Wednesday, May 31, 2006

No, really, that's why

Why will Alabama's primary ballots have a superfluous and senseless constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on them next week? Because the measure's sponsor, state Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, said he went to San Francisco once and "saw two men on television in a public place kissing deeply."

Wow. I mean... wow.

A known unknown

A federal district court Tuesday tossed an NAACP voting rights lawsuit against Secretary of State Nancy Worley, saying the three named plaintiffs lacked standing. The ruling, which the plaintiffs' lawyer, Edward Still, has posted, means Alabamians might not get an exhaustive answer any time soon to the question of which felony convictions involve "moral turpitude" under state law and thus preclude the restoration of voting rights.

You gotta have goals

Gov. Bob Riley while stumping for votes in Huntsville: "With your help, we can continue to move this state forward where never again will we ever be 48th, 49th, or 50th again in anything."

Monday, May 29, 2006

The last Monday of May

The Fisher House does great work for the families of injured soldiers. Please consider a donation on this Memorial Day. Please also read this excellent Decatur Daily story about the Vietnam War's most decorated veteran, whose widow lives in Alabama.

Yes, of course it is

You might remember state Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, as the guy who said Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment of the Gulf Coast for gambling and other assorted debauchery. Now you can remember him as the guy who saw the vandalism of a few signs as evidence that his primary race "is about light versus darkness."

They hang out by the drinking water supply

Bet you didn't think you could find bald eagles and a 16-foot alligator living in the wild in the middle of northern Alabama.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Baxley-Riley showdown solidifies

Maybe Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley's "sit back and wait" campaign strategy was right after all.

The trend lines are certainly in her favor. A poll in today's (Mobile) Press-Register finds Baxley has vaulted to an 18-point lead over former Gov. Don Siegelman in the Democratic gubernatorial primary race after being locked in a virtual dead heat with him just a month ago. Then again, given that Baxley's raw numbers are not overwhelmingly higher than they were in April, maybe it's more accurate to say that Siegelman has plummeted to an 18-point deficit. That's what tends to happen when you spend the weeks before the election on trial in a federal corruption case. Most significantly, Siegelman's support from black voters, always strong in the past, seems to be eroding.

Baxley's television campaign still appears more limited than that of several down-ballot candidates on the Republican side, so she seems (wisely, considering her current margin and the size of Gov. Bob Riley's war chest) to be saving her money for the fall. As I said a day ago, Siegelman's one and only chance now is to force a runoff and hope for an acquittal before mid-July. Regardless of what happens in the former governor's criminal trial, today's poll suggests the first part of that equation soon may be impossible.

Democratic voters have begun to turn on Siegelman, and Republican voters have realized that former Chief Justice Roy Moore is, well, Roy Moore. Could Alabama have a governor's race with two palatable options? Could we have a general election in which I could feel like I'm voting for a candidate instead of against one? With the primaries a week away, that looks to be the case.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

It keeps going, and going, and going...

Jurors in former Gov. Don Siegelman's federal corruption trial heard testimony Thursday and Friday about the third major prong of the prosecution's case: their claim that Siegelman appointed Mack Roberts as the state highway director in exchange for $40,000 in campaign money from a toll bridge developer who employed Roberts. As with all other charges, Siegelman denied it vigorously and called the developer a "jerk" for good measure.

At this rate, the trial looks incredibly unlikely to end before the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and the former governor probably can't win outright with the federal sword of Damocles still hanging over his head. Siegelman's best (and maybe only) chance for electoral success would be to force a runoff with Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and hope for an acquittal before that vote.

Again, would you want this job?

Alabama's prison commissioner, Richard Allen, has lived the last couple of weeks under the threat of being ordered to jail himself by the end of this month if the state didn't make sufficient progress in relieving jail overcrowding. But a federal judge decided Friday to extend that deadline, meaning Allen won't face the prospect of incarceration for at least another three weeks.

Pork hogtied in court

Legislators are running out of time to bring home the state-funded bacon before next month's primaries.

For a couple of hours Friday, it looked like lawmakers would be free and clear to distribute pork allocations in their districts. A state judge rejected Republican attorney general candidate Mark Montiel's attempt to block a new version of the program -- the Alabama Supreme Court declared the old one unconstitutional last year -- by reviving his 2004 lawsuit. The judge dismissed Montiel's motion, saying the fresh law required a fresh lawsuit.

Quickly thereafter, Gov. Bob Riley and AG Troy King delivered one, asserting that the new "community services grants" program illegally impinges on executive powers because the governor isn't on the commission that has the final say on the grants. Because the spending will be on hold unless or until a judge clears it, the pork checks almost certainly won't be released in time for incumbents to exchange them for good press back home by June 6.

Time for Plan B: attack ads.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Conspiracy theories abound

The president of a Kiwanis Club in east Alabama decided Thursday to bar the media from a speech that Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore delivered to the group, saying the meeting's agenda was meant to be non-political.

Some observers might speculate that the president quite understandably made that decision to avoid intensive media attention or to protect club members' privacy. But according to The Birmingham News, Moore's speculation was of quite a different nature: "that the [Gov. Bob] Riley campaign may have been putting pressure on the club so Moore's message would not get out as he was gaining momentum."

Riley's spokesman, for the record, said that, um, that wasn't so.

And I'm just shocked

Former Gov. Fob James, who once publicly danced around like a monkey to express skepticism about evolution, endorses former Chief Justice Roy Moore in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Alabama political ad template

(Open with progressively tighter zoom shot on black-and-white photo of Opponent as ominous music loops in the background.)

Sure, Opponent claims to be good for Alabama, but the facts just don't lie. Opponent is a [Montgomery insider / opportunistic money-grubber / damn Yankee] who voted more than [20 / 200 / 2 million] times to support [liberal tax increases on hard-working Alabamians / removing God from our schools and churches / cooking and eating the poor].

What did Opponent receive in return? Thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and kickbacks from [dirty liberal trial lawyers / soulless corporate fatcats and gambling lobbyists / terrorists]. That might be enough for some people, but not Opponent. Now, according to [some newspaper or TV station], Opponent supports legislation to [confiscate your land / force you to house illegal immigrants in your garage / punch your dog in the face]. Some people just never learn.

(Cue upbeat music and cut to video footage of Candidate praying around the dinner table with the family, hugging kids and senior citizens, frolicking in a meadow with bunnies, etc.)

Fortunately for us, there's a better choice. Candidate is [a veteran of public service / not a career politician / definitely not in this for the state retirement] and shares our conservative Alabama family faith values. Raised in a town [where everybody knows your name / where conservative Alabama family faith values reigned supreme / so small that scientists are still working to confirm its existence] and married for [a long time / a really long time / far longer than your mere mortal mind can fathom], Candidate understands and shares the conservative Alabama family faith values that we all hold so dear.

(Cut to video of Candidate standing near a barn, church, creek, general store, school, etc., surrounded by friends and family.)

"I'm Candidate, and together we can [build a stronger, more conservative Alabama / shamelessly exploit religious faith in pursuit of votes / feed my insatiable ego]. Help me fight for you."

(Cue voice-over as Candidate looks ahead confidently.)

On Election Day, send a message to Opponent and the rest of the [liberals / liberal liberals / liberal tree-hugging hippie liberals]. Vote Candidate for [insert office here].

The preceding has been a message from Shadowy Lobbyist Types for Truth PAC, which will file its disclosure after the election.

That does simplify things

Gov. Bob Riley held a public hearing Wednesday in Mobile to solicit opinions on whether he should veto ConocoPhillips' plan to erect a liquefied natural gas terminal off Dauphin Island that would use billions of gallons of Gulf of Mexico water to reheat the frozen gas. Everyone in attendance was opposed. Riley's response: "All of you here today have made my decision much easier."

The rumors were true

Assuming the feds approve, Birmingham soon will change from the home of two fairly large banks to the home of one really huge bank. Jobs will be lost, of course, but you already knew that.

Slow burn

The Alabama Fire College Foundation scandal that's been simmering since late 2004 may be about to ignite as a federal grand jury hears testimony about what happened to $300,000 of state money sent to the private foundation that later built a house for the college's director. It'll be interesting to see just how many lawmakers and two-year college administrators will be implicated in the scandal and what impact, if any, the investigation will have on the November election.

Day of reckoning

Former Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling will still be the smartest guys in the room. It's just that the room will be in prison.

Self-interest is job one

Set aside for now any qualms about the constitutionality of this week's FBI search of the congressional office of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. (I don't like the general idea of law enforcement rummaging through legislators' offices, but I could envision some extenuating circumstances that might justify it. Besides, at least there was a warrant this time, right? Progress.) From a purely tactical standpoint, Republican leaders' swift denouncement of the search was absolutely genius.

Not only did their declaration lend them a much-needed veneer of bipartisan spirit, but it also ensured that the day's headlines would focus on a corruption scandal that has ensnared a Democrat. Additionally, as The New York Times notes, the increasingly scandal-plagued GOP has a vested interest in preventing a precedent that would allow such searches of its members' offices.

Today's episode, as with so many other things in Washington, has been brought to you by the letters C, Y, and A.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Narrow tailoring, or some such as that

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, offers a constitutional counterargument against U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions' recent suggestion that the Voting Rights Act's preclearance requirements should be imposed nationwide: "If a widget manufacturer is found guilty of discriminatory conduct, a judge can't issue an order against all widget manufacturers in the U.S."

Playing in the mud

All four major gubernatorial candidates want to overhaul Alabama's campaign finance laws, The Birmingham News reports today. All say they support strict limitations on lobbyists and money transfers among political action committees, with Republican contender Roy Moore adopting the hardest line by calling for total bans on contributions from lobbyists and PACs.

I've hammered Moore on a range of topics, but in fairness, he's the only one of the four who put his money where his mouth is on this issue by refusing all PAC donations. Gov. Bob Riley, for his part, tried to explain the disconnect between rhetoric and reality: "As long as that is the law, as long as that is the political situation in Alabama, we are going to go ahead and play it. But can we do a better job? Absolutely. Should we do a better job? Absolutely."

Sometimes you must write about TV

The gray-haired guy from Alabama won the giant televised singing contest tonight. From the way people are reacting around here, you'd think it was a football game or something.

Other observations from season finale time:
  • The West Wing's sendoff was what you'd expect from that show: classy, poignant, thought-provoking, and forward-looking. Oh, and kinda entertaining, too.
  • Boston Legal is at its best when it breaks the fourth wall.
  • Big Love entertains me even more than its lead-in, though The Sopranos' impending family war may change that.
  • I still have no idea what's happening on Lost, and I love it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Damn liberal stare decisis principle

Federal judges ruled Monday that Alabama Republicans can't redraw the legislative districts before the next census, no matter how much they'd like some extra seats.

It's pretty much a wash

Today's Birmingham News issues story is on corrections, and the gubernatorial candidates are all pretty much in alignment there. All four support some type of sentencing reform to alleviate prison overcrowding, and all four are for the death penalty. Former Gov. Don Siegelman dissented from the other three, however, on the question of private prisons; he's absolutely against them, whereas the others either see them as a necessary evil (Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and Gov. Bob Riley) or haven't studied the issue (former Chief Justice Roy Moore).

A public service announcement of sorts

Snoop Dogg and Hank Williams, Jr., will be within a few blocks of each other in Birmingham next month. Just putting it out there.

And that's how the debate never happened

If you were Gov. Bob Riley and polls had you almost 50 points ahead of your opponent, Roy Moore, you probably wouldn't see much to gain from a debate, either.

Frozen assets

You act like you don't keep $90,000 tucked away in your freezer.

If it's not too much trouble

So, um, Mr. Decider, when we're finished throwing reporters in prison for writing about our government's secret prisons and warrantless domestic wiretapping, could we, you know, maybe go after that 6-foot-4 terrorist on a dialysis machine again?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Round two

Republican attorney general candidate Mark Montiel has followed through on his promise to pursue criminal charges against his opponent, AG Troy King. Montiel has filed complaints in Mobile and Montgomery counties, though Mobile's district attorney, John Tyson, Jr., has declined to touch the matter with a 10-foot pole for a pretty good reason.

Would-be governors talk book learnin'

If it's Monday, it must be another installment of The Birmingham News' continuing series of "where they stand" stories. Not too many surprises emerge today as we learn how the gubernatorial candidates feel about, well, learning. (Get it? Ah, forget it.)

Gov. Bob Riley and Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley pushed distance learning programs and hiring retired teachers, respectively, as ways to level the educational playing field for rural students. Former Gov. Don Siegelman proposed expansions of head start centers and the Alabama Job Corps to widen the variety of opportunities available to students. And as always, Siegelman touted an education lottery, though his estimate of its revenue is, for some reason, about 10 times higher than it was back in 1999.

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore, meanwhile, suggested private tax credits and school choice were the answers to improve education, though he sidestepped the question of what to do with all of the children left behind in bad schools once the good schools were packed to the gills with transferees. Moore, a self-proclaimed advocate of devolving power to the people, also endorsed state legislation to force mergers of some local school systems.

The latter third of the questioning was devoted to the candidates' feelings on the place of religion in public schools, and the answers show a clear distinction between the contenders looking not to alienate voters -- Baxley and Riley -- and the ones with fewer such concerns -- Moore and Siegelman. Of the four, Siegelman offers the most memorable soundbite: "We need to concentrate on the three R's, and religion isn't one of them." Moore, oddly enough, seems lukewarm on the idea of Bible instruction in public schools, but apparently only because he's afraid "they would distort it."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

20 percent

That's how much support former Chief Justice Roy Moore had in the latest (Mobile) Press-Register survey of Alabama's Republican gubernatorial primary race. Needless to say, Gov. Bob Riley's number -- 69 percent -- was considerably larger. Poll director Keith Nicholls: "[A] Moore win would be a miracle."

Tax time

Ah, it's issues season at last. We go now to today's Birmingham News, where we learn that all four of the major gubernatorial candidates don't like annual property reappraisals, though Gov. Bob Riley thinks current law requires them. Meanwhile, three of the four -- Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, Riley, and former Gov. Don Siegelman -- agree that Alabama's tax system, which relies heavily on regressive sales taxes and assesses almost all taxpayers at the top marginal rate, is unfair and needs further reforms.

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore -- surprise! -- dissents, though mercifully he at least agrees that it was good to raise the income tax threshold for a family of four from $4,600 to $12,600 this year. Moore also bitterly criticized legislators -- one thing we do agree on -- for trying to use pork money to buy re-election. Oddly, he appears to believe as an article of faith that state services will have plenty of funding if the Legislature just trims a few million dollars of waste here and there.

But as always, Moore just didn't know when to stop. During his lengthy rant about "out of proportion" salaries, he included Alabama head football coach Mike Shula's pay raise as an example of wasteful state spending. Watch the fun as Moore tries to recover after he's reminded that the university's self-sustaining athletics department receives no tax money. It's truly a sight to behold.

Cafeteria constitutionalists

Do you believe in the rule of law or do you believe in letting state judges pick and choose the times when they'll obey U.S. Supreme Court decisions? That's the question that Republican primary voters will face when they select their judicial nominees next month, and I have hope that at least a bare majority of them will make the right choice.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Where the hell do these people come from?

Comforting news in today's Montgomery Advertiser: "Alabama's Democratic Party is distancing itself from two Democratic candidates for state office who think all illegal immigrants must leave or be killed."

The disgusting pair in question are attorney general candidate Larry Darby, who thinks Nazis only killed about 70,000 Jews, and gubernatorial contender Harry Lyon, who supports public hangings of illegal immigrants who don't leave the state within 90 days. Darby, for his part, threw his enthusiastic support to Lyon: "If he's willing to have public hangings of Mexicans, that sounds like he's the right man for the job." Darby then said he'd like to see Iran "blow Israel off the map."

Back in this universe, the real Democratic AG candidate, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Jr., had this to say about Darby: "This man is not connected to reality. I think he's a crackpot trying to get some publicity."

Good for all the wrong reasons

A University of Alabama advertising professor has labeled Republican Roy Moore's 60-second spot the strongest of the television ad offerings thus far from gubernatorial candidates.

That's not so much because it discusses any meaningful proposals -- because it doesn't -- but because it harkens back to Moore's ouster as chief justice in 2003 and aims to motivate his base by stirring religious fervor. In the professor's words: "It's brilliant for Moore. For years, Gov. (George) Wallace convinced everybody that the feds and the court systems were a bunch of evildoers, that they were out to get good, hard-working Alabamians, that they were social engineers who wanted to destroy the Southern way of life. And that just feeds into it."

Today's Huntsville Times story also noted the relative dearth of political ads about two and a half weeks before the primaries. But don't worry, ad junkies; more are coming soon, and some may not even mention that Luther Strange is tall.

Yeah, you'd want to correct that

Editing lesson #173: When reviewing the portion of a story about a criminal trial that discusses the defendants' pleas, one always should make sure that the "not" part of "not guilty" remains intact.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Whaddaya know? Bipartisanship

The $249.95 lunch is infamous in Montgomery. That's because Alabama's ridiculously lax disclosure laws allow lobbyists to spend up to $250 apiece on each legislator each day and report not a one of those gifts. No good can come of that system, and it's past due for an overhaul.

In a glorious instance of bipartisan unity, Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and Republican lieutenant governor candidate George Wallace, Jr., seem to agree on that sentiment. Baxley wants to cap the amount that lobbyists can give a legislator at $250 a year, while Wallace wants to ban such gifts altogether.

Wallace also calls for members of the state Ethics Commission to be elected, not appointed, and for members to have independent authority to launch investigations. Both ideas deserve strong consideration, though the legislation would have to be carefully crafted to prevent highly partisan commission races and probes.

It's good to hear politicians talk about cleaning up Montgomery again. Now let's hope that discussion doesn't fizzle out after election year passes, as it has so many times before.

Keep its mouth shut, for one

A veteran alligator trapper offers an important question for outdoorsmen to ask themselves as Alabama conservation officials ponder the first gator hunting season in almost two decades: "Now you have a 12-foot alligator; what do you do with it?"

To the floor it goes

I noted U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions' proposal to reallocate more federal AIDS funds to the South two weeks ago. The Alabama Republican's plan took a tiny step closer to becoming reality Wednesday night, sailing through a Senate committee 19-1. (The sole dissenting vote came from U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.) Passage could prove more difficult in the full Senate, though, without an across-the-board increase in AIDS spending.

The latest from the never-ending trial

Former landfill company executive Lanny Young, prosecutors' other star witness in former Gov. Don Siegelman's federal corruption trial, got fired up Thursday during cross-examination by Siegelman's lawyer. Of course, that's the kind of response you might expect after the attorney referred to him as a "criminal tax fraud artist" and a "con artist and crook from the word go."

The key question in this part of the case will be whether a quid pro quo existed: Did the Siegelman administration's help of Young in his business dealings with the state come in exchange for personal gifts and campaign donations? And it could be some time before the jury returns with an answer to that question; U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller warned this week that "we are going to be here until Christmastime" if both sides don't pick up the pace.

Somehow, you already knew that intrinsically.

A quick look down the ballot

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and former Gov. Don Siegelman won't be the only names on next month's Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot. Five other people are seeking the nomination, too, and today's Birmingham News takes a look at the array of what could be called -- perhaps unfairly, considering that some have quite reasonable positions -- "fringe candidates."

Their positions are as varied as their backgrounds. There's Joe Copeland, a retired engineer who seeks "a universal contraceptive program" to combat population growth, and there's Nathan Mathis, a former state representative who wants referenda on a lottery and casinos. Also in the mix are Katherine Mack, a church pastor who wants prayer back in public schools, and James Potts, a cattle farmer who doesn't much like property taxes.

In a class by himself is lawyer Harry Lyon, a frequent candidate for a host of offices. His main concerns are random drug tests, which he wants all children to take, and illegal immigration, to which he suggested a noose could be a solution. But fear not; Lyon has a sense of humor, too. Here's his tongue-in-cheek reason for desiring the state's top job: "I want to get some of my hands on that state money. I need it now." He also vowed to paint his initials at the problem of the Governor's Mansion swimming pool.

That's the story of the hurricane

The mayors of four major cities in state Sen. Hank Erwin's district have endorsed his opponent in next month's GOP primary. Today's Birmingham News doesn't note if the Montevallo Republican's declaration that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment of the Gulf Coast for gambling played a role in any of the officials' decisions, but it does say at least two of the mayors are mad that Erwin didn't help with a requested local school tax bill.

Nonplussed, Erwin emphasized that even if some leaders in his home district are turning against him, he still has plenty of backers in Montgomery. Since when did a senator need to worry much about what people back home think, anyway?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Something there is that doesn't love a wall

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has been quite entertaining to watch during the increasingly shrill debate over illegal immigration, which strangely enough managed to wait until an election year to become an urgent crisis of great magnitude.

First Sessions called for a giant 2,000-mile border fence, which would stop all outsiders who didn't have access to things like boats or airplanes or shovels. Then he sounded the alarm about the imminent threat of the equivalent of the entire population of the rest of North America moving to the United States within 20 years. Then, perhaps uncertain that engineering and math were the only subjects he'd need to persuade listeners to his side, Sessions turned to American literature to share wisdom from beloved poet Robert Frost: "Good fences make good neighbors."

It's the most famous line from Frost's poem "Mending Wall," and it's often quoted as a self-apparent maxim. However, the poem itself conveys exactly the opposite sentiment, as Frost condemns humans' stubborn insistence on erecting barriers between each other instead of living peacefully side by side and getting to know one another. The "good fences" line, which the narrator's neighbor repeats reflexively and thoughtlessly as a defense mechanism, is the ultimate symbol of that much-maligned intransigence.

More than 90 years after Frost set a tempting literary trap for the unwary, Sessions walked right into it.

Especially the automatic flush kind

Lee over at A Bama Blog caught a Huntsville Times classic that I missed. Here's former Republican Gov. Guy Hunt's reaction to news that a rest stop would bear his name: "A lot of people have buildings named after them, bridges and roads, but the one thing everybody does is use the bathroom. And then I got to thinking, I have had the times, and you have, too, when you really, really have to go that there's nothing more beautiful than a urinal."

Yes, he did get elected. Twice.

Second opinion

Sure, you probably thought that Islamic scholar was nuts last year when he declared that a tsunami would wipe out the United States by 2007. But I bet you aren't laughing now that evangelist Pat Robertson has heard God tell him about an impending tsunami.

When one wedge issue just isn't enough

Poll numbers down? Bash the gays again.

Republican members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee chose that route today, voting for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage despite the fact that its prospects for passage this year are roughly the same as Utah State's chances of going to the Rose Bowl. The committee also held the hearing away from its usual meeting place, which was the final straw that prompted a walkout by U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a vocal opponent of the gay marriage ban.

Notably, today's hearing occurred in a tiny room off the Senate floor that lacked enough space for all of the committee members to sit down. In other words, senators essentially huddled into a closet to vote against gay marriage. Delightful.

Maybe a nice cappuccino instead

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, speaking to The Birmingham News about Gov. Bob Riley's political comeback after his $1.2 billion tax plan crashed and burned in 2003: "The guy has completely remade himself because he's a great politician who also happens to be likable and somebody who you'd like to have a beer with if he drank beer."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I was caught gloriously unaware

Stunning news from today's Huntsville Times: Undecided and independent voters determine the outcome of elections.

Purple haze

Republican secretary of state nominee Beth Chapman didn't just offer $10,000 to anyone who proves voter fraud during next month's primaries. As today's (Mobile) Press-Register reveals, she also unveiled the plan "in a made-for-TV news conference, complete with Chapman and a group of Hale County voters raising purple index fingers, a la Iraq, in support of honest elections."

Of course, Hale County wasn't ruled by a dictator for decades, and it doesn't have foreign armies on its soil, and it isn't beset by daily insurgent attacks, and it isn't in danger of slipping into civil war or theocracy, and the purple fingers were symbols not of clean elections but of democracy coming to people who had little to no experience with making their own governmental decisions thanks to a lifetime of autocratic rule.

But yeah, the Iraq thing probably still makes sense.

As it ever was with Roy

The Birmingham News today goes to the farm with Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, and we learn that he has something in common with former Gov. Don Siegelman: a love of kicking at things. (Moore is into kickboxing, whereas karate is Siegelman's thing.)

We also learn that Moore feels "the big issue in the country today" is not the Iraq war or the deficit or education or immigration but rather "whether or not you say there is a sovereign God." A Moore volunteer says he thinks his man, who trails badly in the polls, will pull an upset due to strong support from "Wal-Mart Republicans," ostensibly the same group to which GOP lieutenant governor candidate George Wallace, Jr., hopes to appeal.

Phone it in

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is calling your house.

OK, maybe not your house. But a bunch of people's houses. And OK, it's not literally her. But it's a pre-recorded message from her to let you know what she believes about a host of issues, many of them primarily federal in nature.

Be not afraid if you hear her lapse into the third person when discussing herself: "When you say Lucy is not specific on promises of what she'll do, contrast that to what others have promised." After all, the other Democratic gubernatorial candidate does that sort of thing, too, and no one's ever made a federal case out of it.

And fear not, BellSouth and Verizon users. Just a few days after the USA Today story that said those companies, along with AT&T, shared your calling records with the NSA, and just as class-action lawsuits have begun to flow like wine, they've denied ever doing any such thing. So take comfort in the knowledge that the federal government probably won't know that Lucy called you, and just stop, you know, thinking about it at all.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

But he does well at staying in the headlines

An AUM political scientist's take on former Gov. Don Siegelman's administration: "Siegelman did not do a bad job in managing the state as governor. He did very poorly in selecting personnel."

Fun with new math

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., warns frantically that the congressional legislation including a plan for a guest worker program could add up to 217 million immigrants to the United States in the next two decades. For perspective, that'd be roughly the equivalent of the population of the rest of North America combined, and something tells me the Canadians aren't too interested in a mass evacuation these days.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Troy wins a round

It's old news by now, but a Mobile County judge Friday dismissed Republican attorney general candidate Mark Montiel's lawsuit against his primary opponent, AG Troy King, saying "his court was the incorrect vehicle to address Montiel's concerns" about the source of $100,000 that King received from a political action committee funded by a handful of corporations. Undeterred, Montiel said he'll seek a criminal investigation instead.

Goodbye, tortured rationale

Justice Tom Parker got all worked up earlier this year when his Alabama Supreme Court colleagues obeyed Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared executions of juvenile offenders were unconstitutional. He said the state court should have "declined to follow" the ruling to give the Supremes "a second chance to get it right."

Yet what happened after the state supreme court vacated the death sentence in question? Attorney General Troy King appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, the feds in fact got that "second chance" about which Parker was so concerned, and no open judicial rebellion was needed to make it happen.

Funny how that works, huh?

Bob Dole inspires a whole new trend

The Birmingham News today serves up an in-depth profile of Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley that focuses primarily on fleshing out the details of her oft-repeated biography: small-town girl marries politico, starts over after divorce, makes good, then heads into politics herself. You've heard this before.

The story isn't entirely the same old, same old, though. For one thing, it points out, as I did last month, that the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, contrary to the widespread perception, has offered her positions on a variety of issues. It's just that they're merely posted on her website instead of touted prominently on the campaign trail. State political scientists were split on the wisdom of that approach at this juncture in the race.

In another telling lesson, we learn that Baxley, like her garden-shear-wielding opponent, former Gov. Don Siegelman, is perfectly capable of referring to herself in the third person, even if she does shift her pronoun usage by the end: "Lucy is absolutely proud of the fact that I have not told people a big, appealing lie."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

So should he go with the stack or the 4-3?

Gov. Bob Riley said Saturday that the only way he will lose next month's Republican gubernatorial primary is if his backers take a win for granted and stay home. He then urged them not to do so in that classic Alabama political rhetorical device called a football analogy: "Everybody here knows what a prevent defense in football does; it prevents winning. I don't want anybody playing a prevent defense. We're going to run like we're behind."

Just something to consider

What if, instead of sending the National Guard to the Mexican border, the Bush administration went ahead and hired those 10,000 extra border patrol agents we heard so much about last year? It's not like Congress is worried about spending these days.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Voter fraud is bad, mmmkay?

Seeing as she's unopposed, Republican secretary of state nominee Beth Chapman won't have many last-minute campaign obligations on June 6. That'll free her to make a symbolic statement against voter fraud by serving as a poll watcher in Hale County, a heavily Democratic county where absentee ballots often flow like wine. For the record, Chapman says she hates voter fraud in heavily Republican places just as much.

In a much less symbolic move, Chapman is putting her money where her mouth is, offering $10,000 from her own pocket to anyone who proves voter fraud during next month's primaries.


Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers laying the ever-loving smack down on his Republican primary opponent, Justice Tom Parker, with a description of the differences between them: "I believe in working hard and I believe in the rule of law."

Meanwhile, Parker's campaign spokesman accused a majority of the state Supreme Court of conspiring to prevent the release of any new decisions by Parker before the Republican primary. Another spokesman revealed that Parker's productivity in the last six months has exceeded the court's average, at least if you use the measurement system he developed instead of looking at things like what a third spokesman called the "silly numbers game," a.k.a. number of opinions released.

Come on, these things happen

You've forgotten to report $100,000 before, right?

Hey, look, concrete proposals

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who's been needing some press attention in the worst way lately, wants to ban PAC-to-PAC transfers and permit state lawmakers to accept no more than $250 annually from any given lobbyist. Sounds good to me, but good luck getting the Legislature to agree.

Baxley also wants to create the position of inspector general, an officer appointed by committee to investigate public corruption for six years and forward the findings to law enforcement. It's an interesting idea, though I couldn't endorse it fully before knowing the degree to which its duties overlapped with those of the AG's public corruption unit.

Would you want this job?

A Montgomery County judge could make Alabama's new prison commissioner, Richard Allen, the newest inmate in the state's overcrowded corrections system next month if Allen doesn't satisfy him that he's making enough progress in relieving jail overcrowding. The real question here is why anyone would want to be the state prison commissioner under these circumstances.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Husker don't

Something I never thought I'd see: Tom Osborne, the legendary Nebraska football coach who won three national titles in a state where people love football almost as much as we do in Alabama, lost an election in Nebraska this week. That drops Republican former football greats' record in governor's races this year to 0-1, with Lynn Swann still on the clock in Pennsylvania.

Letter of the law

The attorney general's office will decide if Secretary of State Nancy Worley solicited campaign donations from her employees, which would violate Alabama election law. The complaint came from her Democratic primary opponent, Ed Packard, a veteran election administrator who says Worley's letter to several staffers included a bumper sticker and asked for donations ranging from $25 to $1,000. It also stated that recipients would not face negative repercussions if they backed Packard.

Worley denies that she ever sought donations from her employees and pegged the blame for the complaint on "partisan politics and free media attention." (Tangentially, is it still partisan politics when your opponent is a member of the same party?) Packard's response: "I take [election law] seriously, and this is not something I raise just to create a controversy."

Yes, I know the post title is corny, but I just can't help it. Sorry.

But how's his hook shot?

Despite his significant built-in name recognition advantage, Republican lieutenant governor candidate George Wallace, Jr., is polling neck-and-neck with Luther Strange, a much better-funded opponent whose TV ads have succeeded in introducing him as a tall guy who can drain one from the top of the key and who incidentally also doesn't much like taxes.

So how does Wallace plan to strike back? By playing the man-of-the-people card: "I'm a Wal-Mart Republican. I'm not a Mountain Brook Country Club Republican."

Don't you people get it?

It's funny when a Cabinet official shares anecdotes about a businessman not getting a government contract because he disagrees with President Bush. Absolutely hilarious.

Paperwork: still the real threat

Ever used AT&T, BellSouth, or Verizon for phone service? USA Today says the federal government just might have your calling records. No warrants were involved because, well, just because.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pragmatism in action

The Alabama Democratic Conference has crunched the poll numbers and decided it will have little choice this weekend but to endorse Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley in the party's gubernatorial primary. It's big news because Baxley's major opponent, former Gov. Don Siegelman, traditionally has had strong support in Alabama's black community, and the ADC is the state's chief black political group.

The ADC's director cited "electability" as the key factor in the organization's move: "[E]ven if [Siegelman] doesn't get convicted, all the taint of impropriety of his staff members; ... you know good and well he's not going to be able to overcome that. If he couldn't hold on to his seat when he had it ... how in the world is he going to get it back with all this stuff swirling around him?"

This post wasn't precleared

Where to begin with today's Birmingham News story about U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions' desire to remove the Voting Rights Act's preclearance requirements for many areas of the South?

Perhaps we should start with his question about why Section 5 of the act singles out nine entire states, most in the South, and parts of seven others, most in other regions, to require officials there to get Justice Department approval before changing election procedures. The News offers an easy answer: The covered areas have "a long history of discriminating against groups of minority voters." If you're looking to fix a flat tire on the driver's side, you don't jack up the passenger's side.

Then we should examine the substance of the Alabama senator's objection. One of Sessions' arguments is that preclearance improperly burdens local officials even when they seek to do mundane things like move a polling place down the street. True, the process requires a little extra paperwork, but it's also speedy and rarely stops localities from doing what they planned. The DOJ has a 60-day window to decide whether it objects to a proposal, and it approved all but .05 percent of requests from 1998 to 2002. A few forms and a short wait are reasonable prices to stamp out racially discriminatory practices in places with a history of them.

Sessions also complains that Section 5 coverage is too tough for jurisdictions to escape. But the law allows states and counties to "bail out" of its provisions if they go 10 years without any voting discrimination. Considering that election officials are supposed to adhere to election laws all the time, it isn't unreasonable to ask them to do so for a decade as a show of good faith.

Those considerations aside, has the South made enough progress in the last 41 years to let the preclearance requirements expire? Sessions, for his part, asserts that Alabama's judiciary would weed out any discrimination in the state without the need for federal intervention: "[T]he people of my state don't ... have any interest in moving away from this great right of everybody to vote." On the off chance that Sessions gets his way and Section 5 isn't renewed before August 2007, his hypothesis will be put to the test.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I ask the questions no one else cares about

What would happen if they put on a bowl game and no one was eligible to come? Seriously, I want answers.

Deep imPACt

Mark Montiel, who's running against Attorney General Troy King in the Republican primary, claims King violated state campaign law by receiving almost $100,000 from a political action committee funded by 13 companies. Alabama bans corporations from directly giving individual candidates more than $500 per election cycle, but a legal quirk allows them to pump much more money into PACs that are free to contribute as much as they want.

King says he did nothing illegal, and we may find out if that's true after the hearing on Friday. What's certainly true is that he did nothing unusual for these parts; The Birmingham News says almost half of the money that statewide candidates gathered from June to January came from PACs. If the judge bars the practice, things could get interesting in a hurry.

We all have our reasons

The presidents of Birmingham-Southern College and Samford University say the University of Alabama shouldn't use so much of its endowment to offer freebies to National Merit Scholars.

They say it's because the program is a huge gift to students from wealthy backgrounds who otherwise probably would have gone to private universities, and they're right to a degree. The fact that UA landed 68 Merit Scholars last fall while BSC and Samford combined only got 11 probably has nothing to do with it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Decatur Daily strikes again

That newspaper's editorial board seems to have a way of getting judicial candidates to speak their minds. This time it was state Supreme Court contender Glenn Murdock talking succinctly about why he disagrees with Justice Tom Parker's view of U.S. Supreme Court precedent: "You follow the U.S. Supreme Court. If it speaks to a constitutional position, lower courts must follow it. You've got to have the rule of law."

And what of the Ten Commandments uproar involving Parker's old boss, former Chief Justice Roy Moore? Murdock weighed in on that as well: "I believe he did what he thought was right, but I would not have done it. The rule of law is the most important development by man in the last 1,000 years."

Shining golden arches on a hill

If you ever need to see a bronze bust of Ronald Reagan alongside a photo of him eating a Big Mac, drop by the Northport McDonald's.

I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you...

I'm reminded by today's (Mobile) Press-Register how annoying it is whenever Republican officials refer to their opponents as the "Democrat Party." It's just as annoying when the state Christian Coalition -- a purportedly nonpartisan entity -- does it.

I know the phrase is supposed to be some kind of pejorative, but instead it just comes across as really childish. It'd be nice to see people drop the dismissive insults like "moonbat" and "wingnut" and address issues on the merits. Then again, that probably would leave a lot of the punditocracy looking for new work.

This guy again

Larry Darby, who wants the Democratic nomination for Alabama attorney general, is all about border security.

The state's border, that is. Darby, who attended what he called an "Anti-Mexican Invasion Rally" last weekend, says the governor should "declare martial law so as to establish checkpoints on Alabama's borders to stop additional invaders from entering our state." He's also all for an interstate agreement to use National Guard troops to send "the prisoners of war back to Mexico."

Darby is the same guy who last month referred to the Civil War as "the War for Southern Independence." He's also the same guy who said no more than 70,000 Jews died in the Holocaust and that the Supreme Court had no right to order school desegregation.

Not only has Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Jr., not done any of those things, but he also has years of experience running one of Alabama's busiest prosecutor's offices. As an added bonus, he's shown that he's not afraid to keep public officials in line. Tyson would make a fine AG, and he deserves your support if you plan to vote in the Democratic primary.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Oh, you mean the Curse of the Billy Goat!

U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., got elected to Congress, then had a car accident while addled by chemical substances and faced serious questions about whether he received special treatment from police before announcing his second stint in rehab. One thing I know for sure: I won't be voting for him this fall.

I haven't seen enough chatter on the news to be certain, but rumor has it that bad things -- even car accidents! -- have happened to other members of his family. I'll let you know if I hear more.

I'm guessing he wasn't interested

As Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore spoke at a traditional marriage rally Saturday, a Limestone County man held up a sign asking Moore to marry him. The man said he isn't gay but thought it would be a good way to protest the views of Moore, who as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court once wrote an opinion calling homosexuality "an inherent evil."

I'm fairly confident at this point that Gov. Bob Riley will thump Moore in the GOP primary, but the one X-factor that still worries me is the fact that a state constitutional ban on gay marriage (which, sadly, will pass) will be on the primary ballot. Few things could prompt a sudden influx of Moore supporters quite like the chance to slap gays around by outlawing something that's already illegal, and few things would be worse to wake up to on June 7 than Moore armed with the GOP's backing for governor as a result.

Rodeos and art shows win elections

Count the number of times you see the phrase "I'm the ex who wants to be your next" in this Huntsville Times story about a day on the campaign trail with former Gov. Don Siegelman. For bonus points, count the number of references to an education lottery, stolen elections, and fried foods.

Say what you will about him, but Siegelman is drawing far more press with a barebones, grassroots campaign than his Democratic primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, is by just sitting on her campaign war chest of more than $1 million. Quite simply, that's why he's polling almost dead even with her right now even as he stands trial on federal corruption charges. At this point in the race, as a University of Alabama political scientist puts it, "Running as the anti-Siegelman is not sufficient."

Another UA professor offers up a sad but often true observation about many in the state's electorate: "People expect the worst in Alabama, and they are not upset by the worst."

So there's one vote Bob won't get

Ah, straw polls -- my favorite unscientific political formality of all. It was time for another one Saturday, as a bunch of Alabama's Republican candidates for statewide office put in an appearance in a Shelby County pasture to talk to a bunch of people who already had made up their minds about who will get their votes on June 6.

In the most unexpected occurrence since those dadgum trees up and lost their leaves again last fall, the challengers launched verbal attacks on the incumbents, most of whom -- with the exceptions of Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, who didn't attend, and Gov. Bob Riley -- responded in kind. Several rabid followers of Riley's opponent, Roy Moore, got in on the action, too, with one particularly vehement supporter shoving a Moore bumper sticker into Riley's hands and another trailing the governor and griping repeatedly that he didn't stand up for Roy's rock.

So who was the avid Moore backer who insisted on giving Riley what for? A teenager from Texas, of course.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Arguments and paperwork: the real threats

Porter Goss called his resignation as CIA director on Friday "just one of those mysteries" and declined to elaborate on why he's leaving. But I suspect the reasons behind the departure will come out soon enough, and they're likely to involve internecine power struggles, residual anger over politicization of the agency, and yet another scandal involving the Watergate.

Goss' likely replacement is Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who once headed the National Security Agency. More to the point, last year he defended the Bush administration's decision not to seek retroactive warrants for wiretaps of international telephone calls, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, arguing that such an effort "involves marshaling arguments" and "looping paperwork around." Besides, we're only talking a few weeks here.

Sometimes laws are just so inconvenient.

Now that's a cross

You'll eventually get a day without a post about former Gov. Don Siegelman's corruption trial, but it won't be today.

Defense attorneys for Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy finally ended their grueling three-day cross-examination of former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey on Friday, complete with a little more of the sensation you've come to love. Friday's incidents were much less physical than Tuesday's confrontation; the judge called Scrushy's attorney to the bench twice in a matter of minutes after the lawyer asked Bailey whether he was on any medication and whether he understood the meaning of perjury.

The defense team's protracted effort to expose gaps in Bailey's memory has led some key players to predict the trial still could be ongoing when the Democratic primary rolls around one month from today. Said one prosecutor, "I've been doing this for 25 years and that's the longest cross-examination I've ever seen."

Thus far, Siegelman's main defense seems to be that Bailey engaged in rampant corruption without the governor's knowledge. No matter what the jury does, Siegelman will face an uphill battle convincing voters that he deserves another run at the top when he appointed a guy who accepted bribes to a job overseeing $200 million or so of public money. Even if Siegelman is acquitted, this trial could well deal a knockout blow to his political career.

'Mex, get the hell out of my country'

That was just one of the messages conveyed Friday during a Montgomery protest against illegal immigration. Its conveyor carried a baseball bat to the event -- just for protection, he emphasized -- and expressed his desire "to hit a home run and send one of them home." He also warned of "Jewish supremacists" who want to destroy the borders.

At least two major-party candidates -- Republican lieutenant governor contender Mo Brooks and Democratic attorney general contender Larry Darby -- were there at the rally on the Capitol's front steps. Dozens of other people also attended, including one who urged us to "Remember the Alamo" and another whose sign touted that "multiculturalism is liberal insanity."

The clearest call to action, though, came from a third-party Georgia gubernatorial candidate: "Every Southern boy in Iraq should be brought home and put on the Southern border. After we take care of that problem, we should put them on the Mason-Dixon line to take care of that problem." He then argued for the supremacy of "homogenous" cultures.

I should mention that the event was co-sponsored by the League of the South, which, in the words of The Birmingham News, "promotes a free Southern republic." Then I should back away slowly and pray for the day when things like this don't happen anymore in my state.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Besides, no one can find the number

Secretary of State Nancy Worley wanted to spend more than $560,000 in Alabama tax money on pre-election voter education advertising campaigns, but a legislative committee temporarily blocked the plan Thursday.

Oddly enough, the committee didn't reject the idea because Worley would appear personally in state-funded radio and television ads just before she sought renomination in a contested Democratic primary race. Instead, it was because a Republican member objected that the ads would be "the biggest waste of money" considering that Worley spent $700,000 on a voter education campaign two years ago. Worley, as you might expect, cited "partisan political reasons" for the committee's move.

Now for the good stuff. The committee had power to withhold approval only because Worley sought to use an ad agency's services instead of purchasing the ads directly. In other words, if she thinks the ad campaign is that important, she could run the entire thing as planned simply by picking up the phone and calling radio and TV stations herself. If that's too much trouble, she could tell an employee to do it for her. Surely the stations' ad reps would be glad to help her office do whatever was necessary for them to collect the state's money.

So let's check with The Associated Press for Worley's response to that idea: "Worley said Thursday that is a possibility, but she doesn't have anyone on her staff trained in buying advertising."

Ed Packard. June 6. Please.

And you thought you had a bad day

Mobile County's former school board president lost his job Thursday after an impeachment jury found him guilty on charges of "willful neglect of duty, corruption, incompetence, and offenses involving moral turpitude." He'll go to trial later this month on a separate charge that he ran over an 8-year-old girl's foot while drunk. He also is charged with six felonies related to spending more than $9,000 of school system money on Mardi Gras throws.

Like tennis in newsprint

What you've known for a while is that former Gov. Don Siegelman has asserted that the federal corruption charges against him are politically motivated. What you haven't known is that Gov. Bob Riley last year got tired of hearing claims that he was connected to the prosecution and confronted Siegelman about it last year.

Want the gist of the subsequent back-and-forth in The Birmingham News' article today? I thought you would. First comes Siegelman, who still says the prosecutor who originally filed the charges was "the wife of Bob Riley's campaign manager." Then it's Riley with a denial that the prosecutor's husband worked in his campaign. Siegelman's redirect: "Bob Riley is lying again." Riley's re-cross: "Don's only defense is to say it's political. If you take that off the table, what is his excuse?"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin tried to interrupt the political tennis game, noting that he originally was hired as a prosecutor by one of Siegelman's defense attorneys and that the investigation began before the prosecutor in question even took control of the office. But fear not, racketheads; chances are that the serves and volleys will continue unimpeded all month long.

But why 'Samson'?

The old adage is that football is a religion in the South. Tonight, at a Birmingham Steeldogs arena football game, that may well be a literal statement, thanks to "Christian Throwback jerseys."

The Birmingham News can explain: "The small 'Steeldogs' under the front collar was replaced by 'Samson' and the player's name on the back of the jersey was replaced by a book from the Bible. The books go with the players' numbers to form biblical references."

Believe it or not, this isn't the most unusual news item regarding arena football in Alabama in the last couple of weeks.

Oh, it is so on...

Verbal warfare on Alabama's Supreme Court has escalated again.

Justice Champ Lyons this week became the second sitting justice to heap public criticism on the Republican judicial tag team of former Chief Justice Roy Moore and Justice Tom Parker via The Decatur Daily, referring to the duo as demagogues whose stances threaten the rule of law. Like his GOP colleague Tom Woodall, Lyons blasted Parker's call for the court not to follow a U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Lyons also condemned Parker for his lack of prolificness and speculated that Moore wants to be governor "as a steppingstone to the White House."

Despite the harsh remarks, Lyons said he liked the former chief justice as a person. He recounted the story of a day when Moore, who had yet to be ousted for his refusal to remove a giant Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, said he was sore from moving furniture the previous day. Lyons' response, which prompted a laugh from Moore: "Oh, great. The last time you did that, Roy, it ended up on national television."

One final point that deserves mention: Parker's spokesman was truly a sight to behold in this story. In an inspired display of flawless logic, he argued that Parker's January newspaper column, which said the state high court should "decline to follow" a U.S. Supreme Court decision, "never, ever said we should ignore Supreme Court precedent." Instead, the spokesman said, "All Parker said was that we should take another bite at the apple. He said we should challenge it again."

Some might call that idea the doctrine of nullification and remind you of a big war that pretty much settled the matter about 140 years ago. But they probably believe that damn liberal media, too.

It depends on what the meaning of 'equal' is

HIV patients deserve the same high-quality medical care no matter what region of the country they call home. If that's the general gist of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions' proposal to reallocate more federal AIDS money to the South, where HIV rates are growing steadily in many places, then I can support the idea. But if the Alabama Republican's legislation seeks merely to equalize the per-patient spending figures without regard to the higher costs of fighting and containing the disease in more urbanized states, or to cut back on the AIDS fight there, then I have a problem with it.

Of course, the fairest way to improve the national fight against AIDS would be to increase the South's funding without extracting money from other regions. But when it comes to spending on social programs, the people running Congress these days always seem to remember the giant deficit that keeps slipping their minds whenever it's time to vote for another tax cut.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fade to oblivion

Spend much time raising a child, or even talking to someone who does, and you'll learn that sometimes the most effective way to punish disobedient children is not to spank them or put them in timeout but to deprive them of the things they desire the most.

That maxim comes to mind in the debate over whether al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, who was sentenced today to life in prison without parole, deserved to be executed instead. Quite simply, Moussaoui made it abundantly clear that he wanted to die when he took the stand in late March to incriminate himself repeatedly after the government initially botched its death penalty case against him. In his eyes, his execution would have made him a martyr for the twisted version of Islam he supports. It would have secured his place in history. It would have given him what he desired the most.

The jury deprived him of his dream this week. Moussaoui was a sworn enemy of the United States, meaning he would have "declared victory" no matter what sentence the jury returned. But deep down, he has to know that his notoriety is drawing to a close.

As U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema told him during his formal sentencing today, "You came here to be a martyr and die in a great big bang of glory, but to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper." Moussaoui will spend decades rotting away in obscurity, alone in a tiny prison cell. By the time he dies, most Americans probably won't even recognize his name.

Moussaoui will live out the rest of his days knowing that his deepest wish -- to be remembered forever -- will never be fulfilled. As punishments go, it just may be the most effective of all.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

For some reason, I picked up on this

As I first learned last week, New Jersey has held fast against the rising tide of self-service gas stations for almost six decades, refusing to legalize any fuel operation that didn't offer full service. Then came Gov. Jon Corzine's proposal to permit self-service stations as a way to combat soaring fuel prices.

What followed was a deluge of bitter opposition from New Jerseyans, more than 1,400 of whom personally contacted the governor's office to express their displeasure at the idea of people having to pump their own gas. The result? As a reader just alerted us in a comment, Corzine caved in and dropped the plan Tuesday, saying the battle just isn't worth the effort. State Senate President Richard Codey cracked wise about the announcement, saying Corzine "made the right decision, although a bit self-serving."

For the record, this post didn't contain even one reference to The Sopranos. Well, until now. Damn.

Nabers lights a fire

Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers said Tuesday that he has modified court policies to allow for reassignment of cases if justices move too slowly in clearing backlogs. That means Justice Tom Parker, who has finished 12 direct appeals and written two opinions for the court since January 2005 and now wants Nabers' job, must clear at least 10 cases a month to avoid reassignments.

The kicker line from Nabers, who never mentioned Parker by name: "The court as a whole is within its standards, though each justice on the court is not evenly within the standards."

Next on 'Boston Legal'...

A day in former Gov. Don Siegelman's federal corruption trial just wouldn't be complete without a courtroom brouhaha, and Tuesday didn't fail to satisfy. After a lawyer for HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy, one of Siegelman's co-defendants, asked several questions to which the prosecution objected, the lead prosecutor called the lawyer "a sleaze." The attorneys then got all up in each other's grills before the judge defused tensions.

Emotionally charged outburst aside, the prosecution got right into the heart of its case Tuesday, eliciting testimony from former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey that the governor appointed Scrushy to the state hospital Certificate of Need Review Board after receiving a $250,000 check. Siegelman's lawyer vowed to shred the testimony on cross-examination.

A federal lawsuit? In Alabama? Never!

The federal government sent Alabama $41.3 million and told the state to set up a statewide voter registration database by Jan. 1. Secretary of State Nancy Worley didn't have the database set up by Jan. 1. This week, the feds sued, which is the kind of thing that happens when you don't obey federal election mandates.

Worley blamed a host of culprits who aren't her, including local election officials and corporate intellectual property disputes. Then she called the lawsuit "a mixed blessing."

Have I mentioned yet that Ed Packard, a knowledgeable and veteran election official, is running against Worley in the Democratic primary? Because if I haven't, I should.

Around the world in 80 lines or less, Vol. 1

To further my efforts to combat ignorance of the world at large, here's another post about a few major world events that deserve some attention. They're in blurb form, as you'd expect.

Shout it from the mountaintops: The Himalayan nation of Nepal has democracy again. King Gyanendra surrendered control last week after bloody street protests in Kathmandu, leaving the country in the hands of the frail new 84-year-old prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala. It's unclear whether Gyanendra, who declared a national emergency last year to seize power, has handed over the reins for good, nor is it certain that Nepal's
re-democratization will affect the political situation in the nearby kingdom of Bhutan. What is clear, though, is that I'll take full advantage of this chance to remind you that Bhutan's king is named Jigme Singye Wangchuk. Yes, for real.

New Amsterdam: In a move sure to give the White House heartburn, Mexico is set to legalize possession of small amounts of cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs for personal use. Opponents predict a rush of American addicts eager to exploit the lax provisions on a range of dangerous drugs like methamphetamine and LSD, and they may be prescient to a degree. Still, the new law, however unwise its breadth may be, won't do much to increase the number of American drug users. Mexican laws targeting drug traffickers -- bans on sales and possession of large quantities -- remain in place, so the country's main drug-related problem isn't the policy but rather an inability to enforce it. As for drug laws in general, I agree with PoliBlog's Steven Taylor that John Stuart Mill's harm principle typically should govern.

They haven't a square to spare: Some government workers in Zimbabwe make up to $33 million a month. Before you get too excited, I should note that that figure works out to about $157 in U.S. currency. A roll of toilet paper cost $145,750 last week. It's probably more now. As one resident said, "If you have cash you spend it today, because tomorrow it's going to be worth 5 percent less." Zimbabweans can thank the demagogic 26-year reign of dictator Robert Mugabe, who for some bizarre reason will have his name stamped on a road linking Malawi and Mozambique.

French toast: Wildly unpopular French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is immersed in a scandal that many European reporters have called "the French Watergate." De Villepin is interested in making a presidential run next year, but this scandal is likely to cause further erosion of the small amount of support to which he still clung after unsuccessfully pushing a labor law that led to violent street protests last month.

Say, that was fun. I should do this more often.

What happens in Africa doesn't stay in Africa

The previous post reminded me that I haven't written about international events in a while, and it's past time that I once again discussed the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.

Public interest in the conflict has waxes and waned, but the story has been all over the news lately, thanks largely to a celebrity-laden Washington awareness rally on Sunday. The event's bipartisan spirit was refreshing, but unfortunately, even the biggest symbolic protests have a rather limited ability to end a conflict that thus far has caused the senseless deaths of more than 200,000 people. Large-scale U.S. military intervention also is untenable because of our ongoing battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

International diplomacy is still an effective option, though, and the African Union's Darfur peace talks, still ongoing in Nigeria after a temporary deadline extension, will mark a crossroads in Africa's future. If American and British diplomats can help strike a deal between the Sudanese government and rebel forces, an entire generation in the continent's largest country will experience peace for the first time in their lives. (The second Sudanese civil war broke out in 1983 and didn't end until last year.) Just as importantly, international aid workers will be able to distribute food and supplies to hundreds of thousands of starving Darfur refugees without fear of attacks from Janjaweed militiamen.

But the consequences of failed negotiations this week could be devastating and long-reaching. For one thing, continued fighting could imperil the ceasefire that ended the civil war last year and reignite an inferno that killed more than 2 million people. That, in turn, could destabilize the entire region and lead to more violence like the bloody April 13 battle near N'Djamena, the capital of Sudanese neighbor Chad. Even more ominously, al-Qaeda easily could exploit the chaos to set up permanent shop in Sudan, where the government harbored Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s.

Every day that the Darfur conflict goes on is a day that a national security threat, a humanitarian tragedy, and a moral abomination grows unchecked. For the sakes of the Sudanese and Americans alike, we must negotiate a peaceful end to the killing.

Ignorance is best when it's rampant

Only half of college-age Americans can point out New York on a map, according to a recent National Geographic Society survey. The number falls to 43 percent when you ask them to locate Ohio, and to a little more than one-third when you inquire about Iraq. Only a quarter of them could find Israel on a map of the Middle East. Furthermore, fewer than 30 percent of respondents even think it matters much to know where all these places they keep hearing about on television are.

They're right, of course. After all, if it mattered, they'd care about it. But they don't, so it must not. Besides, who has time to look at a map? I mean, have you seen the news about Paris Hilton?!?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Choose the best answer

Of Alabama's two major news stories from Monday -- the state Hispanic community's observance of the symbolic Day Without Immigrants and the opening arguments in the federal corruption trial of former Gov. Don Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy -- guess which one involved more civility.

Hint: Don't select the one where the prosecution's witnesses were called "a bunch of con artists and thieves" and a defense attorney continued to name-drop Martin Luther King, Jr., even after the judge sustained the government's objections.

And that's what The Decider does

President Bush is the kind of decider who, to borrow a phrase from a long-ago disgraced politico whose name dare not be mentioned, feels your pain. He knows your gas costs are more than twice what they were four years ago, and he recognizes your concern that some oil companies are reporting record quarterly profits right now. You're worried that some corporate executives are working together to drain your pockets. He gets it.

Fortunately for you, Bush is a decider who seeks decisive action. That's why people who live in or around cities can look forward to slightly lower prices in exchange for their promise to stop breathing, or at least to stop demanding that what they inhale technically qualify as "clean air." After all, what new cause célèbre would the tree-huggers have to adopt if everyone else started worrying about pollution?

In even better gas-related news, everyone soon can expect a $100 government rebate check to pay for a tank or two. (Let's just hope you remember your sugar daddy in November. And let's also hope you don't think too hard about how we intend to pay for this cheap political stunt needed relief in a time of record budget deficits.) Shop early to get the best deal on thank-you notes.

A lesser decider might stop there, but Bush is The Decider, and he has decided to use whatever means necessary to immunize you not only against soaring pump prices but also against insidious terrorist encroachment and other threats to the American way of life. That would be why he has claimed the right to ignore more than 750 laws whenever he wants.

As an outside observer, you might see no possible justification for a president to blow off hundreds of laws -- provisions about, say, whistleblowing, or affirmative action, or political interference in scientific research -- just because he doesn't like them. You might wonder why we bother electing a Congress if the president can ignore its mandates at will. You might even start to think that such behavior offends the American constitutional tradition of checks and balances and limited government.

But then you must remember that your thoughts ultimately don't matter, because Bush is The Decider, whereas you are not.