once every four years as in the past, is a "stealth tax" (even though property owners receive notices of their new valuations and can challenge them) and is "taxation without representation" (which doesn't make a lick of sense in this context but sure sounds nice on a bumper sticker).

Lest you doubt the power of anti-tax sentiment in this state, note that Gov. Bob Riley, whose administration ordered the annual revaluations in the first place, said through a spokesman that he's all for legislation to restore a quadrennial appraisal schedule. On the Democratic side, former Gov. Don Siegelman backs the old valuation system, too, while Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley says the decision should be left to the people.

For now, state law requires that property taxes be collected based on fair market value, which can change drastically in four years. A fair reading of that law strongly suggests that to comply, officials must conduct reappraisals more frequently than quadrenially, and that was the approach the Riley administration adopted when it instituted an annual revaluation schedule in 2003. From a practical standpoint, that change has state and county governments on track to collect more than $400 million in additional tax revenue annually by 2010, with much of it going to Alabama's perpetually underfunded public schools.

That'd be a big chunk of change to chop out of budgets, but Moore has the answer, which oddly enough is remarkably similar to his answer to the state's looming Medicaid shortfall: Just cut waste. Of course, the Mobile Register reports today that he's only pointed to several thousands of dollars' worth of wasteful spending, which is somewhat less than $400 million, but you get the idea.

Moore also recommends that the state use its Education Trust Fund surplus to help counties make up for any shortfalls resulting from a return to quadrennial reappraisals: "If the state has that extra money, they could help out the counties." And that would be a wonderful long-term solution in a world where the economy never takes a downturn, the government always has extra tax revenues on hand, and puppies ride on the backs of unicorns. One day, when future generations stumble across that world while hitchhiking across the galaxy, they'll thank the Granite King.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

VP Condi?

Could Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice get a promotion to vice president shortly after her coin toss at Bryant-Denny Stadium?

U.S. News & World Report
says that's the buzz going around Washington as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald gets ready to lower the boom and seek indictments later this month after his two-year investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. With The Washington Post reporting today that Fitzgerald's probe is focusing on Vice President Cheney's office, D.C. insiders are batting around the possibility -- unlikely though it may be -- that Cheney may resign.

Of course, the speculation needs to be taken with a heavy grain of salt. For one thing, though it's looking increasingly unlikely that Fitzgerald will choose not to charge anyone, we still have no idea who he might decide to prosecute and for what, and there remains a small chance that the probe will end without any criminal charges. For another, Rice said as recently as Sunday that she has no interest in running for president in 2008, which is the kind of temptation that most sitting vice presidents in good health would find impossible to resist when their bosses can't seek re-election.

Will Rice end up as VP in the next year? Probably not, but the very fact that White House staffers are talking to the press about such rumors shows how worried Bush administration officials are about the fallout from Fitzgerald's investigation.

You're safe here from the hype

For yet another week, the college football pundits remain on their knees for the USC Trojans, who survived at Notre Dame only because their quarterback crossed the goal line for the winning touchdown thanks to an illegal push from behind. Oh, well.

Meanwhile, Texas still appears unstoppable, Georgia looks like a better team with each passing week, and Alabama seemed determined to give me heart palpitations Saturday. Incidentally, does anyone actually want to win the Big Ten this year?

It's your weekly college football open thread. You know the drill.

Is it OK to ask questions now?

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Monday that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers told him that Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that said states couldn't criminalize married couples' use of contraceptives, was "rightly decided." That was before the White House protested and Specter issued a press release that, while not retracting his statement, said he simply must have "misunderstood what she said."

Two of Miers' friends from Texas, both judges, told fearless SpongeBob confronter James Dobson two weeks ago that they felt sure Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a Wall Street Journal columnist. That was before Miers told U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday that "nobody knows my views on Roe v. Wade." And that, in turn, was before senators today received a copy of a 1989 questionnaire on which Miers indicated that she would back a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions not needed to save the mother's life.

So since we have a Supreme Court nominee with no judicial experience, relatively few writings on constitutional law, and a series of supposed misunderstandings about her positions on key constitutional issues, let's hope no one would mind if senators took off the kid gloves at the confirmation hearings and actually went after some straight answers.

Or would that just be impolite?

Make Jack Straw wear a houndstooth hat

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will take part in the coin flip for Saturday's Alabama-Tennessee game. Her buddy Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, will be there, too, wondering why this alleged football has so few corner kicks and yellow cards.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Surely I'm not the only one who can't wait for the debut of The Colbert Report tonight. (FYI: Those in the know should know both t's are silent. And you're definitely in the know, loyal readers.)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sandman gets extra oats tonight

Gov. Bob Riley is the early favorite in next year's Alabama gubernatorial race thanks to his 19-point lead over Republican challenger Roy Moore and double-digit leads over both major Democratic contenders, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and former Gov. Don Siegelman, according to recent Mobile Register polling.

As for Moore, he trails Baxley by 7 points in a hypothetical showdown but is tied with Siegelman. Among other unsurprising poll findings: More Democrats would prefer Riley over Moore, Siegelman has stronger black support than Baxley, and Baxley faces no gender gap among voters.

Election year isn't even here yet, of course, but it's always good to see that Moore isn't ahead of anyone.

Monkeying around

Once more for emphasis: Evolution doesn't preclude God. You don't have to choose between them.

Scientific theories are based on empirical evidence and aim to explain how something happens, not why. Evolution holds that modern organisms developed after gradual changes over time in prior forms, but it doesn't say whether God set things up that way.

More importantly for the purpose of determining what is or isn't science, a proposition must be falsifiable to be considered scientific. Evolution is falsifiable if new evidence points to an alternate explanation for organisms' development, but neither creationism nor its cousin, intelligent design, is, because no one could disprove the existence of a higher power. That means evolution belongs in a science classroom, while the latter two are better fits for religion, philosophy, or social studies classes.

So a decade after Alabama's state Board of Education voted to halve the baby by approving high school biology textbooks that include both evolution instruction and disclaimer stickers warning that evolution is "a controversial theory," why are there reports of some teachers being denied tenure if they "insist[] on rigorously teaching evolution theory"?

Why was a science teacher reportedly asked during an employment interview "about her belief in God and if she was a Christian"? Why does the state board plan to approve an unnecessary new textbook disclaimer that says no scientific theories "should be seen as an effort to have [students] question their beliefs or faith"? And why do so many continue to insist, defying the overwhelming weight of the evidence, that the world is only a few thousand years old?

A Samford University professor puts it best in his remarks to The Birmingham News: "If you're going to accept biblical creation, that creation happened also instantly and relatively recently and that the species put here by God have not changed, well, all the physical evidence we have is contrary to that. I'm not saying God is not involved. But it did not happen in six days, in 6,000 years, and to say life has not changed since then is in error."

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Probably not

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is coming to Tuscaloosa next week to lecture on ethical leadership. Wonder if she'll talk about certain British memos that shall remain nameless?

Friday, October 14, 2005

I learn something new

I knew Alabama's divorce rate was high, but I didn't know it was the nation's highest. Does anyone care to offer an explanation?

It's hard work

Sure, Tom Parker issued decisions in fewer than half as many cases as any other associate Alabama Supreme Court justice from February through last week, including only one written majority opinion. And yes, the court's computer gives a roughly equal caseload to each associate justice, which might lead one to expect roughly equal output from each.

But as Parker explains, some cases are hard. Besides, the other justices on the all-Republican high court "have disagreed with his ideas" a lot for some reason, even though Parker's ally, ousted Chief Justice and GOP gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, has praised Parker's opinions for their "great meaning" and "attention ... to issues of 'constitutional import.'"

Yes, Parker is considering a run for chief justice. Why do you ask?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

This state owes her a lot

The University of Alabama's first black graduate, Vivian Malone Jones, died today in Atlanta at age 63. It's tough to overstate her bravery in the face of widespread racism in the 1960s and her graciousness in offering to forgive former Gov. George Wallace for his shameful theatrics during the infamous stand in the schoolhouse door.

This again

Remember when the two-and-a-half-year legal battle between Sports Illustrated and former Alabama head football coach Mike Price was finally over earlier this week?

Well, never mind.

Don reaches out to senior citizens

If you're an Alabamian who's 65 or older, former Gov. Don Siegelman doesn't want you to pay state sales tax on food or over-the-counter medicine. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate's proposed tax cut would cost the state coffers up to $100 million a year, which he suggests recouping by "closing tax loopholes" for out-of-state companies.

Senior citizens tend to vote in larger percentages than other age groups, and of course such a scheme would be very popular with many older voters. Political calculations aside, though, Siegelman's plan seems on the surface like a well-intentioned attempt to help senior citizens who live on small fixed incomes. However, the proposal would provide a blanket exemption to all seniors regardless of their incomes, which makes little sense if the purpose is to help the poor, and a tax break based on an age threshold could invite fraud.

There's no doubt that Alabama's regressive tax system could use some major adjustments to lighten the load on poor families, and Siegelman's idea to close corporate tax loopholes sounds, in the abstract, like a step toward reducing that burden. Sales taxes are too high in this state, and a plan to offset cuts in them with business-tax hikes almost certainly would be less controversial among everyday Alabamians than corresponding increases in personal income or property taxes.

Still, higher taxes of any kind are a tough sell in Alabama, and lawmakers would have to be careful to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court can't strike down any "loophole-closing" legislation as a violation of the Constitution's Dormant Commerce Clause. Another consideration would be the Privileges and Immunities Clause, but it applies only to citizens, not to corporations, so it's likely inapplicable to the kind of measures Siegelman suggests.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What a year

Hurricanes are hitting Spain now? OK, tropical depressions. Still.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Gargamel's revenge

"We wanted something that was real war -- Smurfs losing arms, or a Smurf losing a head -- but they said no."

Read more here if you dare. Link courtesy of PoliBlog.

Please stay there

Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore hit the campaign trail Sunday in... um... Louisiana.

I'm afraid Moore will need to get back to Alabama before his surroundings turn him into a hopeless liberal, though. Just look what he said Sunday about Ten Commandments monuments: "I don't care what version you display, as long as you display them."


Former Alabama Democratic Party chairman Redding Pitt last week inadvertently offered up a prime example of why you always should double-check your e-mail recipient lists.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pigskin galore

Penn State is for real. So is Georgia. Wisconsin? Eh, not so much.

After two years, UTEP head coach and former Alabama head coach Mike Price has settled his lawsuit against Sports Illustrated. After eight years, Temple head coach Bobby Wallace, who had a better gig back when he was rolling in the national titles at North Alabama, is stepping down. After six weeks of regular-season play, Texas looks an awful lot like the nation's best team.

And did you hear the one about the team that won two games on the same day Saturday?

It's the college football week six open thread. Discuss.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

This is a good trend

The good news: Gov. Bob Riley leads ousted Chief Justice Roy Moore by 19 percentage points among likely voters in Alabama's 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary, according to a recent Mobile Register poll. That's a 27-point turnaround from a similar Register poll earlier this year.

The bad news: Riley's raw support in the survey clocks in at only 44 percent, with 31 percent of respondents still undecided, so his lead is far from bulletproof. Still, it's heartening to see Riley up big on the Granite King right now.

Unnatural devastation

More than 18,000 people are believed dead in Pakistan alone from a deadly earthquake in South Asia on Saturday. Meanwhile, more than 1,400 have died in Central America from mudslides and flooding related to Hurricane Stan, which hit Mexico on Tuesday.

They're both terrible tragedies that remind us just how easily nature can rip normality from humanity's tenuous grasp. To say the last year has been filled with such reminders would be an understatement.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Now it's on for real

As expected, Gov. Bob Riley announced during his 61st birthday party in Birmingham today that he will seek re-election next year. He's the last of Alabama's big four gubernatorial contenders -- Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, ousted Chief Justice Roy Moore, and former Gov. Don Siegelman are the others -- to make his intentions known, as Hurricane Katrina prompted Riley to postpone his announcement from its original Labor Day date.

The conventional wisdom is that the Moore-Riley showdown in the Republican primary could split the GOP's business and religious wings. But Riley showed some determination today not to let Moore, for lack of a better word, "out-God" him: "Some say they can no longer acknowledge God in government. I think that's sad. Because I acknowledge Him every day -- in speeches, in the office, in meetings, schools, and churches. We can all do that every day in the way we live our lives."

State Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, also is considering a gubernatorial run, but her comparative lack of statewide name recognition makes it difficult to envision her doing much more than forcing her two better-known GOP opponents into a runoff.

Friday, October 07, 2005

At least one of them was right

Nine U.S. senators voted Wednesday against Arizona Sen. John McCain's proposal to amend the defense spending bill to ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of detainees, and Alabama's own Jeff Sessions was one of them. Mercifully, his in-state colleague, Sen. Richard Shelby, was among the 90-member majority.

Nothing personal

It's not that U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, doesn't support indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas; his contribution to DeLay's legal defense fund says otherwise. It's just that, well, Bachus thinks it may not be the best idea to be seen in public raising campaign money for DeLay right now. Surely you understand.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

And what's a 'Beatle'?

Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle on Sports Illustrated's observation that he bears a striking resemblance to former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr: "Who's Ringo Starr?"

You should support his Heisman Trophy candidacy anyway.

It's good to see them get along

Former President Clinton received cheers Wednesday upon his arrival in Bayou La Batre, one of the Alabama towns that suffered most from Hurricane Katrina. Clinton, who met with Gov. Bob Riley and the town's mayor, discussed the possibility of using money from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to help local officials with child care and fuel costs.

Don has a few things to say

Former Gov. Don Siegelman thinks a Montgomery grand jury probably will indict him soon, though he's not sure for what. A different grand jury indicted him last year on charges of conspiracy, health care fraud, and theft, but a federal judge dismissed most of the charges and prosecutors dropped the rest.

As for this set of prosecutors? Siegelman politely requests that they "kiss [his] ass" and says he'll only drop out of next year's Democratic gubernatorial primary if they "shoot [him] in the head and pull [his] heart out." Considering that the Middle Ages ended a few centuries back, it's a safe bet that won't happen.

Siegelman also thinks he'll have a better shot at winning Alabama's Democratic primary thanks to Roy Moore's entry this week on the Republican side. He may be right, but not for the reason he thinks.

Because Siegelman has gotten solid support from black voters in the past, he says, he stands to gain as white Democrats choose to vote in the GOP primary. Siegelman's theory is that many of those voters would be evangelicals who support Moore, and no doubt some traditional Democratic voters will fall in that category. But it's likely that still more white Democrats will cast crossover votes for Gov. Bob Riley in an effort to keep Moore as far away from the Governor's Mansion as possible.

Oh, and as for Siegelman's remark to The Tuscaloosa News on Tuesday that Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley's support has "fall[en] like a rock since Hurricane Katrina" because respondents "don't want a woman controlling the National Guard" after seeing how Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco handled Katrina's aftermath? Siegelman hasn't unveiled that poll, but he did offer assurances that he doesn't feel that way personally: "I love Lucy like everybody else."

Baxley's response to Siegelman's National Guard comment: "He knows more about [being indicted]."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Breaking in the new guy

If you're a Supreme Court junkie who isn't easily offended by cursing or disturbing mental images, then you should read this hilarious post at Buffalo Wings and Vodka.

'We have no conservative party in Washington'

MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, speaking Tuesday in Birmingham about the Bush administration's out-of-control spending and its potential electoral effects on congressional Republicans in 2006: "Right now we have no conservative party in Washington, D.C. ... The only thing the Republican Party has going for it is the Democratic Party."

During his speech, Scarborough also joked about his battles against the Machine while he was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama. Or at least he would have if the Machine existed. Which it doesn't. So he didn't. Move along, please.

Waste not

How does Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore propose to deal with the $100 million shortfall that Alabama's Medicaid program will face in fiscal 2007? Simple: Just cut waste.

This, of course, marks the first time in the state's history when an Alabama politician has taken a courageous anti-waste stance, except for those hundreds of other times.

Fortunately, hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary spending is readily apparent in the state budget. For example, did you know that some counties actually have more than one school?


You haven't truly lived until you've seen a Tupperware container filled to the brim with baby panda.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

It was inevitable

Did you honestly think The Daily Show would stay away from Cullman's dry Oktoberfest forever?

He's more moral than you, too

Need to have nightmares tonight? According to today's Mobile Register, ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore sounded "like a hybrid between [former Gov.] George Wallace and any Republican candidate for governor in a conservative Southern state" during his gubernatorial campaign announcement Monday in Gadsden.

Oh, and if you forgot for one single second about Moore's Ten Commandments circus a couple of years ago, he was all too glad to remind you: "[A]t a time when morality seems to be disappearing, our courts are preoccupied with telling children they can't pray and telling public officials they can't acknowledge the God that is the source of our morality."

But fear not; Moore also offered a few ideas unrelated to granite monuments. To summarize his platform: Taxes are evil, public schools are bureaucratic, legislators are really bad, and illegal immigrants are, well, illegal. And yes, in case it slipped your mind in the last 10 seconds, "gambling, pornography, immorality, and same-sex marriage" are sinful and bad, m'kay?

Though Moore's good ideas are few and far between, they do exist. For one, his proposed state crackdown on companies that fuel the demand for illegal immigration is long overdue. Moore's call for enhanced gubernatorial veto powers also is a necessary one, even if his likely primary opponent, Gov. Bob Riley, issued the call first.

On the whole, though, a Moore victory would represent a giant step backward for Alabama. Little would make me happier than to see his gubernatorial campaign crash and burn, leading to a thorough rejection of politics based on appeals to voters' fear of the nebulous them. Still, I suspect Moore has no plans to leave my state alone any time soon.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Indicted again

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, can't be having a very good day today. A Texas grand jury strikes again.

Bush ducks a fight

Things I knew about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers before President Bush revealed her as his surprise choice today:

. . .

Things I now know:

1) Miers, the White House counsel, has no judicial experience, which is worrisome, but her background as a big-firm partner and a former Dallas city councilwoman could reinfuse the Court with the touch of real-world pragmatism that it'll lose upon the departure of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a former state senator.

2) A great way to get Bush to nominate you for a job is to head his candidate search. It worked for Dick Cheney, and now it's paid off for Miers, too. Being a lifelong Texan doesn't hurt, either.

3) Miers' politics aren't entirely clear at first glance. She once referred to Bush as "the most brilliant man she had ever met," but she also gave $1,000 to Democrat Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988. Also, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reportedly lobbied Bush to consider a Miers nomination.

4) Many conservatives are outraged that Bush didn't tap a better-known nominee who would force a battle over judicial philosophy. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, for one, said the nomination left him "disappointed, depressed, and demoralized." Miers' views on key issues remain largely a mystery, but it's tough not to conclude that Bush's plummeting poll numbers led him to pick a less controversial nominee than he otherwise might have.


Roy Moore is running for governor. Brace yourself, Alabama.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

'Why go back to the moon?'

That's the question an Apollo program manager says NASA officials must answer if they hope to shore up public support for continued space exploration after the explosions of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia and this summer's near-miss with the falling debris during Discovery's launch.

NASA is at a critical juncture in its history. The space shuttle program that has been at the center of the agency's activities for decades is on its way out in 2010, and NASA administrator Michael Griffin said last week that it was a mistake for the agency to shift focus in the 1970s away from the moon and Mars and toward more near-earth missions.

NASA plans to return to the moon by 2018, with a manned mission to Mars as a longer-term goal. To compare to what might have been, the landing on the red planet would put the American space program at the point where former Marshall Space Flight Center director Wernher von Braun had hoped it would be by 1985, according to The Huntsville Times.

The shuttle program has allowed scientists to gather valuable information about how humans, animals, and plants respond to living in space, and aside from the Challenger and Columbia disasters, it's been a reliable way to ensure a continued American presence in space. But the shuttles contain aging computers, and as an Apollo rocket team member says, it's time to examine a new generation of spacecraft and propulsion technology.

Thanks to the emerging space tourism industry, manned space travel is here to stay. Private investment no doubt will fuel many technological advances, but private companies' most profitable trips, at least for the immediate future, likely will be of the near-earth variety. The public therefore still will have an interest in funding manned exploration of the great beyond.

So why go back to the moon? Because we don't know everything we should know about it. Because we don't have permanent stations there from which to get better access to deep space. Because the experience would help us gather the knowledge needed to send manned flights elsewhere in the solar system. Because if humanity manages, improbably, to survive for billions of years, when a dying sun will expand and swallow up Earth, manned spaceflight will be our species' only hope to find a new home elsewhere in the universe.

Why go back to the moon? Because in the long run, we must.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Roll Damn Tide

That was amazing.

My best wishes go to wide receiver Tyrone Prothro. Thank you for one hell of a season, sir, and good luck on your road to recovery.

They'll still spend the money somehow

Hey, you know all of those times when Alabama legislators would put state checks in their pockets and carry them back to their districts to help their re-election bids ensure the money got where it needed to go? Well, a unanimous Alabama Supreme Court just declared that unconstitutional on Friday, saying the system violated the concept of separation of powers.

Many lawmakers, naturally, are crushed. Now, horror of horrors, they'll have to put their pet projects to a full legislative vote. Or give the governor veto power over that spending. Or both.