Wednesday, August 31, 2005
On this day:

Hugo to the rescue

First, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States altogether. Then, a week later, he changed his mind, offering to sell oil directly to "poor communities" here.

The sad thing is - someone actually bought it.

Huntsville mourns first police officer to be killed in the line of duty since 1968

A sad day here in Huntsville.

(Huntsville Times) Huntsville police are mourning the death of a popular west precinct patrolman who was fatally shot in the head Monday while answering a domestic disturbance call.

Daniel Golden, 27, a second shift officer who joined the police force in July 2002, was shot about 3:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Jalisco, a Mexican grocery/restaurant on Jordan Lane. Authorities said he died about two hours later at Huntsville Hospital - the first city cop killed in the line of duty in almost 40 years...

No one had been charged in Golden's death by press time, but Reynolds said investigators were focusing on a man detained at the scene. The chief said he thinks police rounded up everyone who may have seen or been involved in the incident...

According to police sources who asked not to be identified, Golden was responding to a call about a Hispanic man beating his wife with a gun. The man shot Golden in the head as soon as the officer stepped out of his cruiser, the sources said, and then shot him again...

Seven young children on a Huntsville City Schools bus saw the aftermath of the shooting. The driver, who identified herself only as Redd, said she slowed to about 5 mph and could tell Golden was badly hurt...

"The kids said they'd never seen anything like that," Redd said. "He was just laying there not moving."
Since that original report, a man has been charged in the shooting.

(AP) Authorities formally charged Benito Albarra, 31, with Daniel H. Golden's murder about 9 p.m. Monday. Albarra was being held without bond. Police also questioned other individuals who may be suspects...

"We've lost one from the brotherhood in blue," said shaken Police Chief Rex Reynolds. "It's traumatic, tough, emotional. We can only hold his family now and try to help them through the healing process."

Officer Golden is survived by his wife and two stepchildren.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005
On this day:

Bad sign for gas prices

I just went to the Cowboys station down the road and they were completely out of gas. The attendant said that they ran out sometime before her shift began at 10 PM. The Shell station next door, on the other hand, had plenty. The price at Cowboys was $2.46 a the Shell it was $2.67.

Good news for coffee drinkers

(Fox News) A new study shows coffee is the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the American diet.

"Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close," says researcher Joe Vinson, PhD, a chemistry professor at the University of Scranton, in a news release.

Antioxidants are found naturally in many foods and beverages and are thought to provide health benefits in preventing diseases such as heart disease and cancer by fighting cellular damage caused by free radicals in the body. Free radicals are damaging substances that are produced through normal bodily processes.
So, I guess I should start drinking 5 cups a day instead of 4, huh?

Katrina in Alabama

From the AP:
-Two deaths.

-About 718,000 homes and businesses without power.

-Flooding reached 11 feet in Mobile, matching record set in 1917, according to National Weather Service. Water up to roofs of cars in downtown Mobile and bayou communities. Piers ransacked and grand homes flooded along Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.

-Major bridge over the Mobile River remained closed Tuesday; it was struck by an oil drilling platform that floated away from a shipyard.

-Quote: "She said she was in water up to her chin," Kim Stringfellow said of woman and five children brought to shelter at church in Bayou La Batre.
The Mobile Register has more here and here.

Disaster and economics

Here's Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek: "One of the most reliable results of any natural disaster is the spreading of bad economics."

Scalia on "moderate" judges

Here's Justice Antonin Scalia at Chapman University in Orange, California Monday:
"Now the Senate is looking for moderate judges, mainstream judges. What in the world is a moderate interpretation of a constitutional text? Halfway between what it says and what we'd like it to say?" he said, to laughter and applause.

Tell the campers in Crawford that "Help Is On The Way"

There's a new education technique designed just for them.

Monday, August 29, 2005
On this day:

Attorney General Troy King warns "price-gougers"

Leave it to state leaders to take a bad situation and make it worse by ignoring what they should have learned in Econ 101.

(MONTGOMERY)— Attorney General Troy King today warned unscrupulous contractors and businesses that he will take action against those who seek to profit illegally at the expense of Alabamians who suffer damage from Hurricane Katrina. He cautioned consumers to be wary of those who would further victimize them through home repair frauds. He further noted that state law protects consumers from price gouging during a state of emergency declared by the Governor.

"The good people of Alabama stand together in times of crisis, and we have laws to protect against those who would profiteer and take advantage of their fellow-citizens," said Attorney General King. "It is despicable and against the law to charge outrageous amounts for necessities that people must have in times of emergency. While this storm may inflict damage on our state, we will not tolerate allowing anyone to take advantage of and inflict further harm on the people of Alabama. My office will closely monitor this storm and we will continue to pray for those in harms way."

The state law that prohibits "unconscionable pricing" of items for sale or rent comes into play when the Governor has declared an official state of emergency. Although what constitutes an unconscionable price is not specifically set forth in state law, a price that is 25 percent or more than the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days--unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost-- is a prima facie case of unconscionable pricing. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, and those determined to have willfully and continuously violated this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.

Bo Jackson on Alabama vs. Auburn

Former Auburn star running back Bo Jackson weighed in on the Alabama-Auburn
rivalry in Wednesday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"There's a passion I can't explain," he said. "If Auburn-Alabama was played on a Sunday, there wouldn't be church that day."
Actually, seeing as how a large percentage of Alabamians are Southern Baptists, it's more likely that they'd set up a TV and have dinner on the grounds.

Alabama Democratic Party has a new leader

New Alabama Democratic Party chairman Joe Turnham once described himself as a "pro-life, pro-gun Democrat." It's good to see that there are still a few of those around.

Alabama's "Most Conservative Senator" may run for Governor

From the Dothan Eagle:

State Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, confirmed Monday that she is considering entering the 2006 Alabama governor’s race...

Smith said that in coming weeks she’ll be meeting with Republican party officials and sponsors around the state to talk about her possible candidacy. She said an official announcement may come later this year...

According to several special interest groups, Smith has maintained a solidly conservative voting record in the state Senate. The Eagle Forum, a conservative activist group, listed Smith as voting with its interests 87 percent of the time in 2004. Smith received a 100 percent rating in 2002...

Longtime conservative activist Elbert Peters ranked Smith as the Alabama Legislature’s most conservative senator. The numerical grade was based on 30 key votes in 2004 that covered bills to increase fees and taxes, bills of interest to social conservatives, and bills on education issues.
Most people will be like me and say "Harri who?", of course, but here's one reason that Mrs. Smith could spice up the race:
In 2003, Smith voted against every single tax that went into Riley's $1.2 billion package, but once the Legislature approved the taxes, she voted to support holding a statewide referendum that gave the voters the final say on whether the taxes took effect.
Meanwhile, there is speculation that Gov. Riley will announce his intentions to seek re-election at a Labor Day picnic at the Governor's Mansion.

Katrina means bad news for gas prices

(Mobile Register) "This storm is going to pass through the meat of the oil and gas fields. The whole country will feel it, because it's going to cripple us and the country's whole economy," said Capt. Buddy Cantrelle with Kevin Gros Offshore, which supplies rigs via a fleet of large crew vessels.

Bama Bloggin' on Katrina

Here in Huntsville, we are under an inland tropical storm watch effective from 7 PM Monday until 4 PM Tuesday. Given the storm's current projected path, things could get pretty rough here beginning tomorrow afternoon, but nothing like what's in store for the Gulf Coast.

Governor Riley announced a mandatory evacuation for certain low-lying areas south of Interstate 10 in Mobile and Baldwin counties. A record storm surge is possible along Alabama's Gulf Coast, possibly exceeding that of Frederic in 1979. According to the latest statement by the Mobile NWS office (12:16 AM Monday):

Based on the latest forecast track and speed... a strong category four or minimum category five land-falling hurricane would bring tide levels as high as 10 to 15 feet along coastal Mobile County and the western portions of Mobile Bay... with higher levels possible over the extreme northern portions of the Bay. Tide levels of this magnitude would severally affect downtown Mobile with water spilling into the downtown area and extending as far west as Broad Street. This would be the highest surge level ever experienced in Mobile. For comparison... the highest surge levels previously experienced in the downtown area were near 9 feet with hurricanes Frederic and Georges. In addition... Dauphin Island would likely be inundated... except for higher ground on the east end.

A storm tide of 10 to 12 feet is expected along coastal Baldwin County... comparable to Hurricane Ivan of last year. Significant inundation is likely along the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Parts of The Fort Morgan peninsula will likely be inundated as well.
Several Alabama bloggers in the coastal counties of Mobile and Baldwin are making their own preparations.

From Gulf Shores:

As of yesterday afternoon, Zeke at It Is What it Is was planning to stay in Gulf Shores.

From Mobile:

WPMI-TV meterologist David Glenn has a weather blog.

Space Monkey says most Mobilians are standing pat.

Uncle Henry asks for everyone to keep the people who live near the Gulf Coast in mind over the next few days.

Beth at My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy says "here we go again."


Southern Appeal's Jim Dunn points out just how serious the threat to New Orleans is.

Stay safe, everybody.

Sunday, August 28, 2005
On this day:

John Roberts and "The War Between the States"

It's hard to see why this is newsworthy.
(Washington Post) When John G. Roberts Jr. prepared to ghostwrite an article for President Ronald Reagan a little over two decades ago, his pen took a Civil War reenactment detour.

The article, which was to appear in the scholarly National Forum journal, was called "The Presidency: Roles and Responsibilities." Roberts was writing by hand a section on how the congressional appropriations process had evolved.

A fastidious editor of other people's copy as well as his own, Roberts began with the words "Until about the time of the Civil War." Then, the Indiana native scratched out the words "Civil War" and replaced them with "War Between the States." ...

While it is true that the Civil War is also known as the War Between the States, the Encyclopedia Americana notes that the term is used mainly by southerners. Sam McSeveney, a history professor emeritus at Vanderbilt University who specialized in the Civil War, said that Roberts's choice of words was significant.

"Many people who are sympathetic to the Confederate position are more comfortable with the idea of a 'War Between the States,' " McSeveney explained. "People opposed to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s would undoubtedly be more comfortable with the words he chose."

Un-be(expletive-deleted)lievable...of all the things to waste trees on. As Southern Appeal's Patrick Carver suggests, maybe Roberts was just going for accuracy. Not that I want to start a debate about that or anything.

Friday, August 26, 2005
On this day:

Pass the ammunition

Alabama exports increased by 11% during the first half of the year, when compared to the same period last year. A big part of the surge came in sales of arms and ammunitions.

Ammo exports are expected to fall during the final quarter of this year, as the state's hunters stock up for deer season.

Mascot Mayhem

The NCAA - "becoming the authority on manufactured outrage."

George Will on the Left and Cindy

WASHINGTON -- Sad yet riveting, like a wreck by the side of the road, Cindy Sheehan, a plaything of her own sincerities and other peoples' opportunisms, has already been largely erased from the national memory by new waves of media fickleness in the service of the public's summer ennui. But before she becomes fully relegated to the role of opening act for more durable luminaries at anti-war rallies, prudent Democrats -- those political snail darters, the emblematic endangered species of American politics -- should consider the possibility that, although she was a burr under the president's saddle for several weeks, she is symptomatic of something that in 2008 could cause the Democratic Party a sixth loss in eight presidential elections. That something is a shrillness unlike anything heard, in living memory, from a major tendency within a major party.

Thursday, August 25, 2005
On this day:

Water War Update

The tri-state court battle over water rights continues. Alabama and Florida are challenging an agreement between Georgia and the Army Corps of Engineers that satisfies Atlanta's thirst for water, while leaving the two down-river states high and dry.

See earlier posts here and here.

"Whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting over." - Mark Twain

Blog Against Roy

Collin and Slade have set up a new blog "dedicated to keeping Roy Moore out of the Governor's Mansion in 2006." Both guys have political ambitions themselves - Colin wants to be President and Slade wants to be Governor - so I'm sure they'll have some interesting views to share.

I'm not a big fan of Judge Moore myself. In many ways, he seems to be a classic demagogue, preying on popular emotions in order to enhance his own political prospects.

Nonetheless, much of what Moore has to say is right on the money. For example, his arguments defending the right of government to acknowledge God are quite compelling. In a 2003 interview with Time Magazine, he said:

A lot of people have been deceived by false representation of separation of church and state saying it forbids an acknowledgment of God. Indeed, the very words "separation of church and state" do not say "separation of God and government." The very separation of church and state exists because God ordained both the state and the church and gave them different roles and functions...

...judges have departed from constitutional interpretation and have gone to their own feelings. One justice, by the name of Curtis, said "When a strict interpretation of the constitution according to the fixed rules which govern an interpretation of laws is abandoned and the theoretical opinions of individuals are allowed to control its meaning, we have no longer a constitution, we are under a government of individuals who for the time being have the power to declare what the constitution is according to their own views of what it ought to mean." What Justice Curtis said in 1858 is true today. We are no longer under a constitution, we are under a government of individuals who for the time being have the power to declare what the constitution is according to their own views of what they think it ought to mean. That's what this judge did in this case [the Roy's Rock case], he did it in violation of the Tenth Amendment, he did it in violation of the First Amendment and he issued an unlawful order when he commanded that we could not recognize God under the Alabama constitution.

None of that should cause mainstream conservatives too many headaches. Moore's quote from Justice Curtis's dissent in the infamous Dred Scott case is as applicable today as it was 148 years ago. Indeed, the very same issue is at the center of today's battles over the future of the federal courts.

That doesn't mean that Roy Moore should be elected Governor or even that he should have been elected to the state Supreme Court. There are plenty of reasons to question whether he has the proper demeanor to hold public office. However, his views shouldn't be dismissed out of hand simply because they are mocked by cultural liberals or because his methods may seem objectionable. Let's not forget - both Governor Riley and former Attorney General Bill Pryor defended Judge Moore's Ten Commandments display; it was only when he chose to defy a federal court order that they withdrew their support.

If Moore decides to challenge Governor Riley in the Republican primary, I doubt that I'd seriously consider voting for him, but I'd still like to hear what he has to say. To date, he is known for his Ten Commandments stance and little else. It could be that Moore's vision for Alabama would entail a series of unwinnable constutional crises pitting the state against the federal government, and doing more harm than good. We've been there and done that, and it ain't pretty. Obviously, that's a notion that Moore has to dispel if he is to gain support from the mainstream of his party. On the other hand, Moore could also turn out to be the type of free-market, small-government cultural conservative that I could live with. Who knows? In any event, his candidacy will annoy liberals here in Alabama and across the country, so I'm all for it...Run Roy Run!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005
On this day:

U.S. Treasury Recalls Alabama State Quarters

It seems that they have found a design flaw.

The Southern Poverty Law Center celebrates its latest "victory"

The Montgomery-based SPLC's Morris Dees says that a court ruling transferring an American citizen's ranch to illegal immigrants is "poetic justice."

Ken Masugi responded on the Claremont Institute's Local Liberty blog :
It turns out that the owner of the ranch had a criminal record and is now serving 5 years in a Texas prison. He was acquitted of charges of pistol-whipping the detained illegals (referred to as "immigrants" in the NYT story) but convicted of possession of a firearm, "which is illegal for a felon".

Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center claims this is "poetic justice." It's lousy poetry and contains even less justice. Dees has done laudable work against the Klan and other terrorist groups. This assault against a man who wanted simply to defend his property tarnishes his previous good work. The award of the ranch given the two illegals as compensation for their extra-legal detention bears no relation to the temporary suffering they encountered, when they crossed private property and were detained briefly (and later given material aid) by armed locals.

"Women for Siegelman" founder says "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do"

Pam Miles, the founder of Don Siegelman's newest fan club, tells the Mobile Register that she hasn't heard gubernatorial candidate Lucy Baxley "take a position on much of anything." It's good to see that a few Dems are taking notice of that fact.

The "Women for Siegelman" have also shown that they're not above a little name-trashing...literally. In a recruitment letter, Miles refers to Lt. Gov. Baxley as "Lucy Baxley-Smith." That's sure to raise some eyebrows, since...
Lucy Baxley was married to former Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley and kept his name when the couple divorced. She married lobbyist Jim Smith after she was elected state treasurer, but opted to keep the Baxley surname, she has explained, because that is the way voters know her. (Mobile Register)
This could get messy, folks.

Tuesday Trivia

  1. What was the last team that Paul "Bear" Bryant defeated as head football coach of the University of Alabama prior to his retirement?
  2. Who has made the most appearances on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine?
  3. What was Tom Sawyer's aunt's name?
  4. Who was the defense attorney in the Scopes Monkey Trial?
  5. Name the four Brothers Gibb.
  6. What football team ended the University of Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak?
  7. What actor had a recurring role as "Booker Brooks" on the TV series Roseanne?
  8. What is the name of Al Gore's new TV network?
  9. Who is the only person to win 4 Oscars for Best Director?
  10. To the nearest minute, what is the time it takes for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth?
  11. What quarterback led the biggest comebacks in both professional and college football?
  12. What actor played Freddy Krueger?
  13. What is the loudest land animal?
  14. Who presided over the U.S. Constitutional Convention?
  15. Who was the only baseball player to win MVP in both the American League and the National League?
  16. What actress played Rachel's sister Jill on Friends?
  17. Armageddon is named after a location in what country?
  18. Who wrote the best-selling novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?
  19. What amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealed Prohibition?

Click on the comments for the answers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
On this day:

The Top 10 Party Schools

...according to the Princeton Review:

1. The University of Wisconsin-Madison
2. Ohio University-Athens
3. Lehigh University in Pennsylvania
4. University of California-Santa Barbara
5. State University of New York at Albany
6. Indiana University-Bloomington
7. University of Mississippi
8. University of Iowa
9. University of Massachusetts-Amherst
10. Loyola University New Orleans.

I can remember when UA used to be ranked highly on this list year after year. It really pissed off the administration. It looks like they have been successful in getting their name off the list, but I wonder how much things have really changed.

Update - rounding out the top 20 are:

11. Tulane University
12. University of Georgia
13. Penn State University
14. West Virginia University
15. The University of Texas-Austin
16. University of Tennessee-Knoxville
17. University of New Hampshire
18. University of Florida
19. Louisiana State University
20. University of Maryland-College Park

That does it

I'm burning all my Barbra Streisand CD's.

Edmund Morris on presidential emotion

Reagan's biographer talks about Cindy Sheehan, the President, and compassion.

Life as a gas station attendant

As one who worked a few summers at a convenience store while was in college, I can relate to the Gas Guy. (Hat Tip: Steve at Southern Appeal.)

Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Truth

TCS's Lee Harris has managed to write one of the most thoughtful and illuminating discussions on the evolution debate that I've ever read.

Monday, August 22, 2005
On this day:

France on the verge of civil war

This sounds serious.

Alabama learns a lesson in unintended consequences

Last week, the Alabama State Committee of Public Health repealed a three-decades-old regulation requiring dialysis clinics to be located within 10 miles of a hospital.
(Mobile Register) Gov. Bob Riley and state health officer Dr. Don Williamson hailed the rule change as a great step in improving health care in the rural areas of the state, particularly the Black Belt, a band of rural, sparesely populated land stretching across about a dozen counties in the south-central part of the state.

Under the new change, dialysis clinics can open anywhere in the state, regardless of proximity to a hospital. That means some rural residents might be able to avoid having to cross county lines multiple times each week for the life-saving procedure.

I'm sure that the government officials who enacted this regulation back in 1975 had good intentions. They always do. But, the long-term consequences should have been predictable.
(Birmingham News) practice, the rule turned out to be more of a danger to patients than having clinics located far away from hospitals. It placed a terrible burden on people in rural communities without hospitals - requiring them to take long trips, sometimes by ambulance, to a distant dialysis center.

Why did it take so long for state officials to figure out that this particular regulation was doing more harm than good? More generally, how many other regulations like this one are still on the books, unnecessarily restraining the invisible hand of the free market from working its magic?

Hunt's Getting Hitched

Former Alabama Governor Guy Hunt is getting married.

Connecticut challenges No Child Left Behind

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The state of Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging President Bush's No Child Left Behind school reform law, arguing it is illegal because it requires expensive testing and programs it doesn't pay for.

The lawsuit, which officials said was the first of its kind to be brought by a state government, asks a federal judge to declare that the federal government cannot require state and local money be used to meet federal testing goals.

Ordinarily, I'd say that a challenge to NCLB is a good thing, but it seems to me that the Connecticut lawsuit misses the mark. NCLB's chief fault is not that it fails to provide enough federal funds to implement the new education standards. The real problem is that the act authorizes a huge expansion by the federal government into an area that should properly, and constitutionally, be reserved to the states. That's why I like Utah's response a lot better:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP, May 2, 2005) - Gov. Jon Huntsman signed a measure Monday defying the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act despite a warning from the federal education secretary that it could cost $76 million in federal aid.

The bill represents the strongest stand against the federal law among 15 states considering anti-No Child Left Behind legislation this year. Utah is an overwhelmingly Republican state that strongly supported President Bush.

The legislation, passed during a special session of the Legislature last month, gives Utah’s education standards priority over federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. It lets education officials ignore provisions of federal law that conflict with the state’s program.

Alabama has largest yearly decrease in unemployment

(B'ham News) Alabama's improving job market allowed the state to notch the steepest 12-month decrease in unemployment in the nation, a state spokesman said Friday.

The Alabama jobless rate was 4 percent in July, down from 5.5 percent in July 2004, said Ron Macksoud, an official with the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations. The next biggest drop was 1.1 percentage points, registered by both California and Texas, he said.

The last time the Alabama jobless rate stood at 4 percent was July 2000.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state's unemployment rate currently ranks as the eighth lowest in the nation, and it lags only Virginia and Florida as the third lowest in the Southeast.

Siegelman to the Feds: "Bring it On"

Tough talk from the former gov.

Friday, August 19, 2005
On this day:

Mother Sheehan's followers get new sign of hope

This could make Cindy Sheehan's influence grow even stronger amongst the faithful.

(Hat Tip: It Comes in Pints?)

What is it with liberals and candles?

I guess I just don't understand the fascination.

(Montgomery) A Vietnam veteran, mothers and young children were among the 28 people who stood silently Wednesday on the steps of the state Capitol and held candles in support of a mother protesting the war in Iraq.

The vigil was one of 1,627 across the nation to show support for Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Army Spc. Casey Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., who was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004, according to

"I have a lot of empathy for her," said Ellen Griffin, organizer of the local vigil and a member of the Montgomery Peace Project. "I think it takes a lot of courage to do what she is doing."

Griffin and the Montgomery Peace Project have protested the war since it began.
Since Aug. 6, Sheehan has held a vigil outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch, where he has been vacationing.

"Our children and soldiers are over there dying for a bunch of lies and I hate it," Griffin said. (Montgomery Advertiser)

NRO's Byron York wrote today on a similar demonstration held in Birmingham:

Birmingham, Alabama — Jim Douglass is against war, period. As a young Catholic activist in the 1960s and 1970s he protested the war in Vietnam, once organizing a "resistance Mass" at the University of Notre Dame in which, according to an account in The National Catholic Reporter, he and a few other men "ripped up draft cards and placed them in the chalice as part of the presentation of the gifts."

Douglass founded an organization called the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, and for years he was a leader in anti-Trident demonstrations. But then, in 1989, after a Trident base opened in Kings Bay, Georgia, Douglass left the Pacific Northwest. He found another house hard by the railroad tracks — this one in Birmingham, Alabama, along a route that weapons traveled on the way to Kings Bay. There, in Birmingham, he became involved in a variety of causes but continued to protest the Trident program, which he once wrote "seemed to epitomize all the violence of our society."

In 1991, Douglass headed to Iraq, just after the end of the Gulf War. As part of the Catholic peace organization Pax Christi, he went three more times in the 1990s, opposing the sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations. In 2001, he protested against the war in Afghanistan. And in 2003, he fasted in St. Peter's Square before heading back to Iraq with a "Christian peacemakers team" to be in Baghdad during the "shock and awe" attack. After each protest, he returned to Birmingham.

And it was there, on the city's south side, by a fountain in the Five Points neighborhood, that Douglass stood Wednesday night, a candle in his hand, in yet another antiwar vigil, this one in support of Cindy Sheehan, the woman who is protesting outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

States in good financial shape: continue to whine about spending pressures

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- State tax collectors are unexpectedly busy across America, and many states have built strong reserves that exceed Wall Street's recommendations. Yet lawmakers and governors are worried.

A new report from the National Conference of State Legislatures says state budgets are in the best shape in five years, thanks to ''robust'' tax collections and tough budgeting...

But the same report, released Wednesday at the legislative group's convention in Seattle, said the pressure to spend money, especially on Medicaid, education reform and other programs, threatens to quickly erode the gains.

So, don't spend the money.

UFO's return to Fyffe

Not quite the same this time, though.

Alabama Pre-K Funds are scarce

Not scarce enough, in my opinion.

Thursday, August 18, 2005
On this day:

Alabama unemployment rate plunges again

It's down to 4%, a full percentage point below the national rate.

ADP Blogger: "Alabama is, at base level, a very Democratic state"

What galaxy is this guy living in? Must be a helluva bar there, too.

A Bar at the Center of the Milky Way?

Quick! Someone tell Ted Kennedy. Just don't let him fly the spaceship.

(Hat tip: Basil)

Trucking strike rumors lead to gas lines in North Alabama

Apparently, lines were forming at gas stations here in Huntsville and across Northwest Alabama. More from the Decatur Daily here.

New Huntsville biotech institute will "more than likely" avoid embryo-destroying stem cell research

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Jim Hudson knows people are wondering: Will the new biotechnology center that bears his name do embryonic stem cell research?

The Huntsville resident and Research Genetics founder has said the Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology will "more than likely" steer clear of cells harvested from human embryos.

However, the scientists recruited to work at the $130 million Cummings Research Park facility will largely determine what type of experiments are done there, he said...

Hudson said he hopes the institute explores the healing potential of adult stem cells — immature cells found in skin, bone marrow, umbilical cords and many organs...

There are many, many ways to generate stem cells which avoid the ethical issues of generating stem cells from embryos," Hudson said during an interview at his Holmes Avenue office. "It's just a matter of time before those technologies are perfected."

That's good news, but as the biotechnology industry takes root in the state, legislation to ensure that human life is protected becomes more urgent. Bans on human cloning and the destruction of embryos in order to harvest their stem cells should be enacted as soon as possible. Rep. Gerald Allen (yes...that Gerald Allen) is proposing a bill that would do just that. Allen "hopes to get a bill passed that would outlaw both types of research and slap violators with a minimum fine of $1 million."

No Butts About It

Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts says he won't run for any public office in 2006.

"Paying Less for Real Estate Brokerage: What Can Make it Happen?"

That's the title of a working paper by Robert W. Hahn, Robert E. Litan, and Jesse Gurman of the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies. Here's the abstract:
This paper provides an economic analysis of the residential real estate brokerage industry. We find that the traditional model for residential real estate brokerage services may be dated, and could be improved substantially with some public policy interventions that spur innovation.

We believe that there are numerous barriers to entry that are slowing the emergence of new models for serving consumers. Some of these barriers are likely to be anti-competitive. Examples include discrimination against new brokerage models and online brokers who wish to join multiple listing services; state legislation that would require minimum service requirements, effectively preventing "a la carte" offerings; and prohibitions by real estate commissions on providing rebates to customers. In our opinion, none of these practices should be allowed.

We offer three broad policy recommendations: First, federal and state antitrust authorities should carefully scrutinize efforts to limit competition in the residential real estate brokerage market. Second, state governments should refrain from adopting laws or rules that inhibit competition in real estate brokerage. Third, Congress should allow the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department to permit banks, which have long been natural potential entrants into this business, to offer residential real estate brokerage services through separately capitalized affiliates.

We do not know which business models are likely to succeed in the marketplace for residential real estate services in the future. We do believe, however, that judicious public policy interventions could have a marked impact on improving services and lowering costs for home buyers and sellers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005
On this day:

FTC and DOJ officials urged against Realtor Protection Law

Governor Riley and Alabama legislators can't say they weren't warned that the new minimum services requirements for real estate brokers will stifle competition and harm consumers. In a letter to state Senators, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission voiced their concerns over an earlier version of the bill that died in the regular session. Here are some excerpts from that letter.

If enacted, the bill will make it more difficult for real estate professionals to provide their customers with customized real estate brokerage services. Such a law likely will decrease competition among real estate professionals and result in Alabama home buyers and sellers paying higher real estate commissions. The Federal Trade Commission and the United States Department of Justice urge the Alabama Senate to reject the proposed legislation...

Traditionally, real estate professionals have performed virtually all services relating to the sale of a home. The key tasks involved in selling a house include marketing it, negotiating with potential buyers, and closing the transaction. Marketing includes listing the property in the local multiple listing service ("MLS"), placing advertisements in local media and on the Internet, and conducting open houses. When providing services relating to the task of contract negotiation, real estate professionals may provide advice on pricing, home inspections, or other contractual terms. For these efforts, the real estate professionals are typically paid a commission based on a percentage of the sales price of the home.

It is becoming increasingly common for home sellers to buy some, but not all, of the traditional brokerage services. For example, some sellers may want help advertising their homes, but want to negotiate the sales price themselves without having to pay a real estate professional. Such consumers may prefer to pay a real estate professional only for the service of listing their homes in the local MLS and placing other advertisements. Other consumers may find a buyer without assistance, but would like to hire a real estate professional to assist them with the negotiation of the sales price or with the paperwork required to close the transaction. The marketplace is evolving in response to these consumers who want to perform some of the steps involved in selling their homes on their own. Real estate professionals who are willing to provide only those services a home seller wants have emerged in Alabama and throughout the country. These "fee for service" or "menu-driven" business models are currently legal under Alabama law and typically enable consumers to save thousands of dollars because the consumers pay the real estate professional only for those services they want...

[Alabama's proposed law]...effectively prohibits a real estate professional from contracting with the customer only to place the property listing on the local MLS without also providing the negotiation services...

[The bill] is likely to deprive Alabama consumers of the benefits of robust competition between full-service brokers and fee-for-service brokers without providing any apparent benefits. [It] would eliminate certain fee-for-service brokerage arrangements as an option for Alabama consumers. Real estate professionals who agree to list property for sale would be forced to provide a state-mandated minimum service package that includes many duties associated with negotiating a property sales contract. Currently, one of the most popular fee-for-service arrangements is to purchase only the service of listing property on the MLS. This service gives home sellers access to an important marketing tool but is not resource intensive for the broker. Under the proposed legislation, Alabama home sellers will no longer have this option. The services enumerated by the statute require investments of time, effort and expertise by the real estate professional. If real estate professionals must, in effect, provide these services, they can be expected to charge for the services as well.

The proposed legislation, if enacted, is likely to reduce competition and harm Alabama consumers in two significant ways. First, consumers who want to perform for themselves some steps involved in negotiating home sales in Alabama will pay real estate professionals more than they do today. For example, based on an informal review of Alabama real estate professionals who offer fee-for-service pricing, an Alabama home seller may pay a broker from $300 to $500 only to list a house in the MLS, leaving other marketing and all negotiating to the seller. If a buyer pays $150,000 for that seller's house, a seller who contracted with a fee-for-service real estate professional for the $500 listing in the MLS, and agreed to pay a 3% commission to a buyer's real estate professional, would pay a total of $5,000. By contrast, if the same seller could only buy the traditional package for a typical 6% commission, to be split between the buyer and seller's broker, the seller would pay a total of $9,000 to sell the house. In this example...the Alabama home seller bought $4,000 more in real estate brokerage services than he or she may have needed or wanted.

The passage of [this bill] is likely to harm consumers in another way. Real estate professionals who offer fee-for-service provide a competitive constraint on the pricing of real estate professionals who offer only the full-service option. By limiting the availability of customized offerings, the passage of [the bill] will likely protect real estate professionals who choose to offer the full complement of services from having to compete with those who offer consumers more choices in the quantity and types of services. Because of this reduced competition, even those consumers who prefer to purchase the full range of services from traditional real estatre service professionals will likely pay higher prices.

The Alabama Realtor Protection Law

Anyone who has ever bought or sold a house knows just what kind of harrowing and expensive experience it can be.

Along with the phenomenal increase in house prices in recent years, the transaction fees associated with sales have also increased, particularly broker commissions, which are generally assessed as a percentage of a home's price. One lingering question is why these commissions seem to be forever stuck at 6%, in spite of the fact that there are tons of real estate agents and brokers out there supposedly competing against one another. Alex Tabarrok, a blogger over at Marginal Revolution, posted on this topic recently here and here. Other blogs that have taken on the subject are Real Estate Today (here and here), Freedom and Prosperity, Common Sense Wonder, and the AEI-Brookings Daily Reg Report.

Needless to say, the real estate business is in need of a good dose of competition, and that's exactly what traditional real estate brokers fear. As home buyers have sought out ways to lower transaction costs, innovative new businesses have sprung up offering discount real estate services. However, faced with the threat of competition, "traditional" real estate companies have thrown their weight behind legislation to force their new rivals out of business.

Here in Alabama, the Alabama Association of Realtors successfully lobbied the Governor and legislature to pass a so-called "minimum services law" during the recent special session, ensuring that the anti-competitive practices (and the inevitable 6% commissions) of traditional real estate firms will continue for the forseeable future. The law states that:
When accepting an agreement to list an owner's property for sale, the broker or his or her licensee shall, at a minimum, accept delivery of and present to the consumer all offers, counteroffers, and addenda to assist the consumer in negotiating offers, counteroffers, and addenda, and to answer the consumer's questions relating to the transaction.

That means that if you are buying or selling a house in Alabama, you no longer have the option to buy only those services you need from a real estate broker. The law now compels you to purchase a full range of services and pay the associated transaction fees, whether you want them or not.

Alabama isn't alone in succumbing to the pressures of the Realtor Racket. At least a dozen other states have similar laws on the books already or are considering them. Most recently, minimum services requirements have won approval in Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah.

In a recent editorial entitled "The Realtor Racket" (subscription required), the Wall Street Journal asked why this was happening.

Why are Governors and state legislatures enacting regulations to make buying and selling homes as expensive as possible?

We ask this question because in recent weeks three normally level-headed Republican Governors -- Matt Blunt of Missouri, Rick Perry of Texas and Bob Riley of Alabama -- have signed into law legislation that protects Realtors from discount competitors.

About a dozen other states have also buckled to the National Association of Realtors lobby. They've effectively become partners in what looks suspiciously like a price-fixing scheme, whereby discounters are prevented by law from charging fees below the industry norm of 5% to 6% of the home sales price. The financial victims of this cartel are middle-income home buyers and sellers who are required to pay brokerage fees that can easily be several thousand dollars above a competitive market price.

Real estate brokers are under increasing price pressure from Web-based home-buying services and other discount brokers. With state lawmakers so often bellyaching about the decline in "affordable housing," one would expect politicians to salute these low-fee entrants to the market.

Instead, state legislatures and real estate commissions -- which happen to be populated by Realtors -- are enacting laws that make price competition illegal and thus treat Realtors as if they are members of a closed shop union.

Alabama's Realtor Protection Law was passed by a vote of 94-1 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate before being signed by Governor Riley. Keep that in mind the next time you set out to buy or sell a home.

New Alabama law limits competition in real estate market

Call it the Realtor Protection Act of 2005.

B'ham News: Too many legislators attending Seattle conference

The Birmingham News thinks that too many of Alabama's House members are headed to the National Conference of State Legislators in Seattle this week. I have mixed feelings on the issue. I mean...there's always the chance that a few of them will stay out there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
On this day:

Baxley prefers convention to revise state constitution

Mother Lucy stated her position on constitution reform at a meeting with Decatur Rotarians on Monday.
"If we're to have it, we would never wade through one debate at a time. I prefer a constitutional convention," she said. "I would like a complete review of the constitution with assurance that all aspects of the state are represented." (Decatur Daily)
Baxley joins fellow Democrat Don Siegelman in supporting a constitutional convention. Both of the leading Republican contenders for Governor - Gov. Bob Riley and former Chief Justice Roy Moore - oppose a convention. Gov. Riley has endorsed incremental constitution reform, but he prefers to address the issue through the normal amendment process. Roy Moore has spoken out strongly in defense of the Alabama Constitution as-is, so it seems unlikely that he would support any substantial reform efforts.

Monday, August 15, 2005
On this day:

Mother Lucy

Slowly but surely, Lucy Baxley is laying out her philosophy of government. She told a group of Rotarians last Wednesday that state government should be run "more like a family."
Speaking to the Tarrant-Pinson Valley Club at their Thursday luncheon meeting at Walker's Family Restaurant, Baxley said her approach to government was informed by her experience as a mother...

Instead of the typical refrain that government should be run "like a business," Baxley held up family as a model. Everyone in the state should be able to express themselves, she said. Everyone should have a seat at the table. Taking all opinions into account, the parents should make wise decisions in the interest of the whole family. (B'ham News)

"I'm getting ready for dove season. I'm practicing."

President Bush's neighbor in Crawford says that the protesters across the road from his house have worn out their welcome.

"...they're just like company," he said. ''If you had had your brother-in-law in your house for five days, wouldn't it start stinking after a while?"

You gotta like this guy.

Ann Bedsole

She's a former Republican candidate for Governor and is now running for mayor of Mobile. Here's a bit of trivia from the Mobile Register: as a state Senator, Bedsole once supported a bill to give Alabama counties the right to secede from from the state. From what I remember of her gubernatorial run, her ideas never improved much.

Speaking of Mobile

I noticed that they've got a pretty heated mayor's race going on down there. Here's the latest.


Just got back this evening from a whirlwind trip to Mobile. Little sister starts as a freshman at USA next Monday, and we went down for the weekend to help her move in. Anyway, it was about a 5 1/2 hour drive, so I'm pretty pooped, and bed is sounding pretty good about now. Bloggin' will have to wait till tomorrow. G'night all.

State leads the way on property rights

That's according to Troy State Poly Sci professor and Poliblogger Steven Taylor.

Hoover "Multicultural Center" Closes

Anytime something with "multicultural" in its name shuts down, it's gotta be a good thing.

Another auto plant

...not headed to Canada. Someone tell Paul Krugman.

Auburn confused

How on earth could officials at AU be unsure of when super-trustee Bobby Lowder's term ends?

Social Security

Happy 70th Birthday. Threescore and ten years. I believe the Bible says a little something about that particular age. See Psalms 90:10.

Friday, August 12, 2005
On this day:

Chavez: Man of few words

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that the United States is the "most savage, cruel and murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world."

Socialism at its best.

Thursday, August 11, 2005
On this day:

The new Zima?

That's what Anheuser-Busch's new "malternative" sounds like to me.

The new caffeinated, raspberry-flavored malt beverage is called Tilt, and it certainly sounds like it'll put a spring in your step. Anheuser-Busch is marketing the fabulous fruity-licious beer to males ages 21 to 27 years old. I'm kinda thinking they need to hone their marketing approach a little, but hey, I could be wrong. Red Bull mixed with beer is pretty popular these days. Then again, Red Bull doesn't taste like raspberries.

Hmmm...wonder if you mix Tilt with ice cream it would make a good Smoothie?

A Bama Blog Translated

To jive and to redneck.

Hat tip: Southern Appeal.

Race for State Auditor Heats Up

The latest entrant into the all-important race for State Auditor has never even been outside the state of Alabama. Oh, it's not that he never had the chance, mind you. It's just that he's a Tripp Skipper.

More NCAA lunacy

Generosity not allowed.

ATHENS — A group of Georgia football fans took up a collection to pay for a Boise State player's father to fly from Baghdad to see his son play against the Bulldogs in Athens.

But the NCAA rule book got in the way.

Hat tip: War Liberal

Senator Enfinger caught in compromising position

And I don't mean his principles. More here.

Braggin' Rights

Author, former New York Times writer, and Alabama native Rick Bragg will be spending some time at the University of Alabama this fall.

Siegelman on gambling: ???

OK...what gives here? Yesterday, Don Siegelman criticized Gov. Riley for failing to stop the expansion of Indian gambling in the state. Then, in his next breath, Siegelman appeared to advocate measures allowing the Indian casinos to offer games like blackjack and roulette that are currently illegal.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman said Wednesday that Gov. Bob Riley has not done enough to stop the expansion of gambling at Indian-owned facilities in Alabama and that the state should now find a way to tax the games.

Standing in the parking lot of a Wetumpka gaming center where the Poarch Creek Indians operate 538 electronic gambling machines, Siegelman told news reporters the state should negotiate a compact that would allow the Indians to operate casinos, provided they paid a substantial amount of money to the state...

Federal law allows Indian tribes to operate any type of gambling that is legal in a state and not pay taxes to the state. But governors in some states have negotiated compacts with Indians that allow them to operate other types of gambling on their tribal lands, provided they make payments to the state.

Currently the Indian facilities operate only the electronic machines and do not offer table games such as blackjack, dice or roulette, which are considered Class 3 gambling and are illegal in Alabama. Mothershed said any negotiations with the state would include allowing the tribe to operate Class 3 machines.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005
On this day:

B'ham clinic bombing victim opposes Roberts in NARAL attack ad

Emily Lyons, who was injured in the bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998, appears in a new attack ad against Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. The ad is paid for by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The ad maliciously and falsely accuses Judge Roberts of excusing violent tactics by protesters outside abortion clinics. throughly discredits NARAL's charges here. Meanwhile, there is no dispute that both NARAL and Mrs. Lyons oppose all efforts to limit the violence that goes on inside abortion clinics, but that's a different subject.

Jeb takes on the NCAA

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has blasted the NCAA decision to ban Indian mascots and team names.
"How politically correct can we get?" Bush told reporters Tuesday morning before a meeting of the state Cabinet. "To me, the folks that make these decisions need to get out more often."
It sounds like to me that it's time to get out of the NCAA. Who needs 'em?

Twinkle speaks up for judicial elections

The state GOP will oppose the Alabama Bar Association's plan to appoint appellate court judges rather than elect them.
The plan is "a Democrat-led effort" to take away the right of voters to select judges, said Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, the GOP head.

"At a time when voters have serious concerns about the role of judges in society, we believe we ought to focus on making judges more accountable to the people they serve rather than less accountable," she said...

But ABA President Bobby Segall said he has worked with a bipartisan and "very conservative" committee of lawyers to draft a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution on the issue. He said it has been a goal of the ABA for a number of years and is aimed at ending the costly partisan battles that have raised the perception that judges have a conflict because of the money contributed to their campaigns...

In a news release, Cavanaugh questioned the role of Segall in coming up with the proposal, calling the Bar Association president "an ACLU attorney."

"Mr. Segall and his liberal friends in the plaintiff trial bar have been losing elections because they have a losing agenda. Now they want to change the rules because they know they can't win otherwise," Cavanaugh said.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005
On this day:

An Ode to Paul Krugman

Rearranging the letters in Krugman, we get


Those should fit together nicely for a little poetic interlude.

Ode to Paul Krugman

When out of the murk comes a big ol' jerk
Whose wont is to nag and deceive

You better think twice
When you try to be nice

For he's certain to arm with gunk to do harm
To those his rank mug does entice.

Piling on Paul

In a Business Alabama article, Southern Appeal blogger Jim Dunn follows up on that illiterate-Alabama-auto-worker story from last week. You know - the one that NY Times columnist Paul Krugman picked up on - leading him to the absurd conclusion that Alabama's automobile industry is losing jobs to Canada because our state's taxes are too low. (See my previous blog post here.)

Anyway, here's a bit of good news from Dunn's Business Alabama piece:
Donald Luskin, contributing editor at National Review, contacted the New York Times about the Krugman column. Luskin told Business Alabama that Byron Calame, the public editor of the Times, was sufficiently concerned about Krugman’s column to discuss it with Gail Collins, editorial board chief at the paper. As of Aug. 9, the last word Luskin had received from Calame was that he was still looking into the matter.
Without a doubt, the real weasel here is Paul Krugman, who took one man's biased opinion and presented it as truth in order to make an unbalanced and utterly false attack on Alabama and its workers.

If Mr. Krugman had done his homework, he would have found that a plethora of information on Alabama's auto industry is readily available to anyone who is curious enough to investigate. Better yet, he could have spent a few bucks, hopped on a jet, and come to see things for himself. (Scratch that...let him set up a videoconference and keep his sorry a** in New York where he belongs.)

Certainly someone like Mr. Krugman, who calls himself an economist, should be interested in ascertaining the truth, especially when it concerns matters directly related to his area of expertise. It will be interesting to hear what his excuse is for this particular deception. If he lives up to his reputation, he will simply claim infallibility and deny that he misrepresented the facts to begin with. Nonetheless, the ball is in his court, and it's still possible that he will be man enough to admit his error.

Wow - that was quick

Looks like someone's been playing with that Bush conspiracy generator.

"We got grass to grow, and they didn't"

That's what Quin Bailey, a member of the Mallet Assembly at the University of Alabama, said after he was awakened to the sound of UA bulldozers tearing down his residence hall's latest experiment in landscape design. (See stories here and here.)
...several assembly members, while walking on the mud hole left by the destructive bulldozer, wondered what the next step would be.“I’ll give it a couple of months. If they don’t do anything, we might come through and do it again," Bailey said.
Keep it up, guys. It's nice to see a little originality every now and then.

Dean: Right-wing propagandists hurt Dem self-esteem

Here's DNC Chairman Howard Dean yesterday: "What the propagandists on the right have done is make people afraid to say they are Democrats."

Monday, August 08, 2005
On this day:

The Bush Conspiracy Theory Generator

Spies for the VWRC have uncovered an interesting item in the secret files of

"The Speech"

Mrs. Chapman's web site mentions that her support-the-troops speech has become widely known as "The Speech." With all due respect to Mrs. Chapman, that title has already been taken.

(Video of the Gipper's original is available at C-SPAN's American Presidents site here, and it is just as relevant now as it was when it was delivered in 1964.)

Beth Chapman to Run for Secretary of State: Supports Crackdown on Voter Fraud

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — State Auditor Beth Chapman announced Monday that she will run for secretary of state next year, promising to work for honest elections and to push for legislation requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Chapman, 43, said she would seek the Republican nomination for the position, currently held by Nancy Worley, a Democrat. (AP)

Nancy "Surly" Worley responded in typical fashion:

"I think she's been running for this office since the first day she moved into the auditor's office," Worley said of Chapman. "I think it's not a surprise that she is running and she certainly has every right to do that."

Chapman is probably best-known for a patriotic speech that made the rounds on the internet in 2003. For some mysterious reason, that speech currently unavailable on her campaign's web site, but a cached version is online here. Here's how it starts:

I’m here tonight because men and women of the United States military have given their lives for my freedom. I am not here tonight because Sheryl Crowe, Rosie O’Donnell, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, the Dixie Chicks, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney or Phil Donahue, sacrificed their lives for me.

If my memory serves me correctly, it was not movie stars or musicians, but the United States Military who fought on the shores of Iwo Jima the jungles of Vietnam , and the beaches of Normandy.

Tonight, I say we should support the President of the United States and the U.S. military and tell the liberal, tree-hugging, hippy, Birkenstock wearing, tie-dyed liberals to go make their movies and music and whine somewhere else.

The Missouri Plan - Should We Bring it to Alabama?

The Alabama Bar Association's plan for selecting appellate court judges is very similar to Missouri's Non-Partisan Court Plan, often known simply as the Missouri Plan. According to the Missouri Bar, that plan was implemented over 50 years ago, and since then, over 30 other states have used it as a model for their own judicial appointment procedures.

This Federalist Society white paper presents a convincing case for why the Missouri Plan is inferior to partisan election as a method for appointing judges. (One of the authors is Alabama's own Michael DeBow, a professor at the Cumberland School of Law.) Here's a snippet:

In spite of the reformers’ best intentions, politics inevitably surrounds the work of the nominating commissions in Missouri Plan states. In operation, the Missouri Plan substitutes committee politics for electoral politics. The appearance of expertise and non-partisanship is largely, if not entirely, a facade -- a fact widely noted in the political science literature.

This should, perhaps, come as no surprise. The interest groups that have a significant stake in the composition of a state's bench will try to promote their interests to the best of their ability, no matter what judicial selection mechanism the state uses. First among these groups is the bar. Within the bar, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and the "defense" lawyers have divergent interests, and can be expected to engage in "political" maneuvers to ensure that "their" candidates gain appointment to the nominating commission. Clearly, as one commentator has pointed out, Philosophical differences between plaintiff and defense bars can . . . lead to tensions in the appointment of lawyer members to the commission and in the actual [judicial] selection process."

It thus appears impossible to remove "politics" from judicial selection, regardless of the method used, where "politics" is understood as including the agendas of interest groups most notably the bar -- with a particular stake in the judicial selection process.

Another Federalist Society white paper counters by presenting the pro-appointment position:
In the states which use the appointment means of judicial selection, those bodies charged with selection responsibilities – governors, legislatures, nominating commissions, or some combination of the three – enjoy an informational advantage over the general public in evaluating potential jurists. With little information about judges on the ballot, voters in partisan elections have no choice but to rely on party cues, thus linking selection to national or local partisan issues rather than qualifications or actual job performance. There is a certain unappealing crassness about the election of judges that threatens the reverence for and the legitimacy of the bench. In states with elected judiciaries, judges must hustle votes and they must raise money for campaigns. To do both, they must depend heavily upon lawyers who appear before them, which can create impropriety and appearances of impropriety, and which horribly conflicts with the judicial duties of fairness and impartiality in decision-making.

If you read further, even the pro-appointment guys find inherent problems with the Missouri Plan of "merit" selection that the Alabama Bar proposes to adapt for Alabama.

Anyway, changing the subject a little...these two papers should put to rest this silly notion that Federalist Society members march in lock-step.

Finding Common Ground on Religion in Schools

The AEA teams up with a conservative Christian group to inform people about what religious activities are allowed in the public schools. Sounds like a good idea to me, especially when there are still instances of schools banning all relgious activities, at least partly due to misunderstandings of the law, or at least the law as decreed by the courts.

France Reaps What it has Sewn

According to the Washington Times, resentment of France is growing in the former Soviet bloc nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

Why? Because they remember.

[Jan Eichler of the Institute of International Relations] in Prague, said: "The French rejection of the constitution has revived Francophobia whose historic and sociological roots have existed for a number of years. The heritage of Gaullism and of most French decisions of that period are often presented as treason, particularly the French withdrawal from NATO's military structure."

In other words, the French are every bit as trustworthy now as they were during the years of Cold War oppression.

Hat tip: (Pros and Cons)

On Appointing Judges by Committee

Here's some common sense by a former circuit court judge and current professor at the University of Alabama School of Law.
"People assume there are no politics in the appointment process, but right now we have a newly appointed justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and you can see that politics are quite evident there," said Joseph Colquitt, a professor who served as an Alabama circuit judge from 1971 to 1991. His comment referred to President Bush's selection of John G. Roberts to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Conner on the nation's high court.

Colquitt said, "Sure, if judges have to raise funds there is concern for whether they will be obligated to certain individuals or groups who raise those funds. ... On the other hand, if you have appointed judges, how did those judges get nominated in the first place? What connections did they have? And then, what allegiance do they owe to the ones who nominated or appointed them?" (Mobile Register)

ABA Goes Forward with Judicial "Selection" Plan

The Alabama Bar Association wants to end the election of appellate court judges in Alabama, saying that selection by a judicial nominating commission would be less political.
The first step in the ABA's proposal is to form a nine-member judicial nominating commission, including lawyers, non-lawyers and one judge, to develop a list of three nominees to give to the governor.

The governor would then pick from list; his choice would be final because the plan does not call for legislative confirmation.

When the judges appointed by the governor completed their terms, an 11-member evaluation commission constructed roughly like the nominating commission would assess their work and make reports available to the public.

Sitting judges would then stand for an uncontested retention election, in which voters would decide whether they wanted the judge to continue serving. (Mobile Register)
Anyone who thinks that appointment by committee will be "less political" than election by the people is kidding himself. You can rest assured that the AEA, the Trial Lawyers Association, the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Farmer's Federation, and other powerful interest groups will be guaranteed seats at the nominating table.

The ABA's plan would also undermine checks and balances between the branches of state government by leaving the legislature out of the confirmation process entirely. Thus, judges would be appointed without proper accountability to the people, whether directly by popular election or indirectly through the consent of elected representatives.

How this would improve on the current system is beyond me.

I'm not saying that popular elections are necessarily the most desirable way of selecting judges. There are plenty of good arguments in favor of appointment. But, appointment by committee is one method that was specifically rejected by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, and it should be rejected as an amendment to the Alabama Constitution.

Novak and Begala Visit Alabama - But Ride Separately

From the "Political Skinny" in yesterday's Mobile Register:
Conservative commentator Robert Novak made it plainly clear last week that he's no fan of Democratic strategist James Carville, as Novak cursed and walked off the set of CNN's "Inside Politics" amid a debate with the famed Louisiana political consultant.

Apparently Novak and Democratic operative Paul Begala may not be fast friends either, according to organizers of the Business Council of Alabama's governmental affairs conference.

Novak, recognized these days for his July 2003 column that outed a CIA operative, and Begala, who aided Carville in mapping out President Clinton's victorious 1992 campaign, headlined the BCA event held this weekend in Point Clear. The pair hosted CNN's "Crossfire" before it was canceled, and have more recently appeared together on "Inside Politics."

According to one BCA official earlier last week, the two were scheduled to travel to Mobile aboard the same plane but insisted on traveling from the airport to Point Clear in separate vehicles.

"They can fly together, but they won't ride together," the official said with a smile.

On Saturday morning, Marty Sullivan, spokeswoman for BCA, said the two wound up taking separate flights out of Atlanta on Friday due to some cancellations.

CNN suspended Novak indefinitely after he used the word "bull----" on the air before leaving the set in the middle of the show. A CNN spokesman told the Associated Press that Novak's behavior was "inexcusable and unacceptable."

Friday, August 05, 2005
On this day:

World's Longest Yard Sale

It stretches from Alabama to Kentucky, and it's this weekend. Lots more info is here.

AEA Power Grab Is Not Amusing

I always knew that the Alabama Education Association wielded an extraordinary amount of influence on the government in Montgomery, but I never imagined that the teachers union would be so bold as to support a bill to make themselves a part of that government.

From Friday's B'ham News:

Gov. Bob Riley on Thursday said he planned to kill a bill designed to use tax breaks to lure theme parks and other tourist attractions to Alabama.

Riley said the bill, passed last week by lawmakers, would give the Alabama Education Association teachers' lobby too much power...

The bill, pushed by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, would create the Alabama Tourism Development Finance Authority to review requests for tax breaks from companies building tourist attractions that would cost at least $1 million...

Riley noted that under the bill, the governor would appoint three of the authority's seven members, but could only appoint people nominated by the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association.

Also, the authority could approve a sales-tax refund for an attraction only if five or more of the seven members approved. Riley said that, in effect, would mean AEA's nominees could reject any proposed tax break.

"I can't be a part to giving absolute veto power to any group," Riley said.

This power grab by Paul Hubbert and the AEA is just plain mind-boggling. Even more disconcerting is the fact that both houses of the legislature consented to it in the first place.

The AEA is a private association. Its leadership is not accountable in any way to the citizens of the state. To give it or any other non-governmental body appointment powers within the government is an affront to democracy and an invitation to corruption.

Luckily, Gov. Riley put a quick end to this foolishness. Could we trust that Don Siegelman or Lucy Baxley would have done the same?

Dog Cloning in South Korea

See Basil's Headline News for his (hilarious) take.

Another Bogus Poll by the AEA I'm just rubbing it in. Why not?

These questions from a 2002 poll on education and taxes provide yet another reason to take the results of any poll conducted by the AEA's Capital Survey Research Center with a grain of salt.

5. The Education Budget for the next school year, 2003-2004 will be adopted by the Legislature in March. Unless something is done, the public education budget will have to be cut again. Do you believe taxes will have to be raised to help schools, or do you believe it is something public schools and colleges and universities will just have to live with?
1. Raise taxes - 55.4%
2. Live with it - 31.2%
3. Don't know/no reply - 13.4%

6. Which of the following would you support to prevent cuts in the Education Budget for K-12 schools, two-year schools, and colleges and universities next year?
1. Increase education taxes - 26.6%
2. Cut spending in education - 12.5%
3. Cut other state programs and transfer funds to education- 42.8%
4. Don't know/no reply - 18.5%

7. To adequately fund schools, would you be willing to pay more in education taxes?
1. Yes - 63.6%
2. No - 28.7%
3. Depends - 5.7%
4. Don't know/no reply - 2.1%
Haha...question #5 might as well have said this:
Do you support higher taxes for education?

a) Yes, I love taxes. The more the long as they go to the children.
b) No, I can't stand smart-assed kids who think they know everything. Keep 'em stupid.

Thursday, August 04, 2005
On this day:

Poll: 57% of Alabamians Support Suspension of the Death Penalty

As mentioned in the previous post, the Birmingham News reported last week on a recent poll showing that "57 percent of Alabamians surveyed support a suspension of the death penalty while questions of fairness and reliability are studied." I'd be a little cautious about jumping to that conclusion, and here's why.

The following questions were asked for the poll, which was conducted by the AEA's Capital Survey Research Center.

1. The second issue concerns the death penalty. How do you feel about the use of the death penalty in Alabama? Do you:

Support death penalty……………70.8%
Oppose death penalty…………….19.6%
Don’t Know / No Reply…………….9.5%

2. Do you believe the death penalty is applied fairly in Alabama regardless of gender, race, income or age?

Yes, applied fairly……………………47.0%
No, not applied fairly……………….35.9%
Don’t Know / No Reply……………17.1%

3. Do you believe an innocent person may be convicted and executed?

Don’t Know / No Reply………………6.1%

4. There have been cases in which someone sentenced to be executed was found not guilty based on new evidence, usually DNA testing. How do you feel about suspending the death penalty in Alabama until questions about the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty have been studied and confirmed? Do you:

Support suspension……………………57.1%
Oppose suspension…………………….30.3%
Don’t Know / No Reply………………12.6%

5. How do you feel about the use of DNA testing in cases where it might prove a person’s innocence or guilt? Do you:

Support use of DNA…………………….95.8%
Oppose use of DNA……………………….1.4%
Don’t Know / No Reply………………….2.9%

6. Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate for public office who supports the use of DNA testing in cases that involve the death penalty?

Much more likely………………………….54.5%
Somewhat more likely………………….33.0%
Somewhat less likely………………………3.0%
Much less likely………………………………1.9%
Don’t Know / No Reply…………………..7.6%

7. Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate for public office who supports a suspension of the death penalty until questions about the use of DNA testing have been answered?

Much more likely…………………………..32.2%
Somewhat more likely…………………..30.2%
Somewhat less likely……………………..12.8%
Much less likely……………………………..12.5%
Don’t Know / No Reply…………………..12.2%

In making its conclusion ("57 percent of Alabamians surveyed support a suspension of the death penalty while questions of fairness and reliability are studied"), the News was referring specifically to Question #4:
There have been cases in which someone sentenced to be executed was found not guilty based on new evidence, usually DNA testing. How do you feel about suspending the death penalty in Alabama until questions about the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty have been studied and confirmed?
Trick question, huh? The pollster presented respondents with a single "fact" that is often cited by those favoring a moratorium on the death penalty, but other facts that support the opposite position were not cited. Whether the question was intentionally tailored to produce the desired answer or whether the pollster was simply trying to provide useful information to the respondents is irrelevant. In either case, the phrasing of the question undoubtedly skewed the results in favor of the pro-moratorium position.

I'm not saying that this poll was useless or entirely disingenous, but it provides a clear example of why poll results should be interpreted for what they actually say, not for what biased partisans want them to say.

Poll: 68% of Alabamians Say they Support Constitutional Convention

Or do they? There are several reasons to question whether the results of a new poll on Alabamians' attitudes about the state constitution are accurate. Here are a few things to think about:

1. Consider the source. The poll was conducted by the Capital Survey Research Center, the polling division of the Alabama Education Association. The AEA is one of the state's chief proponents of constitution reform.

2. What do the numbers really say? From that Birmingham News article:

The survey of 863 registered and likely Alabama voters conducted July 12-21 revealed that 19 percent believe the present constitution adequately meets the state's needs, while 45 percent said it should be revised and an additional 25 percent said a new constitution is needed...

When asked who they would trust to write a new constitution, 62 percent of those surveyed chose a constitutional convention and 16 percent favored the Alabama Legislature. On whether to call a convention to draft a new constitution, 68 percent said they would vote for it and 18 percent said they would vote against it.

...voters were asked whether they would be willing to vote against all constitutional amendments offered by the Legislature in the future until a convention were convened. Of those surveyed, 44 percent said they would support a "just vote no" process, while 34 percent said they would oppose such a process.

These reported numbers look suspicious. First, the largest number of those surveyed (45%) answered that they believe the constitution needs to be revised, but not rewritten; only 25% believe that a complete rewrite is needed.

But, a whopping 68% of respondents said that they would vote to call a constitutional convention. That number is only 2 percentage points short of the total number who said that the constitution should be either revised or rewritten (45% + 25% = 70%.) So, are we to assume that practically everyone who supports revising or rewriting also supports calling a convention? I guess that's possible, but it seems highly unlikely.

It looks like we need to know the exact questions that were asked in order to figure out what's going on here. Unfortunately, the News didn't provide that information, and I haven't been able to find it anywhere online as of yet.

3. How were the questions phrased? It is well-known that pollsters often manipulate questions and limit available answers in order to produce desired results. The reasons for this are pretty obvious. Either the pollster or a client has a particular agenda, and is aware that the news media loves to report polls, because they provide quick, easy space-fillers for lazy reporters on slow news days - not to mention the fact that they may support a news organization's own editorial policies.

So, is that what happened here? Maybe or maybe not, but the track record of the AEA's polling organization isn't so good in this regard.

Just last week, they released another poll purporting to show that Alabamians favored a moratorium on the death penalty. Now, if there's one thing Alabamians agree on, it's that murderers should be executed even more often than they are now. Indeed, I'd bet that a significant number of my fellow Alabamians would support the return of public hangings. So, the idea that a majority would support a death penalty moratorium is almost beyond belief. Well, it turns out that that poll was requested by an organization opposed to the death penalty, who promptly expressed its appreciation to the AEA's Capital Survey Research Center for conducting the poll.

Sounds fishy, huh? I thought so, too, and the results of that poll be the subject of my next post.

UA Official Says Removal of Trees Improves Quad

A big dirt field is so much more appealing.

One UA student says that the new UA landscaping "really pisses him off."

Jigsaw Puzzle

Chute...I can't believe I wasted my time on this.

Dean in Alabama: Don't Use Illegal Immigrants as Scapegoats

Here's a follow-up to a post from yesterday. From the B'ham Post-Herald:

Americans must not use the immigrant community as a scapegoat for some of the country's problems, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told a group of civil rights advocates on Tuesday.

Dean stressed the importance of fighting for justice for all groups, including immigrants, who he said are increasingly being used as scapegoats by legislators, state officials and vigilante groups, such as the Minuteman Project, a volunteer group patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border to deter people from entering the country illegally.

"This group here knows about that (being used as scapegoats)," he said. "If you want America to succeed, you need a system that treats everybody justly. We need economic and social justice to make America work."
Many thoughtful people have questioned the wisdom of allowing hoards of illegal immigrants to enter the country undetected and undocumented. I don't see how that scapes anyone's goat.

While the Democratic Party has become resigned to the notion that more immigration - whether legal or illegal - is a great and wonderful thing, the Republican Party is currently embroiled in a bitter debate over just how far we should go in relaxing immigration controls that already seem inadequate. The President supports a more liberal immigration policy, but many of his fellow Republicans have openly rebelled against that position, on the sound principle that it is vitally important to regain control of the nation's borders.

Whichever side eventually triumphs, at least there is a meaningful debate on the issue of immigration among conservatives and within the Republican Party. Unfortunately, Howard Dean's Democrats seem to be taking a siesta on this issue, and have contributed next to nothing to one of the most far-reaching debates of our time.

Alabama Has Third Highest Number of Arrests in Nationwide Sweep of Hispanic Gangs

Forty-two people were taken into custody in the B'ham metro area and Decatur. Over half of the Alabama arrests were in Hoover. (How'd we guess?) Hmmm...did anyone take pictures?

From the B'ham News:

In Alabama, the majority of the arrests were in Hoover. Twenty-two people were arrested in the sprawling city south of Birmingham, eight of them suspected gang members and 14 of them associates, said Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis...

Derzis said he did not know the charges because the people - most of them from Mexico - were transferred into the custody of federal immigration officials. Associates are those who were with an alleged gang member at the time of his arrest, and it was not known how many of them were also charged.

Derzis said Hoover police had noticed some gang-related graffiti and tattoos and were developing a list of people to watch. After consulting with immigration officials and law enforcement in the Atlanta area, they were able to confirm some of them were in national databases of suspected criminal gang members.

"What is Atlanta doing to push them out? And if they push them out, are we going to start seeing them two hours down the interstate?" Derzis said. "The emerging problem is that maybe the large cities are doing such a great job that a lot of individuals are leaving larger cities and making their way to smaller cities, and they think they can get away with it."